Johnny Cash performed live at Folsom Prison in 1968, and left a permanent mark on the City of Folsom. Cash’s album Live at Folsom Prison revitalized his career and created a permanent link between Cash and the Northern-California city. Now, Folsom is celebrating the legacy of the Man in Black by memorializing the legendary singer with the Folsom Cash Art Trail Experience. Visitors to the trail will experience an interactive art experience like none other.
Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison: the Ties that Bind
The Folsom Cash Art Trail celebrates the connection forged between the legendary artist, Folsom Prison, and the City of Folsom. You might be surprised to discover that Folsom Prison was influencing Cash long before his famous performance took place.
Johnny Cash bought his first guitar in the early 1950s, while he was stationed in Germany with the air force. In 1955, Cash wrote the song Folsom Prison Blues after viewing the film Inside The Walls of Folsom Prison. The song was one of Cash’s first chart toppers.
In 1968, Cash performed live for the inmates of Folsom Prison and recorded the live album At Folsom Prison. The album had gone gold by the end of the year, and would go platinum just under two decades later.
Over the course of his career, Cash performed more than 30 concerts for incarcerated men. According to Michael Streissguth, the author of Johnny Cash: the Biography and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Cash “had an affinity for the common man, the downtrodden, the people who lived on the margins.”
Cash felt he had a Christian duty to help others, and saw that he could bring hope to prisoners by performing for them. Following the album’s release, Cash spoke out against prison conditions in the US. In Washington DC he lobbied a Senate subcommittee, as well as Richard Nixon, and brought attention to the prison reform cause.
The album At Folsom Prison is famous for reviving Cash’s career, but it did much more than that. This album represents the singer’s effort to change our prison systems and better the lives of inmates everywhere. Folsom not only inspired Cash’s music, but it also inspired his passion for philanthropy and charity for his fellow man.
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Larger-Than-Life Art For A Larger-Than-Life Legacy
To honor Cash’s tremendous legacy, eight public art pieces will be installed along the Folsom Cash Art Trail, telling the story of Cash’s music and his connection to Folsom Prison.
The artwork along the trail is the creative brain-child of three groups: Romo Studios LLC in Sacramento, the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany from Illinois, and the RRM Design Group based in San Luis Obispo.
Visitors to the trail will experience these larger-than-life art pieces commemorating the Man in Black:
- Cash’s Pick: two seven-foot tall bronze guitar picks will mark the trail’s beginning and end.
- Folsom Prison Blues: this statue, composed of laser-cut steel poles, reveals a silhouette of Cash playing the guitar.
- Ring of Fire: illuminated, stainless-steel guitar picks form a “ring of fire.”
- Greystone Chapel: this statue, made of granite blocks, will feature excerpts from letters sent to Cash by inmates who attended the 1968 concerts.
- Hello, I Am Johnny Cash: this bronze sculpture is modeled on a photo of Cash sitting, playing his guitar at the 1968 concert. The name references Cash’s habit of humbly introducing himself at his concerts.
- Rusty Cage: this sculpture will feature four 17-foot high guitar necks, set in the ground to the scale of a prison cell.
- Man in Black: the man in black will be a 40-foot landmark sculpture, set in the Johnny Cash Legacy Park at the end of the trail.
The Folsom Cash Art Trail
The sculptures will be displayed along the The Johnny Cash Art Trail, a nearly 3-mile long trail with a 3 acre park and amphitheater at the trailhead.
Visitors will start their journey at the Johnny Cash Trail Bridge at Folsom Lake Crossing and Natomas Street, following it around the perimeter of the prison’s property to the trail’s end at the American River Canyon in the woods behind the prison. The Johnny Cash Legacy Park will be located at the trail’s head, near the bridge.
The walk will be accompanied by a smartphone app and audio guide, bringing the experience to life for trail visitors. These digital and audio features will create an interactive, multi-dimensional experience, vividly depicting the history of Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison.
The first phase of the trail was unveiled in October of 2014, and the entire project is set to be completed in 2017.
The song Folsom Prison Blues started Johnny Cash on a trail that would lead him to his performance at Folsom Prison, and his fight to raise awareness for prison reform. The prison and the City of Folsom became a part of the story of Johnny Cash, and music’s greatest outlaw is forever a piece of the City’s rich history. The Folsom Cash Art Trail is an exciting way to honor Johnny Cash’s legacy and his connection with the City of Folsom, and a one-of-a-kind experience that will delight everyone who visits the trail.