Friday, January 6, 2012

Day Three: Understand Your Man

Here’s something you might not know about Johnny Cash, even if you saw the movie and think of yourself as a fan:

I saw him live – twice in one day – at a campground in Webster, MA, called Indian Ranch, on the shores of Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaug.

Yeah, that’s right. Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. Just a few miles from the house I grew up in. Longest place-name in the world. In the Guinness Book and everything. It’s Nipmuc. It means “You fish on your side of the lake, I’ll fish on my side of the lake, and nobody fishes in the middle.” Or at least that’s what everybody says it means. I’ve never met a Nipmuc in my life. We just called it Webster Lake. And fished at Buffums.

Anyway, Indian Ranch is kind of famous on the country circuit. Every major tour's been stopping there for 65 years. Not the stupid modern ones that string through stadiums, but good ones. Charlie Daniels has played there every summer for as long as I remember (although I’ve never been; I got tired of that Devil song ages ago). Travis Tritt’s on the bill for this year (I used to hate him but came around sometime in ‘92; sing a duet with Marty Stuart about whiskey, honey, and you got me). Willie Nelson’s played there. Dolly Parton. Loretta Lynn. George Jones. Los Lobos. Plus, like, Keith Urban and Leanne Rimes. Apparently Barenaked Ladies played there last year, which is weird. But you know. Good stuff. Garth Brooks certainly never played the Ranch, I tell you what.

The stage is basically a lean-to in an outdoor amphitheater. Tiny. Just a few dozen rows of wooden benches, with a row of barbecue-grills along the back. You’re allowed to bring coolers in with you, and they don’t care where you sit. I saw two shows in one day because we had tickets for the 1:00 and they didn’t care if we left so we stayed for the 5:00. Which didn’t end till almost 8:00, with no break in between. He was with the Carter Family, and they just spelled each other. For seven hours. Sure, we heard the same songs a couple times, but when you’re talking about songs like this...

...who cares?

There was a line going across in front of the stage the entire time, too. People getting his autograph, shaking his hand, having their pictures taken with him. But I didn’t do any of that. This was when I was way too fucking cool for school. I worked in the music industry in those days, and I was meeting famous people all the time. I didn’t pay for CDs or concert tickets, and I sure as shit didn’t stand in line. I figured if Johnny Cash wanted to meet me he’d come to the office for a private concert like the rest of ‘em. So we just sat in the back for seven hours with our cooler and our shades on, doing our industry-best to look interested in the Carter Family when Johnny left the stage.

Not to disparage the fam-dam or anything, but let’s be honest: nobody was at the Ranch that day for June.

I wish I could tell you that a fight broke out, or that I helped the Man out of his Black backstage. It’d make a better story, that’s for sure. But the crowd was well-behaved that day, as it happened.

And the backstage-sex thing was a different show.

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