The Church of Cash• May 5, 2023• The State Room
Reviewed and Photographed by Alisha Gregson
The State Room was the first stop for Minneapolis-based The Church of Cash on their Over Mountains Tour. The Johnny Cash tribute band pulled in a decent size crowd, with fans of all ages ready for an exciting night of live music. I know many people who love tribute concerts, but to be honest, I haven’t always been a big fan. After one incredible show, The Church of Cash has made a convert out of me. While I am sure nothing can quite compare to the experience of attending an actual Johnny Cash concert, the band did a phenomenal job honoring The Man in Black.
The band walked out on stage dressed in all black, Johnny Cash’s signature look. Frontman Jay Ernest took the lead on vocals and acoustic guitar, with “Jumpin” Jack Mansk on electric guitar and background vocals. Tony Wirth on bass and background vocals, and Jonathon TeBeest on drums and background vocals.
I grew up listening to Johnny Cash. So I couldn’t help but have a list of songs in mind that I was hoping to hear. I knew the band would have quite a collection to choose from. Over his career, Cash recorded 96 albums and over 1,500 songs. The band did a great job curating a setlist that kept everyone happy. They started the night strong with some well-loved songs, “Big River,” “I’ve Got Stripes,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” and “I Walk The Line.” I was impressed right away with how well Ernest represented Cash. His deep baritone, facial expressions, and mannerisms all contributed to his exceptional performance. People in the crowd sang and clapped along. I often see concertgoers dancing to the music, but this crowd took it to the next level. I especially enjoyed watching as couples spun each other around near the front of the stage.
Jay Ernest told the crowd they had traveled a long way to be there. He thanked everyone for showing up to support them. Jay promised that they would be playing all the hits and a good variety of Johnny Cash songs. He jokingly told the crowd they would get the older ones out of the way so the old farts in the audience could get home before their early bedtime. Speaking to the older members of the audience he said, “Now you old farts, I’m not picking on you guys, ok? I’m just a little jealous because you guys grew up with some fantastic music. We had Milli Vanilli, people, come on. There’s a big difference.” He was a lot of fun in the way he interacted with the crowd, and kept everyone laughing between each song.
Ernest said they had a special treat and directed all attention to “Jumpin” Jack for an exciting guitar solo. The very talented “Jumpin” Jack nailed the performance, and the crowd had a lot of fun with it. They ended their first hour-long set with “Ring of Fire”. Inviting the audience to take over for a minute during the chorus. The band then took a break and stood at the merch table in the lobby. I saw them chatting with their fans and posing for selfies.
After their 20-minute intermission, they were back under the spotlights and ready to go. Their second set was just as much fun as the first. They showed no sign of slowing down as the night went on. They took a minute to sing happy birthday to someone in the crowd. Which I’m sure made her night extra special.
Johnny Cash was well known for his cover songs. The band included many of those on their setlist as well. Of course, when Cash covered a song he added his very unique touch and made it his own. Before playing “I Won’t Back Down,” Ernest said to the crowd, “We are a Johnny Cash tribute show. Covering Johnny Cash, covering Tom Petty. Does that make sense?” Throughout the night they played lots of great covers including Cash’s version of “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond, “Hurt,” by Nine Inch Nails, and “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden. They also played one of my favorites, “A Boy Named Sue.” Ernest didn’t mention that this one was also a cover. But the song was written and originally recorded by the iconic children’s author, Shel Silverstein.
The Church of Cash saved a few of the best for last. They sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” before all the band members met in the middle of the stage to sing their last song together. Standing in a line, they sang “We’ll Meet Again,” the last song on the last album Cash recorded. It was a perfect way to end an amazing tribute to such a legendary man.