Saturday, 28 June 2014

Memories of Glastonbury: Johnny Cash

I’ve seen loads of bands at festivals. It’s a strange setting for a gig in my view, hardly intimate or easy for artists and audience to engage with each other. But from time to time, something pretty spectacular happens: Primal Scream (Glasto ’92), PJ Harvey (Glasto ’95), Public Enemy (Reading ’92). But one particular performance stands out for me, in that I don’t think of it as being part of a bigger event. It is as if it happened entirely separately to anything else that was going on, like a little bubble of time that existed for this one extraordinary hour before bursting and thrusting me back into reality once more.

It was Glastonbury 1994. An elderly musician had just released an album that was destined to be revered as the best of his entire career. That man was Johnny Cash. Having been cast aside by the Nashville fraternity and set to seed by record companies, Johnny Cash had barely existed as an artist for a decade or more before famed rap-rock producer Rick Rubin approached him to make a record. When ‘American Recordings’ saw the light of day, it captivated a whole new audience. It was just the Man in Black, an acoustic guitar, and Rubin at the helm. It revived his ailing career, but it was still a bit of a surprise to see Cash added to the bill for that summer’s Glasto.

A bit of a tradition of a ‘veterans slot’ was beginning to emerge. The previous two years had seen Tom Jones and Rolf Harris perform, but Johnny Cash didn’t seem to be regarded as much as a novelty as his predecessors. And rightly so as I’ve never experienced anything quite like Johnny Cash’s performance at Glastonbury ‘94, either before or since. It was possibly the most entrancing show I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s really something when you’re standing in a large field surrounded by thousands of strangers.

Those present that afternoon witnessed something extraordinary. We were all rapt in the company of a man our grandparents probably admired. After tearing through some classics with his band, Cash then played a few tracks from the new album completely solo – and this is when the real magic happened.

June Carter
This old man held the enormous audience in the palm of his hand. There was a respectful hush as he played, followed by an almost euphoric howl of approval as he finished each song. It really was spine-tingling stuff. Only the spontaneous “woo-woos” the crowd sang back at him during Let The Train Blow The Whistle broke the mood a little, but that’s far from being a criticism. On the contrary, it seemed to lighten things a little and Cash clearly loved it. All that was left for him to do was bring the band back onstage and round off with a few singalong favourites, including one or two with June Carter.

Johnny Cash’s performance at Glastonbury remains one of the most memorable and fondly talked-about festival shows of all time for good reason. When it was over, I was back. Cash had transported me into a little world of my own during that show, set apart from the rest of the festival. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments I’ve mentioned before, and it’s why this is the only festival performance I’ve dedicated a whole article to.


Let The Train Blow The Whistle [live] – Johnny Cash (live At Glastonbury 1994)

Jackson [live] – Johnny Cash & June Carter (live At Glastonbury 1994))


  1. Nice post Robster I would have loved to have been there

  2. I think I tutted and walked away as he took to the stage. One of the biggest musical regrets of my life in hindsight.

  3. This was one of my highlights - being there myself - left a huge impression