Clinton House Museum Hosts 1968: A Folsom Redemption

Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of a landmark event, 1968: A Folsom Redemption is a collection of photographs and memories of two journalists lucky enough to be among a handful of eyewitnesses to the historic Johnny Cash concerts at Folsom Prison. This candid and personal photography exhibition covers a critical juncture in the career of Johnny Cash, one of the twentieth century’s most beloved performers. 1968: A Folsom Redemption opens September 1, 2019 and runs through October 20, 2019. See below for other programs and events being offered in conjunction with this exhibit.

In January 1968, Johnny Cash was at a crossroads. His music career, in a slow decline for several years, was in need of a smash hit. He had recently straightened out his personal life, and leadership changes at his record label meant he was able to finally convince them of the merits of a live recording in a prison setting. Cash had been performing for inmates as far back as 1957, when he received a stream of requests from prisoners who identified with the man who sang “Folsom Prison Blues.” This connection developed with prisoners during these concerts had made him increasingly sympathetic to those he would later call “the downtrodden.”

Working as freelance journalistsphotographer Dan Poush and writer Gene Beley met with Cash and his family the day before the concerts began, at the invitation of Reverend Floyd Gressett, a friend of Cash’s who ministered to inmates and helped set up the show at Folsom State Prison with Recreation Director Lloyd Kelley. After practicing the set with the Tennessee Three at Hotel El Rancho the night before, on January 13, 1968, Cash, along with opening acts Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers, performed two separate shows in the dining hall at Folsom. Notable for capturing Cash’s ability to connect with his audience, the recordings crackled with the excitement of an adoring crowd. The resulting album, At Folsom Prison, was released four months later to critical and popular acclaim.

Beley’s first-person account of those days, and his knowledge of the storylines at work behind the scenes, make this a fascinating exploration of the little-known aspects of a well-known event in popular culture. 1968: A Folsom Redemption takes the viewer right into the heart of this pivotal moment in the life and career of one of the twentieth century’s most important and cherished musical personalities.

For the first time ever, this travelling road show collection of thirty-two photos features a wide range of intimate photos with friends and family to a backstage meeting with country music legend Merle Haggard with the Man in Black. This exhibition highlights Cash’s golden era from the January 1968 Folsom prison album recording to a March 1, 1969 concert in Anaheim, California when he was getting ready to launch his network television show. 1968: A Folsom Redemption is organized by ExhibitsUSA, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.

 History Happy Hour: The Man in Black

September’s History Happy Hour is very special! Along with celebrating our Johnny Cash exhibit, 1968: A Folsom Redemption, we’re celebrating the anniversary of the show that Johnny Cash did in Fayetteville on September 17, 1968 that included an appearance with then-Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. This day is also historic as Arkansas native Bob Wootton came to Fayetteville to see the Cash show, and he ended up on stage playing guitar for Cash. This would be the beginning of a thirty-year career in Cash’s band. 

The Clinton House Museum and Fayetteville Ale Trail are hosting the fifth History Happy Hour of the year on Tuesday, September 17th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. This will be a great opportunity to see the 1968: A Folsom Redemption exhibit as well as enjoy a locally crafted beer and snacks. The featured “program” will be an outdoor showing of the Folsom Prison concert on a big screen. 

Tickets are $5 each at the door (no advance ticket sales) and will get you a pint glass with the HHH logo, two pours, non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, and entertainment. Details about each event can be found on this website, the Fayetteville Ale Trail site, and on Facebook.

 Rock-n-Roll Prison Reform: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash advocated for numerous social issues throughout his career, prison reform and care for the humane treatment of prisoners being chief among them. His concerts at various prisons, including Folsom and San Quentin in California and Cummins in Gould, Arkansas in the late 1960s were demonstrations of his effort to bring prison issues into the public sphere. In Arkansas he actively campaigned for Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s re-election. Rockefeller had been vocal about the poor state of Arkansas prisons, and Arkansas native Johnny Cash was just the person to help him campaign on a reform platform. 

In that spirit, we are hosting a special event on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 as a part of our Atkinson Speaker Series. “Rock-n-Roll Prison Reform: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” will feature Dr. Lisa Corrigan, author of the nationally acclaimed book Prison Power: How Prison Influenced the Movement for Black Liberation. In tandem with the Clinton House Museum’s exhibition of the photos of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, this talk examines the importance of Cash’s recording at Folsom in light of his longstanding role, in Arkansas and across the country, as a prison reform advocate. Tracing his earliest prison performance in Huntsville, Texas, in 1957, through his iconic recordings at Folsom and at Cummins Prison, this talk discusses landscape of prison reform during the period as well as Cash’s relationship to imprisonment as both a performer and as a political advocate. The second half the evening will include a panel with Corrigan; Zachary Crow, Director of DecARcerate; and Raven Cook, Museum Educator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and frequent contributor to KUAF on African American history. Click HERE for more event details.

 Journalist in Concert: Gene Beley at Folsom Prison

The second event in our 2019 Atkinson Speaker Series features journalist Gene Beley who will give us the back story of how he and photographer Dan Poush got invited to fly with Johnny Cash and June Carter from Los Angeles to Sacramento for a weekend concert at Folsom Prison, Jan. 13, 1968.  That one-day smash hit concert that redeemed Cash from his bad boy days to the top of the music world led to much more for Beley and Poush, too. 

They met up with him at other concerts in California the following year and kept taking photos and writing more stories about them.  Beley will tell how he began taking photos at Johnny Cash’s parents’ home in Oak View near Ventura before they left to go to Folsom Prison a few days later. Those photos show John as just an uncle arm wrestling his young nephew at the kitchen table and with his parents and sister, Reba Hancock, his business manager. 

Beley will tell some behind the scenes stories of how the song Greystone Chapel, written and song by a Folsom Prison inmate on a small demo tape, was discovered the night before the famous concert while Cash was sitting in a motel room with Beley, Poush, and Cash’s good friend, Rev. Floyd Gressett. Following Beley’s presentation, Dr. Robert Cochran, Director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies will interview Beley and moderate a Q and A session. Click HERE for more event details.

 Clinton Anniversary Dinner: Celebrating Arkansas Icons

Please join us for our annual celebration of the Clintons’ wedding anniversary. They were married right here in this house on October 11, 1975! This year we’re hosting a farm-to-table dinner featuring locally sourced food and wine pairings. Our theme is “Celebrating Arkansas Icons,” as we will have our Johnny Cash exhibit on site, and it’s only fitting to celebrate such iconic Arkansas figures as Johnny Cash, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Individual tickets are available HERE, as are event sponsorships. Or you can text Clinton44 to 41444. Your ticket includes food, drinks, exhibit viewing, program, and entertainment.