Warfield Concerts' annual music festival officially opened Thursday evening with a tribute to the Delta's “Man in Black” Johnny Cash. Before a rousing performance of some of Cash's greatest hits performed by Phillip Bauer, Dr. Ruth Hawkins of Arkansas State University made a presentation concerning the college's effort to restore the boyhood home of the popular performer.
Working with the Cash family, ASU has raised $1.9 million of the needed $3.5 million to complete the renovation of the Cash home in Dyess (Mississippi County). The reconstruction includes family farm buildings (barn, smokehouse, chicken coop), renovation of the historic Dyess Colony Administration Building and the Dyess Colony Theater. The refurbished administration building eventually will house the Dyess City Hall and serve as a museum. The theater will become a visitor orientation center. A proposed walking/biking trail is also included in the project.
“Dyess Colony was established in 1934 as part of President (Franklin) Roosevelt's New Deal,” said Hawkins. “It was the first agriculture resettlement in U.S. history.”
According to Hawkins, the government bought 16,000 acres of farmland in Mississippi County, Arkansas and divided it into 40-acre farms. A total of 500 Arkansas families were recruited to establish the farming community. Those recruited eventually could buy their land from the government.
Cash was born in Kingsland in Cleveland County, Arkansas. The family was one of three Cleveland County families recruited for the Dyess Colony project. Cash moved to Dyess when he was just three years old in March 1935.
ASU acquired the property two years ago.
“Major restoration work on the boyhood home is nearing completion,” stated Hawkins. “Work is proceeding on furnishing the home, landscaping and planning for the re-creation of outbuildings and visitor services at the home site.”
Work is ongoing on the restoration of the interior of the administration building, which First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped dedicate in 1936, added Hawkins. The goal is have the first floor completed by fall 2013.
Cash's younger brother Tommy and his children Roseanne and John Carter Cash are serving as consultants on the project.
“They are very pleased with the way things are going,” said Hawkins. “It's bringing back a lot of memories for them.”
The Cashes are also deeply involved with the major fund-raising project, the annual Johnny Cash Music Festival held at the ASU Convocation Center in Jonesboro. This year's festival, the third, will be held Aug. 17. The lineup features Vince Gill, Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers and Jimmy Fortune, formerly of The Statler Brothers. Tickets are available at www.johnnycashmusicfest.com or www.astate.edu/tickets.