Walking the Line between a Cash tribute and celebration

Despite uncommon humility and a calm and trustworthy baritone voice, Johnny Cash’s life was marked by almost melodramatic highs and lows. HIs discovery by Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis, his brush with fame as country’s anti-Elvis, fighting chemical dependency and his onstage proposal to the love of his life, June Carter are all larger than life moments as legendary as Cash’s music.

Cash was, and is, a legendary figure in music for many reasons. His music speaks of sorrow, morality and redemption; yet somehow it has given joy and hope to several generations of music lovers.

Ward Comforth first experienced this while watching the famed biopic, Walk the Line, that tells the story of Cash’s life. Ten years later, Cash’s music has changed Comforth’s life.

“I realized what a huge interest there was and still is for Johnny Cash’s music among people of all ages,” says Comforth. “And I had found an artist that I could sing!”

The show that Comforth built as a result, We Walk The Line: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, is as true a Johnny Cash Experience as is possible since his passing. It celebrates the music and lives of ‘The Man In Black’ and his fun loving wife, June Carter. The concert performance features Cash’s music, stories from his life, and includes duets performed with Johnny’s life-long partner June Carter.

The show makes its annual stop in Barrie at the Five Points Theatre on May 25.

“The audience has been great in Barrie,” explains Comforth. “They are really into the music and we love the response we get every time we perform there.”

It’s important to note that Cornforth is not a Johnny Cash Impersonator, he is a big Johnny Cash fan and his band proudly presents the Man in Black’s music as fans, for fans. Throughout the show, Cornforth gives background, context and even shares anecdotes to further illuminate Cash’s legend.

“We really cover everything,” says Comforth, ”and have added some new songs that audiences have been requesting at our shows over the last few years.”

The show itself features music from the entire Cash catalogue. From the 1950’s at Sun Records to 2003 with the American Recordings label, nothing is left out. Johnny’s biggest hits Ring of Fire, Boy Named Sue, I Walk The Line, Folsom Prison Blues, and the famous duet with June Carter, Jackson are all included among many others.

“We have two vocalists who perform with us as June Carter,” Comforth continues, “Julie Mahendran and Kim Spratt. They both have professional singing careers.”

Despite building the show around the sound of the original Tennessee Three, Comforth thinks it’s important to touch on Cash’s entire career, including his seemingly impossible comeback in the years before his death.

“There are several songs we do from the American Recordings,” says Comforth, “including Hurt and Rusty Cage which are always audience favourites.”

Covering 50 years of music and anecdotes has set Comforth’s show apart and put it on the path to success. He’s nearly positive that they perform more songs than any other tribute but it’s also the attention to detail in musical arrangement that stands out.

“Our show is true to the arrangements of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three as a 4 piece band,” Comforth explains. “I portray a 1960’s Johnny Cash throughout the show.”

Somehow, despite the performance being rooted in a single era, it doesn’t seem odd to see a young Johnny singing his late-era music about mortality. Perhaps it’s this enigmatic quality that is most like Cash himself.

We Walk the Line performs at the Five Points Theatre on May 25 at 7:30pm.
Tickets are available online here.

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