Flower Pickin' Fest: Cash kin to pardon Starkville

STARKVILLE — During each of the past two Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festivals, the city of Starkville and Oktibbeha County have granted symbolic pardons to the family of Johnny Cash, who was arrested in Starkville in 1965 and later wrote a song about the ordeal: “Starkville City Jail.”

At this year’s event, set to take place Oct. 16-18 in downtown Starkville, festival organizers have a little something different in store. Cash’s family and friends will pardon the city.

“Before 2007, which was the first year of the festival, Johnny Cash’s family had only associated Starkville with the place that threw him in jail,” festival organizer Robbie Ward said. “His family associated Starkville as a place that incarcerated him and that was the largest frame of reference they had. This year, his family and friends will pardon the city as a way of saying how much they have embraced Starkville and its rich history with the Man in Black.’

“Forgiveness is a two-way street. You have to ask for forgiveness, but you also have to forgive. We’re not making a statement that there’s anything wrong with the city. It’s tongue in cheek. We’re celebrating our relationship with Johnny Cash from a different perspective,” Ward said.

Cash was arrested for public drunkenness in May 1965 but claimed he was only picking flowers. The point of the festival, however, isn’t to celebrate Cash’s arrest. It is about redemption and Cash’s ability to overcome his struggles with drugs and alcohol, Ward said.

Events will begin Friday, Oct. 16, at Grumpy’s on Mississippi Highway 182. A Johnny Cash documentary will be shown and live bands will perform afterward, Ward said.

Downtown Starkville will be bustling with activity on Saturday as vendors selling food, arts and crafts will line Main Street. Organizers also have arranged tours of the jail and acoustic musicians could be on hand to play Johnny Cash material, Ward said.

The festival’s main stage will be located in front of Hotel Chester, near the corner of Main and Jackson streets, though Ward has yet to announce the lineup or the headliner.

Events will conclude Sunday with a church service at the city’s Sportsplex.

“After we’ve had our fun on Friday and Saturday we’re have our redemption on Sunday,” Ward said.

Given the tough economy, Ward said Flower Pickin’ Festival could be a nice way for families to have a nice weekend without spending a lot of money.

“We feel that, in times of economic hardship when people have a lot of stress, times like this more than any other call for stories of redemption,” Ward said.

Tim Pratt, Commercial Dispatch