At San Quentin
The Music Box's #1 boxed set of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
The 53-minute documentary that is included with the expansive "Legacy Edition" of Johnny Cash’s top-selling concert set At San Quentin might be a bit off-putting to fans who simply want the emphasis to be on the music. Although it features a sizeable chunk of The Man in Black’s legendary performance at the maximum security prison, the songs are separated by interview segments with both guards and inmates. As a result, the piece, which was created for British television in 1969, becomes, in actuality less about the historic event and more about American society and its justice system. Nevertheless, the new contexts that are created by these juxtapositions shed light upon and inform the intimate and decidedly moving atmosphere that was created when Cash ventured into one of the toughest penitentiaries in the country.
In staging the event, Cash followed the format that he typically utilized for his concert performances, and subsequently, mini-sets by Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, and The Carter Family were intertwined seamlessly with his own repertoire. Outside the unveiling of his newest tune San Quentin, the set list that was employed by Cash and his entourage was fairly routine: Carl Perkins’ ripped through Blue Suede Shoes. The Statler Brothers strolled through Flowers on the Wall. The Carter Family provided a reprise of its age-old hit Wildwood Flower, and Cash accordingly delved into I Still Miss Someone, Big River, I Walk the Line, and Folsom Prison Blues. As the show progressed, however, a grander plan gradually was revealed.
Featuring the entirety of the program in its intended running order, At San Quentin: Legacy Edition provides an insightful understanding of Cash as an artist, and it remains as captivating as ever to listen as he and his supporting cast immediately win favor with what could have been a rather difficult audience. Considering that he touched upon his usual themes of life, death, God, and murder, it’s not surprising that the realism that was inherent in his repertoire allowed him to connect so readily with the inmates. Yet, what made the 100-minute affair so amazingly powerful was not only the command and respect that he exhibited, but also the deliberate intent of the show’s thematic flow that was revealed as Cash moved among the topics of love, life in prison, and religion. His interactions with the assembled crowd were as telling as the songs that he sang, and as the tension within the room built and dissipated, it left in its wake an overwhelming sense of spiritual awakening.
Cash was a consummate performer and an exquisite showman, and his revue-style concerts never failed to assume an air of tremendous import. None, however, came close to this. Simply put, At San Quentin offers a glimpse of Johnny Cash at his absolute best.
At San Quentin: Legacy Edition —
Bonus Materials —
At San Quentin [Original Album] —
Of Further Interest...
At San Quentin: Legacy Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box