Ten years ago, Alex Battles' life changed when a friend asked him to perform at her bar in Red Hook to mark the birthday of the late Johnny Cash.
The event grew increasingly popular, moving to bigger venues and expanding from one night to an entire weekend. This year, Battles and his band The Whisky Rebellion will host a three-day celebration that concludes with their first-ever all-ages Johnny Cash Birthday Bash on Sunday afternoon. amNewYork spoke with Battles.
Are you surprised by how the Cash Bash has grown?
People love Johnny Cash. Even people who say "I hate country music," if you say, "What about Johnny Cash," it's, "Oh, I love Johnny Cash." He's not a country artist. He didn't sound like anybody. He just sounded like himself. He sang with a certain honesty that really resonates with people.
Is it hard to be known as the Cash guy rather than for your own music?
It's incredibly difficult. It makes me crazy, to be honest with you. But the flip side is that it's a gift in that having such an immense yardstick to measure yourself against is the awesomest thing in the world. This is the big guy who told the big stories and lived the big life and I get to interpret him once a year.
Why did you add an all-ages show?
I have a lot of friends with kids. People would say, "My five-year-old loves Johnny Cash." I hear that all the time. I thought I'd like to do a show people would feel welcome to bring a kid to.
What life lessons can kids take from Johnny Cash?
As a songwriter, he has a very strong moral compass. In almost all the songs, there are life lessons to be learned. ? I say that, then people are like, "My kid loves 'Folsom Prison Blues,' " I'd say, "Well, I guess there's a lot of remorse in that song, so I suppose there's a lesson there."
What do you see as Cash's morals?
Be good and respect your fellow man, and try and work hard and create a joyful noise while you're here, and get ready to go to a better place.
If you go: The Johnny Cash 83rd Birthday Bash is at the Bell House this weekend. Fri. & Sat. 9 p.m.; Sunday 3 p.m., 149 Seventh St., Gowanus, $15-$25