Countless artists came together to share their versions of Johnny Cash songs as part of the inaugural Cash Fest at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 10. The evening served as a celebration ahead of the upcoming premiere of the YouTube Originals documentary The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash, which airs on Nov. 11.
With a diverse roster that spanned genres, the evening featured over 20 performances of songs made famous by Cash, as well as covers the Man in Black previously performed. John Oates and Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant put their own unique spin on “Big River” and “Hurt,” respectively.
Plus, Elle King performed an animated “A Boy Named Sue,” while Perry Farrell’s rendition of “Ring of Fire” embraced Cash’s original stylings.
All ticket proceeds from the evening benefitted MusicCares.
Here are five of the best moments from the event.
Caitlyn Smith stuns with “Rusty Cage”
Several songs into the night, Caitlyn Smith silenced the venue with her powerful vocals and undeniable stage presence. Performing a haunting rendition of “Rusty Cage,” originally penned and performed by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Smith glided around the stage and effortlessly segued from a whisper to a belt keeping listeners entranced the entire time.
Couples captivate on Johnny and June classics
Cash was no stranger to duetting with his wife, June Carter. Fittingly, the evening included several standout collaborations with real-life couples Drew & Ellie Holcomb, Ana Cristina & John Carter Cash, and Perry & Etty Farrell.
The Holcombs kicked off the night of collaborations with an energetic performance of “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man” that had the couple trading verses and providing standout harmonies to one another while John Carter Cash let the spotlight shine on his wife for a rollicking version of “Get Rhythm” where her smoky vocals soared. The Farrells, meanwhile, put their own interpretation on the Johnny and June standard “Jackson,” which had Etty showing off her choreography while singing along with her husband.
Dennis Quaid’s got pipes
While Dennis Quaid is well known for his acting career, he’s also an impressive frontman as part of Dennis Quaid & the Sharks. On Sunday night, those in attendance at Cash Fest saw his musician side. Midway through the concert, Quaid took the stage as if he was Johnny Cash himself, strumming his guitar while impersonating the late legend’s signature booming belt during an animated performance of “I Walk the Line” which he dedicated to the veterans in the room on the eve of Veteran’s Day.
Little Big Town’s harmonies soar
Little Big Town is known for its harmonies and the band took things to another level during its stirring performance of “Why Me Lord.” Jimi Westbrook captivated on lead vocals on the song’s first verse before his bandmates entered on the chorus. With stunning four-part harmonies, Little Big Town’s gospel-infused take on Cash’s “Why Me Lord” garnered the group a standing ovation.
Cash’s soul remains in today’s artists
Cash was revered for his unique blend of country, soul and gospel, and several acts embodied this distinct soulfulness throughout the evening. Wilder Woods (Bear Rinehart of Needtobreathe) highlighted Cash’s Southern rock roots with a mesmerizing interpretation of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” while Judah & the Lion’s rollicking rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues” had the room clapping along during standout instrumental features.
The 90-minute documentary The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash premieres today and was directed by Emmy- and Grammy-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny (Springsteen on Broadway).