Bill Forness and One More Round Perform Johnny Cash's FOLSOM PRISON EXPERIENCE At Police Fundraiser

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Bill Forness as Johnny Cash, playing the FOLSOM PRISON EXPERIENCE at the Liuna Event Center in south St. Louis March 16 and 17, 2019. Image courtesy of Bill Forness.

Johnny Cash was a legend in country music and pop culture. His deep baritone voice grabbed the listener’s attention like a fire and brimstone preacher. He sang romantic ballads, colorful yarns about life on the road, somber ditties of crime and punishment, and witty tunes about life’s oddities, such as the strange names peculiar parents sometimes saddle upon their children.

Bill Forness and One More Round are renowned for their spot on covers of Johnny Cash’s music. They regularly perform a charity show for the St .Louis County Police Welfare Association, a non-profit organization which provides support for officers and their families during times of need. This year, the event at the Liuna Event Center was cancelled due to a major snowstorm that completely shut down the metro area in January. The event, known as the Folsom Prison Experience, was rescheduled for March 16 and 17, 2019. I attended the dinner and show on March 16, where I found the dinner portion of the show to be vastly superior to what I assume the inmates of Folsom Prison would have experienced. The St. Patrick’s Day event did not include dinner—it was a matinee—but I imagine it’s not easy to compete with the official unofficial international drinking holiday.

Forness started off the set with Johnny Cash’s signature line, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” and the band immediately launched into “Folsom Prison Blues.” I closed my eyes to concentrate solely on Furness’ voice, and it sure sounded like I was hearing Johnny Cash circa 1968. Furness accurately recreates the Man in Black in his entirety, booming out songs from the original’s huge catalog, many of them included on the Folsom Prison Blues album he recorded live at the prison in 1968, as well as other hits. He also strummed his guitar in Cash’s signature style: slung high, angled as if he was looking down its side the way a huntsman’s tracks his pay down the sites of a rifle scope. He’d then strum halfway up the neck with apparent nonchalance. Cash made it all look so easy, and Forness is just as accomplished.  I couldn’t find details about the musicians who comprise the rest of the band, but I can tell you that Craig Straubinger gave a strong opening performance as the great Carl Perkins and Sharon Newell was delightful as June Carter, accompanying Forness on several songs throughout the set.

While I acknowledge that this was a charity event, the event itself got in the way of enjoying the band at times. In an effort to raise money, the folks who were filling up nearly 40 tables seating 10 people a piece could purchase “warrants” whereby they’d write some funny charge and place the alleged perpetrator in a makeshift jail cell near the front tables. I get the joke—these folks are supporting our local police, and some of the charges were kind of funny. But having Forness stop every other song to read the warrants out loud really slowed the proceedings down. By 10:30 pm the band was just coming back from an intermission. Soon after Forness played a Cash song called “Cocaine Blues” the fourth song from disk one of At Folsom Prison, by request. I don’t get offended by much, but that song’s lyrics were controversial back in ’68 and really don’t come off any better today. The lyrics aren’t really all that different from the violent and misogynistic rap output of the 90s form acts like Ice T and the NWA. It was certainly no “Ring of Fire” or “Ghost Riders in the Sky” or “A Boy Named Sue” or “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” On the other hand, Forness and Newell were spot on with “Jackson” and the set included one of my favorite train songs with “Hey Porter.” Overall, I was pleased by Bill Forness and One More Round’s musicianship and wouldn’t mind seeing them again in a more traditional concert setting, without the interruptions for fundraising. I expect the charity did pretty well though,as lots of folks sent friends and family to jail for "Loving their Cell Phone more than me!" or "Being too enamoured with Ol' Johnny Cash." 

4.0 / 5.0