NORTH ADAMS -- Toes were tapping, hands were clapping and the audience was singing along Saturday night as Harold Ford and Laura Lucy, performing as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, belted out tunes from the stage of the Mohawk Theater during a one-night-only concert.
"The Spirit of Johnny Cash," a tribute to the late artist, served as a fundraiser for the Mohawk Theater Preservation Project and the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. The concert drew some 600 audience members -- 400 seats and 200 standing-room-only spots.
Cash, who performed at the Mohawk in 1988, was the last major performer to grace its stage.
"We sold out," Josiah "Joe" Low III, who sponsored the concert, said excitedly at a VIP-ticket holder reception prior to the show. "As I told Mayor Richard Alcombright, I believe the spirit of North Adams would support ‘The Spirit of Johnny Cash.' I think it's great that we're getting some exposure for the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation over here, and we're also getting to show people what the Mohawk Theater needs."
Later in the evening, as Low introduced Ford and The Cash Band, he celebrated the packed theater and the evening's success.
"Hey, [Mass MoCA Director] Joe Thompson. Hey, [MCLA President] Mary Grant. Hey, Richard Alcombright. We did it." Low said triumphantly, a wide grin on his face. "This is a bit of a dream, but this town lives on dreams. Look what Joe did. Look what Mary's done.
"For me, the music of Johnny Cash takes me back 55 years at least, when I was a lucky lad, a Wyoming-raised ranch kid on his way to a special part of America, the Berkshires and Williams College. Tonight we hope to revive memories in all of us by listening to Harold, Lucy and The Cash Band. We also look forward to the renovation of the Mohawk and the continuing efforts of the Rural Lands Foundation as they work to preserve this special part of the Berkshires that we all love."
The theater, which marks its 75th anniversary this year, has been dark since the 1990s. A restoration project that has stalled and is in the midst of being reworked has left the theater stripped to its bare bones.
"It's fantastic to see the Mohawk lit up and all these people waiting to get in," Alcombright said prior to the performance.
Those who turned out for the show came for a variety of reasons: Some were fans of Johnny Cash, others supporters of the Mohawk, and others, such as Fred Windover, former general counsel for Sprague Electric Co., were just anxious to get a glimpse of the theater, which was part of their personal history.
"I live out of town now, but came up for the foliage. It just happened that I found out about this," he said.
While he didn't stay for the show, Windover said he made a donation to the restoration project and was anxious to see what the theater looked like.
"I spent a lot of time going to the movies there," he said.
Judy and Fritz Spooner, of Williamstown, were excited to see the show, but said the theater holds a special place in their hearts.
"We've been looking forward to this," Judy Spooner said. "We're Johnny Cash fans and fans of the Mohawk. I used to work in the ticket booth and at the concession stand when I was a teenager. We were always busy on the weekend."
Rod McLaren, of Lenox, was attending the show not only as a fan of Johnny Cash, but also to see his daughter, Courtney, perform with the MCLA Allegrettos, which opened the show. The MCLA Cabaret performed scenes from the musical, "Cabaret," as part of the opening show as well.
But for others, like Marie, of Williamstown, who declined to give her last name, the night was all about reliving memories of seeing Johnny Cash perform on the Mohawk stage.
"I was here in 1988 when Johnny Cash performed," she said. "He autographed a picture for me. My heart almost stopped when I met him. I remember that night. I went back stage and they told me I couldn't go back there. I said to [Cash's people] that they weren't going to stop me, that I had waited 30 years to meet him. Then I looked up and he was standing there, all in black. I thought they were going to have to take me out on a stretcher because I was just sure I was going to have a heart attack I was so excited."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email firstname.lastname@example.org.