By Tom Blake
In 1980, I saw Johnny Cash perform live at The Coach House, which, at that time, was a new musical venue in San Juan Capistrano.
His touring bus was parked alongside the building. I got to spend some time with him and June Carter on the bus that night before the show. Why? Because I knew Johnny and June well.
I worked with them from 1975-1977 when I was the marketing director for the Victoria Station restaurant chain. I hired Johnny to sing our radio commercials and to be our company spokesperson because of his love for trains. Our restaurants were built out of boxcars and cabooses.
My friend, Jim Fallon, 74, is a widower of one year after 47 years of marriage. We met at a grief-share meeting and became buddies, sharing our grief and dating experiences.
Jim was aware of my friendship with Johnny Cash and asked if I’d like to see a tribute band called The Man in Black at The Coach House on Sept. 14. I said yes.
Jim, my friend Debbie Sirkin, and I enjoyed the show and much more.
I wanted to spend time before the concert with Shawn Barker, who is Johnny Cash in The Man in Black tribute band. I checked the website for Villam Rocks, which manages Shawn, and reached out to their promotion manager, Joey Waterman. He very enthusiastically arranged for the pre-concert meeting with Shawn.
Not only did Debbie, Jim, and I get to meet privately with Shawn, but we also got to meet his four bandmates. The keyboard player, Thomas, is from Copenhagen, Denmark. The bassist, Shayne, is from Albany, New York. Charlie, the drummer, is from Nashville, and the guitarist Dean is from Australia. What a cool bunch of guys.
In 2006, I published a book titled Prime Rib & Boxcars: Whatever Happened To Victoria Station? Three chapters in the book are devoted to my association and friendship with the Cash family.
I thought the five band members would enjoy learning what incredible people Johnny and June Carter Cash were from my perspective. Hence, I autographed and presented a book to each of them.
The Coach House is located down the street from Mission San Juan Capistrano. Gary Folgner, The Coach House founder and still owner, opened the venue in 1980.
During the concert, I said hello to another old friend, Johnny, a bartender who has worked at The Coach House for 38 years.
The tribute band was awesome. They played lots of Johnny’s great songs and, of course, the two biggies that Johnny Cash is known for, “Ring of Fire,” and “I Walk The Line.” Also, the band’s version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” had people on their feet like they were at a revival meeting.
I was honored when Shawn introduced me to the audience as probably the only person there who had known Johnny.
I had goosebumps most of the night. Johnny had taken me into San Quentin Prison for a concert in 1977, so when Shawn sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” I could relate to the atmosphere inside the walls of Folsom.
“The energy, talent, and personality of Shawn was breathtaking,” Jim said. “He had the audience involved during the entire show. If you ever get a chance to see this The Man in Black tribute band, do it.
“And keep an eye on upcoming performances at The Coach House. You’ll love the vibe there. It’s usually packed with people aged 50 to 75,” Jim added.
Debbie said, “I felt like Johnny Cash was in the room, both in voice and charisma. The entire audience appeared to be as mesmerized as we were. I was so proud to have been with Tom, the only person in the room who had known Johnny personally.
“Our food server, Hollie, was the best—so busy, so friendly, and smart,” Debbie continued. “We in Orange County are truly blessed to have such a wonderful music venue in San Juan Capistrano.”
I know that my friends Johnny and June Cash were smiling from above that night, and I gave them a thumbs up from The Coach House, the venue where I had been with them in person, almost 45 years before.
After the show, near the exit door of The Coach House, Jim, Debbie, and I said goodbye to Shawn and complimented him on a memorable performance. Each of us felt a warm glow as we drove to our homes.
Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at findingloveafter50.com. To comment: email@example.com.