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Folsom Prison Experience

The critical and commercial reactions to Johnny Cash’s iconic 1968 live recording, At Folsom Prison, are well documented – a No. 1 smash that catapulted Cash to crossover stardom and cemented his reputation as an artist who didn’t play by the conventional rules. But the behind-the-scenes tales of that fateful day, January 13, 1968, when Cash and his entourage put on two shows for California’s Folsom Prison inmates remain filled with facts and folklore.

That makes Folsom Prison Experience even more fascinating. Dubbed “an immersive tribute drama,” Folsom Prison Experience is a musical that merges live concert, stage drama, and audience participation in interactive theater as it recreates one of the most critical days in Johnny Cash’s storied musical career. At the center of the production is Church of Cash, the award-winning Johnny Cash tribute show featuring Jay Ernest as the Man in Black. Folsom Prison Experience was written by Ernest and his friend/collaborator Tom Pickard.

Folsom Prison Experience makes its stage debut during a premiere on Nov. 2 and 3 at Le Musique Room in St. Michael, Minnesota. Audiences are encouraged to become a part of the production. They can wear their best prison inmate attire and consider themselves that same captive crowd that cheered during Cash’s 1968 concert. More Folsom Prison Experience performance dates will be announced soon.

Working on making Folsom Prison Experience a reality is a personal and professional milestone for Ernest. “I have spent years studying the history and music of Johnny Cash,” he says. “It is a great honor to bring to life that day in Folsom Prison to the theater and Johnny Cash fans alike.”

Folsom Prison Experience stars Jay Ernest as Johnny Cash and features the band members of Church of Cash playing members of Cash’s band on that immortal day: Tony Wirth on bass is Marshall Grant, “Jumpin’” Jack Mansk on an electric guitar is Luther Perkins, and Jonathan TeBeest on drums is W.S. Holland. Stephanie Long directs Folsom Prison Experience with Pickard as technical director. Pickard and Ernest are also the producers.

Rounding out the cast of Folsom Prison Experience is Kat Perkins as June Carter, Dan Hopman as The Warden, Ryan Maddux as Emcee Hugh Cherry, and Bronson Bergeson as Glen Shirley/Carl Perkins. Also, the cast includes a dozen more actors playing the parts of correctional officers and the Statler Brothers, played by Matt Kneefe, Kris Stauffer, and Mike Johnson from the band Hitchville.

Writing Folsom Prison Experience was a two-month process for Ernest and Pickard. The two writers drew from various sources on the facts and folklore of that pivotal day to get as inclusive and fluid a story as possible. Cash had grown tired of the usual recording process inside a studio, so his band suggested a live concert taped inside a prison. Ernest and Pickard incorporated songs from 1969’s At San Quentin, Cash’s second live-in-a-prison album, another commercial and critical success as an added dimension to the stage production.

Folsom Prison Experience, coupled with the recent Church of Cash album release, Flowers for June, speak volumes about the power that Johnny Cash still holds over the collective consciousness. And, consequently, both projects firmly plant Jay Ernest and Church of Cash as today’s proud champions of the Cash legacy.