The Trail

Sunny Mitchell on Folsom Americana Fest, Storytelling on Stage, and Johnny Cash

7/27/2021 | By Johnny Cash Trail| Art Trail

Americana Fest is bringing Country-Americana music, food, and family fun to Folsom from July 30 to October 16, 2021. Proceeds from the concert series will benefit Folsom's Johnny Cash Trail to help bring the interactive art experience to Folsom, CA.

We sat down with the creative visionary behind Folsom's Americana Fest, Sunny Mitchell, to talk about her inspiration, love for country music, and the positive impact of the Johnny Cash Trail in the community.

Johnny Cash Trail (JCT):
You do a lot of work around this kind of Country-Americana sound music, between the Wildwood Roses, and the American Legend Series, and now the Americana Fest. So, personally, what is it about Americana-Country music that appeals to you, and why have you built a career around it?

Sunny Mitchell:
Yeah, I love that question. So, in my first life, I was a ballet dancer, professionally, and then started choreographing once my dance career kind of officially ended. And, I loved being able to tell a story on stage. When you're one person telling a story on stage, it's an awesome thing. But, when you're able to bring together a stage full of people to tell a story, it's an even bigger moment. So, I started listening to Johnny Cash's music to be able to bring a dance concert to the stage, because his music has always told such a great story.

So, I started researching his life and started researching the people that inspired him, and the people that he surrounded himself with, like the Carter Family, and Carl Perkins, and the country group the Statler Brothers, who had fantastic harmonies. And, I just started really listening in detail to the music and the stories that they told, and how they were just really a part of the fabric of our lives. It's stories that we tell every day about everyday people, and that just spoke to me.

So, being able to take that, translate that, put it on stage, I know it must reach other people because we're all Americans living in this amazing country. And we all have our stories, and we can all share, the American dream or, you know, whatever those songs tell us, we've all been there. We've all experienced it.

It sounds like Johnny Cash's music was really good for you and your career. Why do you think the Johnny Cash Trail is good for Folsom the community?

Well, you know, it's interesting, because I think the reason we identify with Johnny Cash is that he was here for that monumental concert. So, there's already that sort of connection between the town and Johnny Cash.

And, I think that we have such a unique community in this town. We're all so supportive, we all get behind causes, we all get behind each other. Johnny Cash was the same. He really spoke for the common person, for those that maybe didn't have a voice. And so, we as a community are doing the same thing. We're able to rally behind causes, rally behind small businesses, and that sort of thing. So being able to take such an iconic figure -- Johnny Cash, who's known worldwide -- and be able to say, from this fairly small community, "Hey, we have this amazing man, this iconic man, who came to this town for a reason. There's a reason he chose Folsom for this monumental concert." Come to our town, see what it's like, and you'll understand it as well.

So, being able to sort of take that idea of who he was, what our town is, and what it can be, and turning it into tourism, and sharing this amazing community with people all across the world, just by the very fact that Johnny Cash was here, is kind of a unique situation.

A couple of years ago, I spoke at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in Dyess, Arkansas, of all places, the small... I mean, just the smallest town, a blip on the map. And, I met people from Australia, from Canada, from Europe, that had traveled to Dyess, because of Johnny Cash. And, I know that the... I knew at that point that the same thing could happen for us here in Folsom, that people from all over the world would come here because they would be in search of where Johnny Cash had played his concert, and then know what they could discover once they got here.

And I'm actually super happy to report, there are a few folks that I met at that festival, that live in Canada… They've marked their calendars for our October concerts, they're coming.
They said, "We just needed a reason. We see that the prison is there, we see that there's a trail there, so now, bring us an event. Give us an event that we can come to, and see it, and celebrate it, and enjoy it."

And, I think, I'm hoping this is the event. I feel like this is the thing that can tie everything together. So, that's my hope.

What can people expect from the Folsom Americana Fest?

Oh goodness. So they can expect, first of all, quality music, musical entertainment. We're bringing in not only artists from all over the US to come and perform here, but we're bringing out our local professional favorites. And, we're also providing opportunities for young up-and-coming artists to play on the big stage before the main event starts. So, as people are walking into the arena, they'll have the opportunity to hear these young up-and-coming folks that are right here in this town, that could be that major entertainer someplace here, or sometime in the future, that lives in Nashville, or New York City, or LA, or something like that. So, quality music of all kinds; from folk, to bluegrass, to country, to rockabilly.

But, there's also going to be food trucks, and craft beer, and wines.

There's going to be a place in the arena for anybody. There's the VIP section. There's a special lounge that's sponsored by Legends Real Estate, where it's kid-friendly. We'll have games in there, and couches, and comfy seating, and they'll be able to listen to the music from that vantage point. [VIP] tickets come with food, and beer or wine, and you get a swag bag that has great stuff from our sponsors.

So, between the food trucks and vendors, it's going to be a full experience. The Painted Ladies Rodeo Performers will be there as well. It's a full evening of entertainment of an event, not just a music concert. There's so much more to it.

Does the musical lineup change from month to month, or is it the same lineup?

No, it's never the same concert twice. The only weekend that is somewhat similar is the very first one, that's American Legend: The Tribute to Johnny Cash. And part of that is because he's one of the reasons why this event is happening to begin with.

So, we have a different opening band each night this first weekend, but the majority of the music that is going to pay tribute to Johnny Cash and the Carter Family will be the same. However, we have a different guest artist that's joining us each night. So, like I said, the concert will never be the same every night in a row. I would encourage anybody, come out the first night. See how amazing it is, and you're going to want to come back for the next night, and the following shows as well.

The American Legends concert was a successful fundraiser for the Johnny Cash Trail. Are you hoping that the Americana Fest is also going to help raise the funds so we can get the artwork installed?

Absolutely, yes. It is such an awesome thing to be able to, you know, walk by the trail, or ride your bike, and see that donor wall with the American Legend plaque on it. But, it's going to be even more special as those pieces are coming to life. And, I feel like this is going to be a great way to not only, you know, bring the word to our community about the trail, and opportunities to help support bringing those pieces to life, which is so close to my heart. But, then it also is supporting our arts programming. So, it's kind of a win-win. I mean, you can't go wrong. It's a quality event, and what it's supporting is just so important for this community.


Folsom American Fest runs from July 30 to October 16, 2021. Don’t miss out on this incredible community event. Get your tickets for Folsom Americana Fest now.



About Sunny Mitchell
Sunny Mitchell is a director, choreographer, instructor, vocalist, guitarist, and entertainment developer. Her career has included many principal and solo roles during her tenure with the Sacramento Ballet and California Musical Theatre. Sunny is the founding director of Sunny Mitchell Theatre Projects (SMTP), a platform for developing theatrical works that are alive, creative, and imaginative. Sunny is a vocalist, guitarist, and manager for The Wildwood Roses, the only ever Carter Sisters tribute band. In 2016, Sunny produced, directed, and performed in American Legend: A Tribute to Johnny Cash's Life in Song. The concert pulled together over 20 artists from across the state of California in a benefit for Folsom's own Johnny Cash Art Trail and earned her the City of Folsom's 2016 Arts Achievement Award.