HANFORD — The music of Johnny Cash returns to The Hanford Fox Theatre this weekend.
Hanford native James Garner has made a life out of sharing his passion for the music of the man in black and he’ll be performing some of the country legend’s most enduring songs on the stage at the Fox tonight.
“This is Johnny Cash as I experienced it growing up and I want to share that with the world,” Garner said.
A Hanford High School graduate, Garner now lives outside of Sacramento with his wife and two children.
Fittingly, Garner first experienced the music of the legendary artist – known for songs like, “Ring of Fire,” A Boy Named Sue” and his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” — because of the Fox Theatre.
In February of 1992, Cash performed at the Hanford Fox and Garner began to become curious about this performer that his father and seemingly all his friends’ parents were excited to see. This led Garner to buy a Johnny Cash cassette tape at a record store in Visalia — a purchase that changed his life.
“I thought, ‘this is awesome’ especially compared to what was popular at the time, you know Sinead O’Connor or Ace of Base or whatever,” he said, adding that he feels like he was born a generation too late. In high school, he idolized Johnny Cash while his friends idolized Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
After that first song — “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” — Garner was entranced by Cash’s music and life, listening to and reading anything he could about the man in black.
After a night of performing Cash songs at a Karaoke bar in Lodi, Garner decided he’d take the idea to the next step, and he’s been doing so for 11 years.
“The sparseness of those songs with Cash and his band, and of course you’ve got that big voice telling these stories, I think that’s what resonates with people,” Garner said.
Garner said that many of the fans that come to his shows grew up with the music of Johnny Cash and have been long-time fans, but he also sees Cash fans who may be young enough to have not even been alive when Cash died in 2003.
During the concerts, Garner not only performs Cash’s immortal music, but tells their stories. Before each song, Garner will discuss where Cash was in life when he wrote it and how the song impacted his career.
“I think it’s safe to say that with every song, there is a story,” he said. “We want to really honor Johnny Cash, not just play his music. But also tell people why he is was important and what he meant to American popular music.”
The Fox performance comes on the 50th anniversary of Cash’s seminal album, “At Folsom Prison.” After years of drug abuse and relative obscurity in the world of popular music, Cash wanted to turn things around by recording an album live at Folsom Prison, outside of Sacramento.
“It was huge. No. 1 album, No. 1 song – he was just burning up the country charts and he had a crossover appeal. It was not only big for him, but it was big for country music on a national scale. Its success ushered in things like Johnny Cash’s own television show, 'The Glenn Campbell Goodtime Hour,' 'Hee Haw,' all of that could be traced back to Johnny Cash,” Garner said.
Garner has been touring as part of his tribute to the Folsom Prison album, recently performing a string of shows in the Midwest.