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DYESS, Ark. – With his presentation “American Culture and the Art of Johnny Cash,” author and professor Michael Streissguth hopes to give a glimpse into the past and show how the memories of a Depression-era resettlement colony are kept alive because of the fame achieved by country music icon Johnny Cash.
Streissguth’s presentation will be one of two feature presentations at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival Oct. 19-21 in Dyess. Along with author and photographer Bill McDowell, who will present “Resurrecting Images from the Great Depression,” Streissguth will close out the three-day symposium leading up to the “Cash cotton field” concert that brings the festival to a close.
Rosanne Cash, eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, will introduce the featured presentations Saturday, Oct. 21, before co-headlining the field concert with Kris Kristofferson, one of the great songwriters in American history. The Saturday presentations will begin at 9 a.m. at the Dyess Community Center, with the field concert beginning at 12:15 p.m. adjacent to the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home.
“Cash gives a window for us to understand a major response by the federal government to the Great Depression, which was the Dyess Colony,” said Streissguth. “His fame swung the spotlight in the direction of Dyess and has given us an opportunity to understand Dyess apart from Johnny Cash. That’s a reason to be grateful for what Cash achieved. Kris Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash would not be performing in a field in the middle of Dyess if Cash hadn’t achieved what he did.”
Streissguth will draw from interviews that he did with residents of Dyess, some now deceased, to show what life was like in Dyess and to explore the life of Cash.
“What I hope to do is to show the audience what I have learned about Johnny Cash, through the people who used to live in Dyess,” said Streissguth. “Cash really comes alive through the eyes of people who knew him as a child, before he was ‘The Man in Black’ and a mythical figure in American culture.”
Streissguth used the interviews in writing Johnny Cash: The Biography, one of three books he has written on Cash.
When he began his research for the book, Streissguth first visited Dyess alone.
“I sat outside the house that Cash grew up in,” he explained. “It was quiet, nobody was home and the house had not been restored. I just tried to soak up the physical environment – what was it like to grow up here – the sounds, smells and sights.”
When he returned to Dyess a few weeks later for his second visit, it was his interviews with former residents that opened up a new understanding of what life was like in the small Delta town.
“Dyess is such a fascinating story independent of Johnny Cash,” said Streissguth, “and a story that people really need to know about.”
The symposium will run from 1-5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in the Colony Visitors Center, and again Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., before concluding Saturday morning. There is no charge to attend the symposium, but those with plans to attend are asked to register online in advance at http://JohnnyCashHeritageFestival.com/presentation-registration/
In addition to the symposium and the Saturday concert, regional music performances will be held Oct. 19 and 20 during KASU Music Nights at the festival. Nine regional acts will entertain at the Dyess Colony Circle over the two-day span, and all Thursday and Friday performances at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival are free. The festival will also include a “Memories of a Lifetime” oral history project, and food vendors, arts and crafts booths, and demonstrations throughout the three days.
Along with performances by Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash at the Saturday concert, Northeast Arkansas native Buddy Jewell will open the concert at 12:15 p.m., followed by Joanne and Tommy Cash at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and available online at AState.edu/tickets<http://www.astate.edu/tickets>, or at the A-State Convocation Center Box Office on the A-State campus (lower red entrance), or by calling 870-972-2781 or 800-745-3000. Reserved seating at the $100 and $50 level is sold out, but $25 general admission tickets remain on sale.
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