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Johnny Cash - Flower Pickin' Festival


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On May 11, 1965, Johnny Cash was arrested in Starkville, Mississippi, after performing at Mississippi State University. Urban legend has it that Cash was urinating in a flower bed, but told police he was "just pickin' flowers." (Cash wrote a song about it called "Starkville City Jail".)

Now, one of Cash's biggest fans has devised the "Flower Pickin' Festival" in Starkville, to be held Nov. 2-4, which will include a pardon by city officials, a church service that looks at the role of grace and redemption in Cash's life, and, of course, music.

An AP story about the festival is below. The official blog is at http://www.pardonjohnnycash.com/ .

Mississippi to hold festival, and maybe a pardon, for "Man in Black"

Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival is scheduled for early November


Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- More than 40 years after the late singer Johnny Cash was arrested in Starkville, residents of the east Mississippi town plan a festival in his honor that will include a ceremonial pardoning for the "Man in Black."

The Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival is scheduled for Nov. 2-4 with some events on the campus of Mississippi State University, said Robbie Ward, executive director of the festival.

Ward, 29, a research writer at MSU, started talking to residents two years ago about a festival -- and a pardon for Cash.

"A lot of people would laugh at me and act like I was kind of crazy," Ward said.

Now with about 500 signatures on his petition, Ward is heading up a committee of 25 residents, including a local pastor, alderman and a bar owner.

"The idea is to allow Johnny Cash fans around the world to take ownership in this festival," Ward said.

Ward has contacted state and local officials about issuing the pardon. He is scheduled to speak to the city's board of aldermen Aug. 7.

Lou Robin, Cash's manager for 31 years, now handles business affairs for the Johnny Cash Estate.

"I think it would be fun to have John honored even though it started out as kind of a negative reason," Robin said.

Cash died in 2003.

There are different versions of what happened the night of May 11, 1965, in Starkville.

One told by Cash himself in his autobiography is that he was arrested by police while walking from his motel to a grocery store after attending a party at a fraternity house on the Mississippi State campus.

Another version is that Cash was arrested while picking flowers in someone's yard.

Cash admitted in his book, "I was screaming, cussing and kicking at the cell door all night long until I finally broke my big toe. At 8 a.m. the next morning they let me out when they knew I was sober."

Cash later wrote a song about the ordeal calling it, "Starkville City Jail," and later performed it for the inmates at San Quentin Prison.

"Starkville is now known by fans by virtue (of the song)," said Bill Miller, founder of the Web site www.JohnnyCash.com.

Miller said the song demonstrates Cash's openness about his past.

"Johnny was one of the artists that never tried to hide his background or his past," Miller said. "The significance that he would write a song about it, shows just who the man was."

Robin said he thinks Cash would appreciate so much interest in an event in his past that was, well, sobering.

Ward said the message of the Starkville festival will focus on redemption, something he feels Cash exemplified.

"We believe the pardon is not about his arrest in Starkville, it's recognizing that when people make mistakes what matters is what they learn from those mistakes," Ward said.

Maheen Wickramasinghe, 22, of Ontario, Canada, said he got through many hard times in his life by listening to Cash's music, especially gospel selections.

"There is no other singer like him that can be so soothing," Wickramasinghe said.

Born blind, Wickramasinghe, a Sri Lanka native, said he heard Cash's music at the age of 9 while living with his family in England. Wickramasinghe, a piano player, said he got hooked on Cash at about 12 years old.

On Nov. 2, a community-wide social is planned with a charity auction at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house. At the university's amphitheater, there will be a showing of the Cash-biopic "Walk the Line."

Ward is trying to line up those who have written books about Cash for a Nov. 3 discussion group on the Arkansas native. Later that day, plans include a ceremony at the site Cash was arrested, a downtown concert honoring Cash's music, a sermon on redemption and what Ward hopes to be a symbolic pardon by city officials issued to Cash's family.

Rev. Allison S. Parvin, associate pastor at the First United Methodist Church, will deliver the redemption sermon during the event.

"His (Cash's) is just one of the great gospel stories of now," Parvin said.

Ward said the final event of the night would include a jam session on stage with musical artists with the audience singing "Starkville City Jail."

A community-wide church service is planned at the MSU amphitheater for Nov. 4 to close the festival.

"By Sunday morning, Johnny Cash will have been pardoned and before it's over we'll all need forgiveness," Ward said.

Admission to the event will be free, with a suggested donation of $10. The donations will be divided between the Starkville/Oktibbeha Boys and Girls Club and the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum.

"This being a fundraiser for local charitable organizations makes it an even more worthwhile project and, of course, the Cash family would be pleased at that end result," Robin said.

To make the event free and secure musicians for the festival _ perhaps even surviving members of Cash's 1980s group The Highwaymen, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson -- Ward said the committee is selling T-shirts (black, of course), bearing the words "Pardon Me, I'm Pickin' Flowers."

Ward said he hopes to make the event an annual affair.

"The most important thing is that people love in the same way. Whether they are monarchists, republicans, or communists, they feel pain in the same way, as well as hatred, jealousy, fear, and fear of death. Whether you are a deeply religious man or an atheist, if you have a toothache, it hurts just the same." - Krzysztof Kieslowski

"...it seems to me that most people I encounter aren't all that interested in the arts. Most of the people who are my age ... appear to be interested in golf, fertilizer, and early retirement schemes.... I will stop caring passionately about music, books, and films on the day that I die, and I'm hoping for Top 100 album polls in the afterlife." - Andy Whitman

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