The renovations will be done “in house” by the city for about $5,000, much cheaper than hiring an outside contractor, city manager Johnnie Arnold said.
Removing the concrete seating, Arnold said, has been in the city’s plans for about five years. But the project was delayed for several reasons, such as bad weather and other city projects already on the table, to name a couple.
LaFayette Parks and Recreation Department maintains the old stadium and recreation director Patti Scott is in-volved with planning and has big ideas for the facility.
Scott said she is behind the idea to promote the late Johnny Cash’s ties to the stadium. The legendary country singer held the benefit concert at the stadium and helped pay for upgrades to the stadium.
A look back
In the June 17, 1970, edition of the Walker County Messenger, ticket sales for the benefit concert were announced and were available the following Monday, June 22, 1970.
The late Fred B. Henry of LaFayette was chairman for staging the show.
There were 20,718 available tickets announced for sale for the event.
Special reserved seating at the stadium, that included 4,800 seats, were made available at $8.50 per ticket.
These seats were closest to the stage on the west side of the stadium.
Regular reserved stadium seats, at a total of 2,358 seats available, were located on the east side of the stadium and were priced at $6.50 per ticket.
The general admission tickets, with the remaining 13,560 available seats, were priced at $4.50 per ticket.
All proceeds from the Johnny Cash performance, above expenses getting ready for the event, went to the athletic and band fund at LaFayette High School to erect a new field house at the school.
The show itself was slated to last 2½ hours, which included a 15-minute intermission. It included the entire Cash troupe as was featured on Cash’s weekly national television series.
In the Aug. 19, 1970, edition of the Walker County Messenger, reporter Susan Meharg discussed the event in her story. According to the article:
It was a “dewy, starlit August sky” the night of the performance.
Then-Gov. Lester Maddox traveled with Cash and his wife, June Carter, from Atlanta to the event and delivered a brief welcome before the “thunderous applause and teen-age shrieks” welcomed Carl Perkins, who delivered a 1956 version of his giant hit “Blue Suede Shoes.”
The Carter family, pioneers in American folk and gospel music, followed Perkins with a 20-minute performance, including “Wildwood Flower,” which appeared to be an audience favorite.
The Statler Brothers of Shenandoah, Va., stepped up the pace with a more than lively rendition of “Memphis.” As they performed the rock-gospel “O Happy Days,” the audience began to sway noticeably.
But the heart and soul of the show was Cash himself. As he started deep, sonorous tones of his famous, “I Walk the Line,” the rapt audience rose to their feet in wild applause.
He continued to touch on nearly all of his famous hits, including “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Orange Blossom Spe-cial,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “How High’s the Water, Mama,” and “What is Truth.”
Cash and June performed their duo hit “Jackson” about “getting married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.”
June Carter “captured the hearts of the audience” with her “comic capers” when she told the crowd that she “Left her five-month-old son, John Carter Cash, back in Atlanta. I (June Carter) had wanted to bring him and show him where his daddy was in jail.” The crowd roared.
Sheriff Ralph Jones walked on stage and June Carter said, “Watch out honey, here he comes again.”
At the end of the regular show, the entire cast joined the star on stage for a 20-minute concert of gospel songs.
Cash ended the show three times, changing his mind each time. He seemed as reluctant to stop, as his audience was to leave.
Cash and LaFayette in 2011
More than 40 years have passed since the Johnny Cash benefit concert was held in LaFayette.
In the summer of 2010, numerous citizens took to Facebook, after the LaFayette Underground posted a story about the old LHS stadium and the impact felt by Cash, and local musicians and fans began to contemplate holding a “Cash Fest” at the old LHS stadium to honor the legendary musician and his attribution to the city of LaFayette and the possibility of drawing tourists to the area.
The plan to renovate the stadium was first turned down by the LaFayette City Council in August 2010, just three days shy of the 40th anniversary of the show, but the plan was never completely ruled out.
This month the city of LaFayette decided to remove the old and broken concrete bleachers from the stadium and replace them with aluminum bleachers that the city already has in possession.
A few citizens were asked if a “Cash Fest” would be ideal for the city of LaFayette.
Local musician and guitar player and singer of the band Southern Mental Illness (SMI) Neil Gilbert said, “If it is done right, I think it is a good idea.”
Gilbert has been a longtime metal guitarist in the area and he and his band are currently in the studio recording a new CD and he feels that the city of LaFayette needs something for people to attend.
“It would be nice to have something to do here without sending your money out of town,” Gilbert said. “Anything that would help the city and I think it would be really cool, but it is going to determine on what they do with it.”
A music venue, Gilbert said, with a Johnny Cash tie-in to it is a great idea.
According to Gilbert, there are numerous musicians and bands that are launched from their hometown and by word of mouth.
“Let kids that are in bands here go there and play,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he would like to see music of all genres performed at the facility.
Gilbert said the city has a lot of history and attractions, including the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, Pigeon Moun-tain, the various caves, one of the original Coke-a-Cola plants, and the Johnny Cash benefit.
“If you could tie in all of that history (to the city),” Gilbert said, that would be a positive to the area.
Gilbert’s band SMI can be found on Facebook and Myspace.
Mark Hise of Music on the Square, located at 101 B East Patton St. in LaFayette, also sees the Johnny Cash tie-in as a good idea, but Hise does see the use of the Johnny Cash name being a possible issue.
“I think it is a great idea, but I wonder about the licensing of his name and if there would be an issue with that,” Hise said.
Hise wonders if the city and/or those involved would have to get approval from the Cash family to use his name in regards to the facility, even though the facility already shares the names of the Ross Abney Complex, Johnny Cash Building, Patton Stadium and Tucker Field.
“That would be the first thing I would do before promoting it,” Hise said.
“I think it is a good idea to bring something like that to the city,” Hise said. “Chickamauga has Down Home Day’s and we (LaFayette) have nothing.”
Rich Gwyn, owner of WQCH-AM 1590 radio, said, “Johnny Cash was a fascinating man because his life was such a study in contrasts. He hit the heights of success in the music business and also had some of the lowest lows imagin-able.”
“Our radio listeners love his music, but we did get a couple of complaints this year when we played his Christ-mas songs. Some said they were ‘too depressing’, but you know, that was just Cash. It’s why the prison populations loved him. His music was ‘real’ in reflecting the good and the bad in this world. I’ve heard he make his peace with God before he passed on and I’m glad. He is a happy man now.
“I was a member of the LHS band the year Cash came to play,” Gwyn said. “We were all busy the day before set-ting out chairs for the crowd. It was a proud moment for a small town and I’ll never forget it. I don’t think there’s any way to recreate that moment in time, so I really don’t have a strong opinion on any type of ‘Johnny Cash Cele-bration’ in LaFayette. It will be nice to have the old high school football stadium ‘spiffed-up’. I look forward to that. Our city leaders have done well in finding ways to accomplish that at very little cost.”