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Rockabilly in Helena, Cash in Jonesboro

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mississippi and Tennessee have done a far better job than Arkansas of promoting their music heritage.

We are, however, making progress in a state whose music heritage is every bit as rich as those two neighboring states.

Several upcoming events come to mind since they’ll help fund future tourist attractions.

The first will occur this weekend. My friend Bubba Sullivan of Bubba’s Blues Corner at Helena has put together what he hopes to be the first of many rockabilly festivals.

It’s called the Arkansas Delta Rockabilly Festival and will be held downtown on Helena’s historic Cherry Street on Saturday.

Tickets are $10 each. That’s a steal for a lineup that will include Brandon Cunning and the Stunning Cunning Band at noon, C.W. Gatlin at 1 p.m., Smackover native Sleepy LaBeef at 2 p.m., Stan Perkins at 3 p.m., W.S. Holland (who played drums for Johnny Cash for decades) at 4 p.m., Travis Wammack and J.M. Van Eaton at 5 p.m., Mississippi legend Ace Cannon at 6 p.m., Sonny Burgess and the Legendary Pacers at 7 p.m., Ronnie McDowell at 8 p.m. and El Dorado native Jason D. Williams at 9 p.m.

Proceeds from the festival will help fund a project that Bubba has worked on for years — the American Music Museum, which he hopes to put in some of the vacant buildings on Cherry Street in order to attract more tourists to the city.

Bubba, who is about to turn 71, helped start the King Biscuit Blues Festival and the Sonny Boy Blues Society.

“Sonny Burgess and I have been friends for a long time, and he booked everybody,” Bubba recently told The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi. “All of them are up in age. They’re all respected overseas, and a bunch of rockers did tributes to them.”

On May 28, meanwhile, Helena will host the Arkansas Delta Family Gospel Fest at the Cherry Street Pavilion. Gospel great Mavis Staples will headline the 11th annual event.

The Gospel Fest is sponsored each year by the Delta Cultural Center. Admission is free. The festival will begin at 11 a.m. and run until almost 10 p.m. Other groups scheduled to perform are the Holmes Brothers, Tim Rogers and the Fellas, the Lee Boys, Gloryland Pastor’s Choir with Pastor Cedric Hayes, Rev. John Wilkins, the Dixie Wonders, the Fantastic Jordan Wonders and Voices of Joy.

As for this Saturday’s festival, Burgess and Sullivan have created what looks to be a fun event.

The Pacers were formed in 1955 at Newport. They had five singles for Sun Records. They later had a 1965 hit on Razorback Records called “The Short Squashed Texan.” As a child, I was delighted each fall when KAAY-AM, the Mighty 1090, would play that song over and over the week of an Arkansas-Texas football game.

The group has played through the years with Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, Ronnie Hawkins, Billy Lee Riley, Ace Cannon, Charlie Rich and others.

The group, which has toured throughout the United States and Canada, was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tenn., in 2002.

Their motto: “They play the music of the ’50s the best because they helped invent it.”

It also must be noted that tickets are now on sale for the huge Johnny Cash Music Festival that’s scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 4, at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center on the campus of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Johnny Cash boyhood home project at Dyess.

The number to call for tickets is (870) 972-2781. Tickets may also be purchased by going to the school’s website at

“Because of Johnny Cash’s fame, visitors come to see the town where he grew up, but there’s little there that tells his story,” says Gov. Mike Beebe, an Amagon native who knows all about the music heritage of east Arkansas. “I’m pleased that the city of Dyess, Arkansas State University and others are now joining to develop a museum that focuses on his boyhood in Dyess, along with efforts to restore or re-create his childhood home. … Within five years of opening, the tourism projects are projected to have the potential of pumping more than $7 million annually into the regional economy and generating more than 80 jobs.

“For too many years, the fact that Cash spent his entire childhood in Arkansas has largely been igonored, except by his most ardent fans. Born in Kingsland in 1932, Cash moved with his family in 1935 to Dyess Colony in Mississippi County and remained there until his graduation from high school in 1950. The colony was one of the nation’s earliest New Deal agricultural resettlement communities, created to give struggling farm families a chance at a new beginning.”

There are three types of tickets:

— The $150 VIP package includes a seat on the floor in front of the stage, admission to an exhibition of Cash photos by Alan Messer and access to an artist reception to meet Cash children Rosanne Cash and John Carter Cash.

— The $75 ticket includes a lower-level seat and admission to the photo exhibition.

— Other tickets are $37.50 each.

Those planning to perform include Rosanne Cash, John Carter and Laura Cash, Johnny’s brother Tommy Cash, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Morris, Dailey & Vincent, Rodney Crowell and Chelsea Crowell.

If you need more information, go to

Rosanne called the possible restoration of the Cash family home “a long cherished dream.”

ASU wants to restore the home that Cash lived in from the time he was 3 until he graduated from high school to make it look like it did during the 1930s and 1940s. If the private owners won’t sell the actual home, ASU will re-create it.

The university also is restoring what was the administration building at Dyess Colony. The museum will include exhibits on Cash’s boyhood at Dyess, the influence of his family and the impact his early life had on his later music.

The former theater next door (only the facade remains) will be reconstructed to show an orientation film along with Cash documentaries.

ASU hopes to make the music festival an annual event.

Christy Valentine, the school’s communications director, said: “Since the moment the announcement was made about the benefit concert, we have received a flood of requests for ticket informtion from all over the country. We believe that this festival will be a top draw each year.”

If you like music, you would be wise to mark the next two Saturdays in Helena on your schedule along with Aug. 4 in Jonesboro.

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