On June 6, 2015, Rosanne Cash and her band performed on the former cotton storage shed at Dockery Farms, and according to Cash it was like coming back to the source. She and her husband John Levanthal have taken several trips through the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta in recent years, and she credits that journey with inspiring the songs on her most recent album The River & The Thread. A “vortex” is how she describes the Mississippi Delta, since so many history-shaping events took place in this region.
Cash won GRAMMY® Awards in the categories of Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song for “A Feather’s Not A Bird” and Best Americana Album for The River & The Thread. She explained her connection to Dockery and this album saying, “So much of the inspiration for The River & The Thread comes from right here on this stretch of highway from Greenwood to the Mississippi River, and the very center of the creative spark is Dockery Farms. It’s a huge thrill and the completion of a circle to finally perform these songs in this historic place.”
Cash, who has charted 21 Top 40 country singles, including 11 of which climbed to No. 1, wrote all of the new album’s songs with Leventhal, who also served as producer, arranger, and guitarist. The River & The Thread, referred to by Cash as a concept album, draws from country, blues, gospel and rock, and reflects the soulful mix of music that traces its history back to this region. In an article for Esquire magazine, Cash offered a suggested playlist for a trip down nearby Highway 61; some of the songs included were Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues,” Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” the Staples Singers’ “This May Be the Last Time,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “The Natchez Burning,” and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” and all with a tie–whether by artist or theme–to this region.
The concert had a festival-like atmosphere as guests were greeted at the restored service station with the music of Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers, a Mississippi-based band well-known for their energetic style. Playing at the site of the former Dockery commissary were bluesmen Bill Abel and John “Cadillac” Nolden, and the opening act for Cash was electric blues guitarist Eddie Cotton, Jr.
This concert was the first in what the Dockery Farms Foundation hopes to be an ongoing effort to bring live music, especially that with roots in the blues, to this historic site that was once home to icons such as Charley Patton, Howling’ Wolf, Pop Staples and others. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker placed here is titled “Birthplace of the Blues?” for good reason.