Few music icons (dead or alive) come close to the enigmatic spirit of Johnny Cash. He may have been a country fella, but he was a whole lotta rock n' roll, too. His outlaw swagger, black attire and risky, rebellious choices (from jail jamborees to Nine Inch Nails covers) made him the ultimate badass, even in later years. So it was no surprise to see so many rockabilly rousers, hotrod holligans and sexy pin-up style sirens at Roadshow Revival's Johnny Cash Music Festival in Ventura County Saturday, but this was far from a one-trick pony, event or crowd-wise. Thanks to diverse performers including X, The Blasters and Kris Kristofferson, the inclusion of a "kids corral" (lil ones dressed in black got in free!) and a massive vendor area, this Cash mash was extremely mixed, walking the line between family free for all, hippie-ish love-in and punk rock pile-up.
Others acts in the line-up included Hayden Thompson (with Omar & the Stringpoppers), Deke Dickerson, Cash on The Line, Levi Dexter with Buzz Campbell, and Lee Rocker (stand-up bassist and one of the original members of the Stray Cats). Families and older folk brought chairs and blankets and laid them on the field further from the stage, but the more boisterous, Budweiser-soaked bunches were there to boogie, and a black and white checkered floor right in front of the stage provided traction for some frenzied dance action, which reached its height during X and The Blasters' sets.
At 58, Phil Alvin still rocks a vigorous live show. He was sweating up a storm Saturday (and that's saying something as the June gloom was coupled with brisk winds from the nearby shorline at Ventura Fairgrounds, where the fest was held) and his vocals were potent as ever. He's been carrying on with The Blasters since his brother Dave left years ago and after nearly 30 years, he still holds his own. (Younger Alvin, Dave by the way, releases a new record this month, and the disc features a rare duet with Phil, called "What's Up With Your Brother?").
Speaking of duets, Phil brought out Exene for a charming rendition of "Jackson," Cash's famed duet with his beloved wife June and it was nearly as sassy as the original. Of course, few vocal pairings ooze into each other as alchemically -- and audaciously -- as that of John Doe and Exene, and after Kristofferson's lowkey set (he had commanding presence and impressive harmonica skills, but other than his sweet "Bobby McGee" rendition, his set dawdled somewhat) X marked its spot with power, charisma and yes chemistry, shared not only between the fronting duo, but between the each member of the original quartet: John Doe, Billy Zoom, D.J. Bonebrake and Ms. Cervenka.
X did all their hits: "Los Angeles," "Hungry Wolf," "White Girl," "We're Desperate" and -- fitting for the old-timey geared fest -- the Jerry Lee Lewis classic, " Breathless." Exene gives off a maternal quality these days (she was dressed in a pretty, old-fashioned apron) and though she called off the ending dates on her solo tour just two months ago, after suffering from MS symptoms while at South by Southwest, she seemed to be doing great Saturday. (The band just completed a slew of June dates).
Exene revealed that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2009, and according to her statement at the time of the tour halt, she never knows when its symptons may strike. Saturday's invigorated set (as good any gig we've seen from them; and we've been going to X gigs as far back as 20 years ago) was loud, fast and fun, a smiles-all-around stomper suggesting the singer is back on track health-wise. The band ended the fest on a serious high note. An enduring band playing for an enduring legend... the man in black would be proud.
See more Cash fest photos in our slideshow up soon.
Follow us on Twitter at @L_in_A.