The Man in Black is back — in spirit, anyway.
In honor of the late country rock legend Johnny Cash’s would-be 80th birthday, the Bell House is throwing a massive bash hosted by honky tonk rockers Alex Battles and the Whisky Rebellion, complete with a sing-along of Cash’s greatest hits.
“Johnny Cash was never anybody except Johnny Cash,” said Battles. “There are so many artists who spend their lives imitating other artists, trying to figure out who they are, but Johnny Cash was always a straight-forward guy; he was strong and vulnerable, he was happy and sad — and he’s just the coolest guy.”
Battles and the Whisky Rebellion will croon Cash’s iconic San Quentin set, during which he serenaded the inmates at one of the country’s most notorious maximum-security prisons, placing a special emphasis on authenticity; Battles’s deep and gritty voice (and a couple of stiff drinks) makes this reenactment a faithful interpretation of the genuine article, even though he and Cash look nothing alike.
“Cash’s songs are real fun to sing along to,” Battles said. “My dad had a Johnny Cash tape that we listened to in the car, and he would play it over and over again until I learned all the songs by heart. That’s the reason I can do this, because the songs you grew up listening to are the songs you can do better than any other.”
But it’s not about Battles’s own love for the Man in Black, it’s about unifying Cash’s fans, and paying homage to a legend.
“This is not my event,” said Battles. “It’s for everybody who loves Johnny Cash.”
The Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643-6510] Feb. 24, 8 pm. $20 ($15 in advance). For info, visit www.thebellhouseny.com
Reach reporter Colin MIxson at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4514.