Ventura County's Support-Local Program

The Man In Black Is Back

The Johnny Cash Music Festival returns to Ventura.

Ross Emery and Jim Rice, in the company of the Iconic Man In Black as they prepare for this weekend's third annual Johnny Cash Music Festival. Photo by James Scolari.

While many regard Ventura’s music scene as an emerging new  sensation, in fact the roots run deep, anchored by the enduring  presence of such local icons as Jim Salzer, who promoted  shows with many of the biggest acts in history, to immortal VC  dwellers like Johnny Cash, whose local footprint resonates  locally to this day. With the latter, that resonance takes on a  powerful timbre every year at this time with the third annual  Ross Emery’s Roadshow Revival’s Johnny Cash Music  Festival, which returns to the Ventura Fairgrounds June 18.

The festival, brainchild of Ventura native Ross Emery, raises the bar this year under the tutelage of Emery and entrepreneur Jim Rice, who comes on board this year as Event Coordinator. In alliance the two have created an event that seems to offer something to please just about everyone, from topline musical acts like special guest Kris Kristofferson to X, John Doe, Exene, DJ Bonebrake and Billy Zoom, to the ever-popular custom car and motorcycle exhibition, a pin-up girl pageant, and a prestigious new museum exhibit of Cash artifacts and memorabilia, curated by the Museum of Ventura County with the support of Cindy Cash, daughter of the man himself.

With only days remaining before the curtain goes up on the crowd-pleasing day, Totally Local VC caught up with the fest’s dynamic duo to explore the coming attraction.

TLVC: Your postcard for this year’s Cash Festival reads: “A tribute to the life & legacy of the Man in Black.” How perfect is that?

RE: Johnny lived in town here, he was a resident. This is the third annual festival, and we’re paying tribute to him.  I’ve had the privilege to work with Cindy Cash, his daughter that lives in town here. She’s coming out this year; she’s been involved in the past but she’s on the committee this year. She’s going to bring some museum items in, some of Johnny’s personal stuff like letters from President Reagan, Clinton — she just opened the trunk one day and said she wanted to share. There’s going to be a lot of amazing stuff in there.

So you’re going to get a chance to go the museum — the curators at the Museum Of Ventura County have been really excited about working with all those memorabilia and artifacts and putting them on display — in addition to some auction items from the Cash estate.

TLVC: So groovy in this age of diversity, to see such diverse musical disciplines so completely blended by “larger than life” characters like Cash, who’ll draw an audience that might otherwise not give a rip about country music.

JR: That’s something we’re really excited about.  Johnny stood for more than just the music; he made a statement that a lot of people have identified with over the years. Young people are just discovering him — not only in terms of his music, but who he was, what he stood for, championing the downtrodden, the image of the Man In Black.

RE: We’re embracing that, and we’re using it to carry his message — just look at the lineup: our lineup is very eclectic, it’s rockabilly, it’s got outlaw country in it, it’s got the punk band X, and here’s what they all have in common: they all love Johnny. So that alone speaks to the power of the music, number one, and two, of a man that made a statement. So we’re going to honor his life, as much as his music. Those bands are going to play a lot of their own hits, as well as some of Johnny’s songs. The festival offers a little bit of everything.

TLVC: You have a powerful line of copy in your promos — “Tribute to the Life & Legacy;” as you say, both the man and the music contribute to make something larger. In the manner that the producers of the movie about him entitled it “Walk the Line,” it’ speaks to the idea of a man, on his feet, who might not always be doing right, but is single-minded in intentionality to make it right.

JR: People will be able to do what Ross and I have been able to do, which is experience Cindy Cash’s perspective of the man, to explore a variety of his artifacts, very personal in nature that make a statement about who this man was and where his head was at. He was very humble and open, honest about his struggles with life — many of the same struggles we all face — he faced it all and said, “here’s where I am, here’s what I do.” No matter what was going down, every day he woke up the same guy, and he watched his life morph, just like his music morphed. When he ended with “Hurt,” it was probably one of the most moving moments I’ve ever seen in music. It was as if everything he went through in his life and career culminated with that last song. It was a thing of beauty.

TLVC:  That’s a splendid touch, and it’s very much along the lines of what we’ve been talking about at Totally Local VC; this idea of community being a matrix of a lot of different ideas, and a lot of different people stepping up to participate — not just to come out and hear some great music, though that’s great, too — but there’s all sorts of ways to get involved and create an experience that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

RE: I’m 47 years old, I’ve lived here since I was four, roaming these streets — on a local level you’re not going to get more local than our team; for better or worse, it’s just what is, we grew up in this town and we know what works. With this year’s festival we’ve raised the bar pretty high; sure we’re feeling some growing pains, but come June 18, you’re going to see what’s going on.

TLVC: Seeing is believing.

RE: I’m a believer; God and Johnny have their hands all over this. Cindy (Cash) will say, “Okay, that was my Dad- this here was God, but that, what just happened- that was my Dad.”

JR: We’re very grateful. Ventura has really supported this event in the past, and this is the third year. People are looking for bigger and better, and we’re giving them a bigger and better package. It’s going to be a win/win, and we’re thrilled. We’ve got great sponsor support, from the Marriott to Ventura Rentals, Guitar Center, Amtrak, Jersey Mike’s, Surf and Yogurt, Budweiser, and of course Totally Local VC.

TLVC: Like you, we’re committed to raising the bar.

RE: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do now, in year three. The footprint has changed a bit to be not just about the music, but also to include our charity work. We’re very proud to be aligned with FOOD Share — the most impactful, dollars-well-spent charity I’ve come across ever, anywhere. They really get the job done. We’re really proud to be affiliated with them; FOOD Share is one of our major beneficiaries. The other is the Coalition to End Domestic and Family violence. We’re really happy to have them on board- a significant portion of our proceeds will go to support those two charities.

JR: The other way our footprint is changing is a whole kids corral, family area — we’re going to have jumpers, a water bubble attraction, a video area/arcade, something to keep the kids busy if they get tired of mom and dad’s music. Of course we’ll have the classic, custom cars, motorcycles, an incredible food court — and then the crowning jewel, the museum. To see Johnny’s artifacts — for example, letters from a father to a daughter; I’ll be the first to admit it brought a few tears. Very meaningful.

TLVC: Year three of the Cash Fest — your momentum is pretty thrilling; especially to people committed to the idea of Ventura’s possibilities.

JR: Music’s how you can get people to pay attention; it’s a righteous thing. You can bring people to a cause and enlighten them and share other aspects- this town is heavy music-driven, and has some real gems here. We’re happy to be part of that scene, and to be part of something that Ventura can be proud of for years and years to come.

TLVC: Life’s too long to not have a good time, right?

RE: That’s what we’re learning. We wake up every morning and know we’re doing the right thing. People helping families, at the end of the day, that feels good.

TLVC: You can only look in the mirror- no matter where you look, you see yourself reflected. Who knew that better than the Man in Black.

JR: At least he was honest with his demons, you know? In the end, he overcame everything. We all have our own struggles; so this weekend we’ll come together in celebration of a man who famously had his, too, and wore them on his sleeve. It’s pretty cool.

The third annual Johnny Cash Music Festival at the Ventura Fairgrounds, Saturday June 18,2011. Gates open at 10am. $25 general admission; $15 active military, kids under twelve free. Tickets are available at the gate or online at

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Learn more about author James Scolari

James Scolari

About the author

James Scolari is a writer and photographer. Though his seedling sprouted in other soil, after transplanting to the Gold Coast it has flourished and bears fruit in Ventura throughout the seasons. Late of local print journalism, Scolari edits TLVC content for publication and offers odds and ends from his own pen. He's also a staffer and advocate for Ventura's Rubicon Theatre, and teaches his own brand of image-making in the ongoing Mind's Eye photo workshops. Check out his website at


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  1. Congratulations to you all!

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