A Review: Garner and company ‘blow all our blues away’

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

I was standing beside myself with disbelief when I heard James Garner was coming to town. I then recovered once I realized it wasn’t that James Garner (seeing as how the legendary actor passed in 2014), but was still excited to hear that this James was bringing a tribute to the equally legendary Johnny Cash to Ridgecrest through the Indian Wells Valley Concert Association.

Garner’s arresting portrayal of Cash resulted in a well-earned standing ovation after nearly two hours of nonstop entertainment. He and the band have honed their ability to emulate the Johnny Cash Sound so well that the experience feels as much like a journey through time as it does a concert.

Garner’s ability to cover Cash’s deep vocal range is impressive in its own right, but his ability to capture the timbre and feeling of the renowned singer’s iconic voice is truly special. Garner’s love of, and dedication to, Cash’s body of work is clear – it seems he was born for this role.

The same goes for his “Tennessee Three” – guitarist Denny Colleret, bassist Rick Duncan and percussionist Nick Auriemmo. Colleret is no stranger to the country scene, having opened shows for Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and others. Duncan refined his skills at the prestigious Julliard School of Music and San Francisco Conservatory. All the while Auriemmo, like an unrelenting coal train engine, holds the group together with his precise, rockabilly beats.

Now I wasn’t a born-and-bred Cash fan. I don’t really remember my parents listening to him, and I’ve never been enormously fond of country music. But in the early 2000s, I heard some old guy deliver a harrowing rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and was moved to tears. When I found out that old guy was the same fella whot sang “A Boy Named Sue,” I knew that I had to hear more.

What I discovered was songs just as powerful as “Hurt,” songs just as silly as “Sue” and everything in between. Like countless others, I was unable to resist Cash’s charm, talent and good-old American boom-chick-a sound. And that’s exactly what Gardner and his band brought to the stage Monday night.

“Hello, we love Johnny Cash,” said Gardner as he came on stage, an homage to Cash’s traditional opening remarks. Clad all in black and sporting a pompadour haircut, he then kicked off with “I Got Stripes.”

While Cash was known to usually begin his shows with the iconic “Folsom Prison Blues,” I was already appreciating Gardner’s presentation with his willingness to get into the deeper tracks of Cash’s repertoire.

We laughed clapped through favorites like “One Piece at a Time,” “Rock Island Line” and “Orange Blossom Special.” Some of us nearly cried through “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” and “Man in Black.” Garner even sprung a guitar string on the home stretch of the evening’s performance, but it did nothing to slow down the fun.

Garner fills the space between songs with his “and now you know the rest of the story” brand of storytelling, where he provides facts, insights and historical context for Cash’s body of work. The time he takes to chat does nothing to detract from the performance, but rather provides more drama and emotion to an already heartfelt presentation.

Jame’s Garner’s Tribute to Johnny Cash was a tremendous way to kick off the IWVCA’s 2017-18 concert season. The Concert Association has a rich tradition of bringing talented, quality performers to the valley, and Garner’s group was no exception.

In all honesty, Johnny Cash’s catalogue is such that I’d listen to just about anybody perform it for an hour or two. But Garner and company truly delivered a memorable performance that left the whole auditorium wanting more. It’s no surprise that the group was asked to reenact Cash’s infamous Folsom State Prison concert in 2008, commemorating 40 years since his iconic appearance.

For more information on the James Garner Johnny Cash Tribute, visit www.cashtribute.net. This isn’t the last tribute group to visit Ridgecrest for the foreseeable future. The IWVCA schedule includes both Beatles and John Denver tributes for the current season. For more about the IWVCA, see iwvca.tripod.com.

Story First Published: 2017-11-17