By James Beaty
“Well, you wonder why I always dress in black.”
From “Man in Black,” by Johnny Cash.
When Philip Bauer performs his tribute concert to the legendary Johnny Cash, he gets so deep into character that some audience members forget who they’re watching.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I’ve loved your music since I was a kid,’” Bauer said, chuckling at the thought.
Still, it’s a tribute of sorts to the tribute artist that some audience members get so caught up in his performance that they compliment him because of their love for Cash’s music. Bauer, who stays in character as Cash during the concert and afterwards when talking to fans, usually just says “Thanks.”
This Saturday, McAlester-area residents will have an opportunity to see and hear Bauer for themselves when he presents a 90 minute free concert as part of the Oct. 5 Wild West Festival in McAlester’s Old Town.
He’s set to perform an outdoor concert at 3 p.m. on the main stage “at the crossroads,” said Old Town Association President Eddie Gray.
Bauer has toured across the United States and Australia with his Cash tribute, and has also performed in Mexico and Canada.
He’s even performed in an event to raise funds to restore Cash’s boyhood home in Arkansas, which in itself is a nod to Bauer’s take on the Man in Black.
During his McAlester concert, Bauer will have his full band with him, presenting their version of Cash’s famed Tennessee Three. Bauer’s band includes Kenny Anderson on lead guitar, Norman Cochran on bass, and Gary Bryan, on drums.
One of Bauer’s favorite experiences during his Cash performances came when Cash’s original drummer, W.S. “Fluke” Holland, joined him on-stage.
Did Holland have anything to say afterwards.
“He said it was spooky,” Bauer recalled.
Bauer does more than play songs during his Cash tribute.
“It’s a recreation of a Johnny Cash concert,” he said. “There are some songs that I set up with stories. There’ll be some comedy in it.”
So how did he become a Johnny Cash impersonator? Bauer said it began with what he figured would be a one-time performance.
“I did a show at the Rodeo Opry in Oklahoma City and it was put on YouTube,” he said. “We heard from people all over the country.”
Bauer said he’d been working in sales and marketing at the time, but the response to his performance as Cash encouraged him to make a career move.
“A few weeks later, I quit my job,” Bauer said. He’s been on the road as Cash ever since.
Gray noted that Cash’s appeal reaches across all age spectrums and demographics. His music is loved by both traditionalists and hipsters.
“I think he’s going to be a draw for both the older and the younger people,” Gray said of Bauer’s tribute performance.
Gray, along with other members of the Old Town Association, checked out Bauer’s impersonation of Cash when deciding who to book for this year’s Wild West Festival.
They were not disappointed.
“Philip Bauer as Johnny Cash —he does justice to the memory,” Gray said.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.