Why They Celebrated Johnny Cash In Bruce’s Hometown Of Starkville Mississippi
Once upon a time we celebrated Johnny Cash in my hometown of Starkville Mississippi with a festival every year. Was it because Mr. Cash was such a great singer? Was it because he made some altruistic gift to the town? No, it’s because he got arrested in Starkville and wrote a song about it.
As Chris Logan plays you some Johnny Cash on tonight’s Classic Country Saturday Night show I submit this little tidbit for your classic country consumption.
The year was 1965, it was May 10th. Johnny Cash played a concert in Starkville. It was in the wee small hours of May the 11th the events happened that changed history. Mr. Cash alleged that he had simply stepped out of his motel room to catch a breath of fresh air and pick some wild flowers that grow along the side of Highway 12 during the month of May.
The Starkville City Police allege that Mr. Cash was indeed picking flowers and was so drunk he could barley stand up. What also supported the assumption that Mr. Cash was drunk was the fact that he was standing along side the highway in his underwear.
Johnny Cash was taken to the Starkville City Jail and suspicion of public drunkenness and a curfew violation. He was released later that day. The experience in Starkville was such that Mr. Cash decided to commemorate his incarceration in song.That song, Starkville City Jail, was included in Johnny’s At San Quentin album.
The city of Starkville some 40 years later thought it best to forgive Johnny Cash with a full pardon and celebrate his accomplishments by holding a festival in his honor. The Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival was a celebration of music food and fun to honor this dubious distinction the town had earned with its connection to the music legend. Sadly due to financial concerns the festival ceased to exist in 2012.
Why would a town want to take an event such as a celebrity arrest and turn it into a boost for tourism? To quote the former festival’s founder, “Johnny Cash was arrested in seven places,but he only wrote a song about one of those places”. I guess fame and fortune are where you find them and when you’re a small dot on the map like my hometown is any brush with greatness is a brush worth celebrating.