Rosanne Cash Headlining UPH Formal Opening Is a Living Legacy
“It’s not that I had never been on stage with him before, but that was a really special night,” says Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of Johnny Cash about a performance in 1994 when she joined her iconic father on stage at Carnegie Hall. “That space under the spotlight for him was a service place, and it’s where he brought his best self, and it just illuminated his spirit, and it illuminated his performance.”
The stage was where Rosanne watched her dad “unravel his psyche.” She promises to do the same Saturday night (February 29th) when she headlines the formal opening of The Universal Preservation Hall (UPH), a former Victorian-styled Methodist church in downtown Saratoga constructed in 1871 with its own iconic history having hosted speakers that include William Howard Taft, President Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, and abolitionist Frederick Douglas.
“It’s not that I had never been on stage with him before, but that was a really special night,” says Rosanne Cash about that night in Carnegie Hall. She currently is a “Creative Partner” at the fabled Carnegie Hall. “(My dad) brought his best self, and it just illuminated his spirit, and it illuminated his performance. He was at his best as a performer, and he did work out his own problems and his own conundrums on stage. An unusual way to live, and yet it wasn’t contrived. It’s not that he necessarily needed the audience to fix something for him. It was like his painting for him. It was like where a painter can go to feel that solitary release and inspiration.”
In this moment in history where women have come center stage, Rosanne is carrying on the Cash legacy. She has earned four Grammy Awards and 11 nominations. She’s had 21 top 40 hits, including 11 number one singles.
Never one to rest on her own laurels, she is currently writing the lyrics for a musical, Norma Rae, with John Leventhal, composer, and John Weidman, book writer. A new book, Bird On A Blade, blends the images of artist Dan Rizzie with strands of lyrics from a variety of Cash’s songs has just been published by UT Press. “Crossing Jerusalem” from her latest album She Remembers Everything has earned a Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Song. That album is a follow-up to her 2014 release The River and The Thread,” the third in a trilogy of albums heavily inspired by Dad. The first was “Black Cadillac” in 2006 where she mourned his death. On “The List” in 2009 she covers several songs on a list of seminal songs Johnny gave her as a teenager. The River and The Thread was inspired by several trips she made to Arkansas in the last few years to take part in Arkansas State University’s restoration of Dad’s boyhood home.
In a 2014 interview, she told me that co-writing one of the songs on “The River and The Thread” with both her first husband Rodney Crowell and her second John Rosenthal was one of the most intense songwriting experiences of her life. “It makes you feel like, yeah, I’ve evolved to some place in my life where I can do that that’s worthy of my life – that’s worthy of self-respect and writing in that form like the old Appalachian or Celtic ballads that were war history songs which is something I’ve always wanted to do and never been able to get to. So that in itself was hugely satisfying, and working with these characters as if we were writing a novel. They wouldn’t leave me alone until the song was finished. So that was kind of a new experience as well. All of it was just deep and wonderful.”
A perfect opening headliner with her own legacy for a venue that’s all about legacy, Rosanne talked about her dad whose own iconic personality he shared with her and the world. “He used to tell elaborate stories with a punch line that you would realize he’d been playing a practical joke on you. He would spend time thinking up these stories and just draw you in, and then there would be the punch line that would show that he had just fabricated the whole thing. So even in that way, he was an artist.”
Admission to Saturday’s UPH opener includes opening night festivities beginning at 6:30 p.m.: pre-show self-guided tours, hors d’oeuvres, cash bar & a pre-show champagne toast.