Hello, we’re Johnny Cash

Stacked all-star tribute/benefit at the RISD Auditorium
By CHRIS CONTI  |  March 31, 2010

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MILLER TIME Daltry (left) and his fellow ’Mericans.

The Nave Gallery in Somerville kicks off its month-long salute to the Man in Black next week, and a handful of all-star benefit shows across the region have been lined up in con-junction with “The Beast in Me — Johnny Cash: Art Influenced by the Struggle of a Man,” an exhibit which features more than a dozen artists offering vivid interpretations of a man who so deftly walked the line between God-fearing righteousness and hellbent rebellion. The Johnny Cash Music Series: A Benefit for Prison Literacy Programs kicks off on April 8 at the RISD Auditorium, thanks in large part to Joseph Fletcher of the Wrong Reasons, one of 10 local acts donating their services to benefit the Providence chapter of Books Through Bars, an all-volunteer organization which facilitates prisoner education and promotes successful community reintegration. The RISD date will be followed by shows featuring local acts in Northampton, Somerville, and Portland, Maine, all benefiting local prison literacy programs.

Joe Fletcher’s participation was an easy sell, since he and his fellow Rhody artists hail Johnny Cash as a major musical influence.

“We got involved initially when [event organizer] Jenn Harrington asked us to play a similar benefit in Somerville last year, where all the bands covered the songs of Frank Black. The entire event was such a blast and so professionally organized. And we’re anticipating a big turnout [at RISD]. This is going to be a great night of music.”

Fletcher reports that each of the 10 artists chose in advance the songs they would like to play, which should make for a thorough (and thoroughly-entertaining) setlist.

Veteran guitarist Mark Cutler has played pretty much every room in Rhode Island, including the ACI.

“Many years ago, my old band [the Schemers] played for inmates inside the maximum security unit, and I will absolutely remember that show for the rest of my life,” Cutler emailed. “It was heavy, joyous, and sad. We were just trying to shine some light on a really dark place. We were aware we were following in the tradition of Johnny Cash, and now Providence Books Through Bars is continuing that tradition.”

Covering the works of Johnny Cash is a fitting way to benefit prison literacy programs. While Cash never spent more than an overnight stay in the slammer, he felt compassion for those locked away, and performed storied shows inside prison walls, most notably at San Quentin and Folsom.

Acclaimed Providence locals the ’Mericans will start the night off promptly at 8 pm. The gig is a perfect fit for frontman Chris Daltry.

“Several years ago, I fronted a Johnny Cash cover band that included members of the Blackstone Valley Sinners, and because of that I already knew a bunch of Cash songs,” Daltry said. “This was something that the ’Mericans just had to be part of.”

Tallahassee lead vocalist Brian Barthelmes, the burly and bearded ex-Pats lineman with the big and lofty falsetto, has a serious soft spot for the Man in Black, as well as the show’s beneficiary. He offered his thoughts via email: “I left the NFL to pursue a life in social work and music, so I view this fundraiser as a perfect crossroads of my two passions. Since I currently work with the homeless population, I witness the results of our poor corrections system almost every day. Scott [Thompson] will be taking over vocal duties while I play banjo and sing harmonies. Scott’s bass-baritone voice lends itself nicely to the songs of Johnny Cash.”

Go to Providence Books Through Bars site (ProvidenceBTB.org) for details on how to make a tax-deductible contribution. And book drop-offs are welcome; look for the giant blue bin behind the Bell Street Chapel, just off Broadway and Tobey Street.  

JOHNNY CASH TRIBUTE SERIES: A BENEFIT FOR PRISON LITERACY PROGRAMS featuring the ’Mericans + Brown Bird + Coyote Kolb + Mark Cutler + Avi Jacob + Last Good Tooth +
Movers & Shakers + Ben Pilgrim + Tallahassee + the Wrong Reasons | April 8 @ 7:30 pm | RISD Auditorium, 17 Canal Street, Providence | $10, $7 w/ student ID | all-ages | NaveGallery.org

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