Well I couldn’t have picked a better week to show up in Starkville…unbeknownst to me until I stepped into the local Book Mart on Main Street, Starkville is hosting the first ever Johnny Cash Festival which kicks off today! Miss Barbara and Miss Jimmy (that’s right, Jimmy is her first name) at the Book Mart kindly filled me in on the unprecedented event which is officially labeled the ‘Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival’ in honour of the Man in Black’s notorious one-night stay in the Starkville City jail after he’d been found inebriated ‘pickin’ flowers’ (so he claimed) in someone’s garden following a gig he’d played here in 1965. Ironically enough, I already knew the story, seeing as how just that morning I’d perused Wikipedia (dependable resource that it is) in search of local facts and figures, and happened upon this humourous anecdote. As I drove into town I noticed a sign for the Dark Horse Tavern, which is where Cash had played that night, and only a block away, the city jail…incidently where my friend Josh works as a jailor. Only in Mississippi!
If you’re just starting to realise why this college town’s name seems familiar to you, and it’s not because you follow NCAA football, then it might be because Mr. Cash’s stay in the slammer inspired the tune “Starkville City Jail” which you may also know was performed at the San Quentin State Prison. Here for your enjoyment are the lyrics:
Well, I left my motel room, down at the Starkville Motel,The town had gone to sleep and I was feelin' fairly well.I strolled along the sidewalk 'neath the sweet magnolia trees;I was whistlin', pickin' flowers, swayin' in the southern breeze.I found myself surrounded; one policeman said: "That's him.Come along, wild flower child. Don't you know that it's two a.m."They're bound to get you.'Cause they got a curfew.And you go to the Starkville City jail.Well, they threw me in the car and started driving into town;I said: "What the hell did I do?" He said: "Shut up and sit down."Well, they emptied out my pockets, took my pills and guitar picks.I said: "Wait, my name is..." "Awe shut up." Well, I sure was in a fix.The sergeant put me in a cell, then he went home for the night;I said: "Come back here, you so and so; I ain't bein' treated right."Well, they're bound to get you, cause they got a curfew,And you go to the Starkville City Jail.I started pacin' back and forth, and now and then I'd yell,And kick my forty dollar shoes against the steel floor of my cell.I'd walk awhile and kick awhile, and all night nobody came.Then I sadly remembered that they didn't even take my name.At 8 a.m. they let me out. I said: "Gimme them things of mine!"They gave me a sneer and a guitar pick, and a yellow dandelion.They're bound to get you, 'cause they got a curfew,And you go to the Starkville City Jail.
--by Johnny Cash
At first I wondered if this festival was a big deal in the minds of locals more than anything, but when I stopped in at the local Chamber of Commerce to find out more, the woman who’s dark and generous hands enveloped my skinny l’il white palm, and who’s name (Latasha) seemed to somehow compliment her red lacquered nails, informed me that the festival had garnered the media’s attention not just in neighbouring Tenessee, but in New York and London as well. When I sat down to lunch with the local paper I read that festival organisers were expecting upwards of 20, 000 people to show up for the event! And when I jumped online to google the festival a flurry of articles arrived at my fingertips. Check out this article by the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6992589.stm
What’s the real big deal about this whole thing? Well first off, of course the music should be amazing, with members of the Cash family showing up to perform and other renowned artists taking to the stage of Main Street, USA tomorrow. But the highlight of the weekend is the official pardoning of Johnny Cash which will take place at 8:05 pm Central time and will no doubt draw quite a crowd…after which I will leave tired, happy, and eager to upload photos.
Oh, and here’s the real great part about all this: from the ages of 10-12 I wore a lot of black…so much so that my mom started calling me Johnny Cash. I didn’t know who Johnny Cash was or why he wore black, but I had already started reading ‘Vogue’ and instinctively knew that black was classic. Mom’s response to that: “Not on a 10-year old.”
Catch ya on the flip side of the Cash Festival...