Coming Soon to Bilheimer Capitol Theatre
The music and magic of Johnny Cash, one of America’s true musical icons, comes to the stage in Clearwater for an exciting, one-of-a-kind tribute show on Friday, February 24, At 8 pm. Shawn Barker, whose looks and baritone voice are strikingly similar to those of the original Man in Black, walks the show’s audience through each stage of Cash’s lengthy career, singing hits like Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line, A Boy Named Sue, Ring of Fire, and more, backed by a full band.
We cover everything from the Sun Record stuff he did in Memphis in the ‘50s all the way up to the final recordings he did in 2003,” Shawn says. Jessica Morales-Barker, Shawn’s wife, sings the part of June Carter, Johnny Cash’s wife and stage partner, in the hits the musical duo made famous. “A big part of Johnny’s career was the two of them together as a team,” Shawn says, “even though June Carter was a huge star before then. Her family played at the Grand Ole Opry long before Johnny Cash did. He actually grew up listening to June Carter on the radio.”
Known as “The Man in Black” for his trademark on-stage wardrobe, Johnny Cash’s crossover appeal brought him fans of all ages. He died in September 2003 after a career that spanned five decades.
Since then, Shawn Barker has performed his Johnny Cash tribute around the globe, selling more than half a million tickets on tours through Australia, Europe, Canada, and across the U.S. But it was Elvis Presley he impersonated, not Johnny Cash, in the early days of his career.
The whole thing kind of happened by accident, really,” he says. He had put together an Elvis costume one Halloween, and the following January a local radio station was holding an Elvis impersonator contest at a country bar. Shawn’s coworkers talked him into wearing the costume so they could all go have a few laughs and watch him compete in the contest. After winning first place, Shawn found himself invited to appear as Elvis at other tributes.
“I was singing with a regular rock cover band,” he says. “But the money to do tribute work was ten times what I would get to go work for four hours at a bar in a band. So I just kind of transitioned. It’s a fun way to perform and do music. It’s kind of a combination of acting and singing. You get to do a little bit of both.”
Then, in 2004, everything changed gears again. After auditioning for the part of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, Shawn received a request from the director to audition for the role of Johnny Cash. Shawn accepted the part but also continued performing his Elvis shows. He was not convinced that touring as Johnny Cash would sell.
The Elvis thing was a huge business,” he says. “But as far as I knew, outside of bands covering Johnny’s music in a bar gig or something, nobody was really doing a Vegas-style tribute to Johnny Cash. I didn’t even know if it would work.”
Shawn prepared by doing what he calls a “full character study,” reading biographies and watching film clips. Unlike Elvis, he says, Johnny Cash was not filmed every time he walked outside of his house. He lived a very normal life, and people didn’t react to him the same way they did to Elvis. There’s a limited amount of footage of Johnny Cash on stage when he was young and first starting out, but Shawn watched what he could find. He visited the legendary performer’s former home and his grave in Tennessee, trying to absorb everything he could.
In 2008, Shawn was offered the unique opportunity to work with some of Johnny Cash’s former band members and management; he learned little-known inside information while on the road with them that he now shares with his audiences. “It’s a lot of history . . . stories about why this song was written or how that song came about, and people seem to enjoy it,” he says.
Sunday Morning Coming Down is Shawn’s favorite song to perform. Written by Kris Kristofferson, the song hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart for Johnny Cash in 1970 and won the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year. Shawn says the song epitomizes road life for a musician. “You’re doing gigs all week, and Sunday’s usually the day that you’re done. The song just captures that feeling of being in a strange town, and you know, you wake up; all the lights, all the crowds, everything’s gone. It’s quiet, and for a musician, a lot of our time is spent alone. You know, hotel rooms, walking around in strange towns when the shows are over. You’re kind of a stranger in your own world. I love playing it; it’s just a really nice song.”
Portraying Johnny Cash doesn’t require a lot of acting, according to Shawn. “It just really fits. We happen to be very similar in our attitudes and our personalities. That wild, unpredictable, unrehearsed, unpolished kind of a diamond-in-the-rough performer that he was—it’s kind of how I’ve always approached music. You never knew what the guy might do on stage. You knew he was going to do whatever he wanted. And it makes for excitement. It keeps every show we do fresh, even though we’ve been doing a lot of these songs for twenty-plus years. I still have fun.”
The audience at his show can expect a lot of interaction, Shawn says. “I allow people to yell out and talk to me, and I’ll talk back. It’s very loose. It’s not like any other kind of Vegas-style show you might have seen where the audience sits quietly. Everybody’s up and clapping. We encourage people to stand up and dance and have a good time. We just want people to have fun. We have a blast doing this.”
Ticket sales have been brisk for upcoming shows, so interested concert-goers may want to purchase early. “I think after 2020 when everything was so shut down, people are excited to be able to get out and see shows again,” says Shawn. “People are just going crazy, selling out shows weeks in advance, which is awesome.”
The Man in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash
Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre
Friday, February 24 at 8 pm
405 Cleveland Street
Clearwater, FL 33755
Tickets are $49.50, $39.50 and $29.50, and are available online at https://www.rutheckerdhall.com/events/detail/man-in-black-johnny-cash.
Tickets are also available at Raymond James Central Ticket Office at Ruth Eckerd Hall or by calling 727-791-7400. For more tour dates and more information, please visit www.themaninblack.com. For another great entertainer check out Elvis here. Photos courtesy of Ruth Eckerd Hall for editorail purposes only–