Johnny Cash Comes Back to Life and Leaves Us Wanting More

// Photo courtesy of Timothy Norris

It was a cold and rainy evening when hundreds of fans in Johnny Cash merchandise entered the Emerson Colonial Theatre to witness their idol’s music live once more. Cash, who passed away 20 years ago, was one of the most celebrated musicians of all time. This was evident on Saturday, March 9, as patrons waited eagerly for the doors to open and for “Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience” to begin.

“The Official Concert Experience,” in collaboration with the estate of Johnny Cash, features speeches and performances from the 1969 Johnny Cash Show projected onto a movie screen; a live band to immerse the audience in surround sound; and narration by Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, to introduce the music.

Hearing Johnny Cash’s deep baritone voice invigorated the audience. Being immersed in his message and music gave us chills. Seeing the love between him and his wife, June Carter, brought tears to our eyes. The emotions surrounding seeing a man like Cash, a man who did so much for music, were moving — so much so that it felt difficult to reduce Cash’s six-decade career to two heavily produced years of his life.

The Johnny Cash who inspired generations of people was the Johnny Cash who sang somberly and passionately about temptation, grief, redemption, and social and political issues. Johnny Cash battled addictions and pain and struggled deeply with the contradictions of the religion he practiced and the country he served. His honesty and vulnerability, as well as his ability to never be locked into any one metaphorical box, were what made him such a powerful artist. The Johnny Cash Show was certainly a part of Cash’s career, but it is difficult to call a show made up entirely of clips from the broadcast “The Official Concert Experience” when it only spanned two years of his long musical journey.

"Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience"

// Photo courtesy of Timothy Norris

“Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience” is for those Cash fans who want to feel nostalgia over the happiest parts of Cash’s life, those who want to hear a cover band sing half (if not more) of the two-hour show time, and those who want to spend an evening listening to great music in a gorgeous theatre. But for those who want the complete picture of Cash’s story, looking for never-before-seen concert footage, or want to be immersed solely in Cash’s voice for two hours, this may not be the show for you.

It was an honor to hear Cash for the little time that we had the opportunity to do so, and the production team did a phenomenal job making it feel like he was in the room with us, but “The Official Concert Experience” left more to long for than to treasure.

// Divya Navani ’24 is a guest writer for The Blues Hangover.