Legendary Man in Black makes surprise appearance
Carter's Fold - Hiltons, VA

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Shed-like Carter's Fold - the Temple of Original Country Music sits on a Hilton hillside

HILTONS, VA (July 11, 2003) - -The black Mercedes rolled slowly through the old pasture field to a stop opposite the side door of what from all outward appearances was nothing more than a cattle shed located on the side of the mountainous Hiltons,Va .

About 70 of the 700 +/- people inside and out stood and started cheering. The others didnít have a clue what was going on at first. Then the doors opened, a wheelchair set up and two strapping fellows lifted the Man in Black - Johnny Cash - out of the car. By then, the whole crowd realized 'a country music legend' had arrived.  Screams and applause echoed across the valley.

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Cash arrives on stage with assistance in wheelchair 

Johnny Cash had arrived for an unannounced appearance at the regular Saturday night country music show at Carterís Fold, a rustic shed-like venue that is the real birthplace of country music - the home of the legendary Carter family.

There was no ramp up the stage, so he had to be carried on stage, his wheelchair brought up, and he was rolled to center stage where a single straight-backed chair had been set up in front of a chest-level microphone. The two men slowly lifted him from the wheelchair to the chair where he was given his guitar and a bottle of cold water.

Looking out at the incredible crowd that had trekked to Hiltons, for the weekly show in the temple of country music,

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Cash is seated center stage 

Cash said, "Hi. Iím Johnny Cash" in his deep, gravely voice  as the crowd, about 400 inside the shed - with its wooden wall panels propped open for ventilation against the stifling 100+ degree temperature inside - and another 300 or so crowded around on the hillside looking in, went wild.

Everyone with a camera crowded around the stage for pictures of one of country musicís historical living legends as Cash said, "Jerry," to his sideman, who immediately strummed the first familiar cords of "Folsom Prison."

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Cash opens with his "Folsom Prison" to a roar from appreciative, adoring crowd

Partially incapacitated by a degenerative nerve disease and suffering from laryngitis and hoarseness, Cash told the worshipful cheering fans if they could put up with his problems, heíd do the best he could to entertain them.

"We love you, Johnny!" one fan shouted from the audience and Cash responded, "I love you, too."

He then launched into a 30-minute show - a trip down memory lane for him of fonder days when his beloved June was alive and his soul mate - for the sweating crowd:  "Ring of Fire," written by June; "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Angel Band," sung at Juneís funeral May 19 by Emmylou Harris with Sheryl Crow doing harmony; and "Big River."

"Iím going to do a song for you tonight that I havenít performed in public in 25 years. It was "Stand by your man."

The event was a window to a legendary performance: Vintage Cash on acoustical guitar and two sidemen with amplified guitars and no pressure, just adoration from a crowd that included ex-Congressman William Wampler, his son, State Sen. William Wampler Jr., former member of the House of Delegates and now Circuit Court Judge Ford Quillan, GOP candidate for Scott County Commonwealth's Atty. Marcus McClung; Delegate Terry Kilgore and his brother-in-law Eddie Wright of Manassas and wives. 
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But most of the crowd was just plain country folk who love Ďrealí country music as presented at Carterís Fold. And they got a real treat being there as the ailing Man in Black came to the High Church of his musicís historical homeland to thank them for a lifetime of support and connect with the fond memories of his wifeís roots.

While some had been Ďtippedí "Johnny Cash Ďmight be coming,í not even the featured band for the night, The Bluegrass Tradition, knew in advance of Cashís planned appearance, but one of them was honored to join Cash in singing "Angel Band."

After his 30-minute performance - nonstop except for swigging water after each song and a few personal remembrances of June - Cash was helped back into his wheelchair, carried back down to the dance floor, and then rolled to the waiting car. Despite being surrounded by adoring fans, not one asked for an autograph or tried to shake his hand - though several spoke to him and he to them as he left.

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100-degrees+ didn't stop dancers from hitting floor

Jeanette Carter, who with brother, Joe Carter, runs the Fold, told the audience after his departure: "There is no way Johnny could sign autographs for all you folks because of his health and you donít pressure him, that is why he likes to come here and perform for you. He feels comfortable being here."

The Bluegrass Tradition took the stage and about 50 dancers with clogging shoes, taps, and even barefooted took to the dance floor for the remainder of the nightís entertainment.

See also:  Carter's Fold for more information

Photos & story Virginia News Source © 2003

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