Johnny Cash may have died on September 12, 2003 but his music was alive and well at the Rose Bowl Tavern on the 10th anniversary of his passing. The tribute to the man and his music, put together by the singer-songwriter impresario Todd Durnil, was a showcase of some of the very best performers in the area. When Todd Durnil has an idea for a tribute show, he draws from a very long list of local musicians. Durnil was the man behind the wildly successful Woody Guthrie Tribute at Mike ‘N Molly’s last year in celebration of the iconic American songwriter’s 100th birthday, and the Bob Dylan Tribute in honor of the Dylan’s 72nd birthday this past May at Mike ‘N Molly’s. Durnil’s instinct for picking musicians for a tribute celebration scored another victory Friday night with A Tribute to the Man in Black. About 70 people came out for the event.
Opening a show at The Rose Bowl is never easy. Besides being a neighborhood tavern, it is also the oldest country music venue in Urbana, and the regulars expect the performances to rise to a level commensurate to that reputation. How Durnil arranges the performer and set list is a large part of the success of his ventures.
Friday night’s event opened with Morgan Orion playing Cash’s 1958 crossover hit, “Guess Things Happen That Way”, written by Jack Clement and recorded by Sun Records, the same label that gave a young Elvis Presley his first recording contract. Orion’s low-key rendition and soft-spoken style seemed the perfect way to kick off the evening.
Cliff and Kristy Stoker, the first of two husband and wife duos to perform, played songs by Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash. Their covers of “The Pine Tree”, and “Jackson” were exceptional, and underscored by their delightful stage presence that brought Johnny and June back to life.
Other highlights from the show include, a raucous cover of the Cash song, “Cocaine”, by Jeff Arrigo, accompanied by Rob Krumm. Hi Ho Buffalo, the midwestern country band out of Mahomet, took the stage and nailed their cover of “Rock Island Line”, a folk-blues song first recorded by Alan Lomax at an Arkansas State Prison in 1934. Mayhew the Traitor, the second husband and wife duo, excelled on their version of the classic, “Long Black Veil”. At the end of the night, all of the performers took the stage and closed out the show covering the Johnny Cash classics, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Ring of Fire”.