They're regulars at Jazzbones in Tacoma. They've played the Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle, the Emerald Queen Casino and the Puyallup Fair. Last year, they even played in Folsom, Calif., after being commissioned by the city of Folsom to perform at a local venue.
The Bonney Lake-based Johnny Cash tribute band Folsom Prism has taken their act to many places in the last two years but tonight marks the first time they play right here in their hometown, at Tunes at Tapps at Allan Yorke Park.
The omission of Bonney Lake and Sumner venues from the band's show list wasn't necessarily intentional, but the group is selective about the shows it plays due to nothing more than a desire to keep harmonious home lives.
"We turn down 9 of 10 opportunities we get because there's so many of them," lead singer Corey Wilkins said. "To keep from getting divorced, we do it about twice a month. It's not a money thing for us as we all work full-time jobs and have families, but it is profitable."
Part of their success stems from the dearth of acts out there devoted to the Man in Black. According to Wilkins, there are currently six full-time Johnny Cash tribute bands worldwide. Folsom Prism isn't full time; but while they, like the others, aim to replicate Cash's mannerisms - like holding his guitar out like a rifle - along with his one-of-a-kind sound, they also bring something unique to the stage.
For example, member Laurel Robinson, who performs as June Carter Cash, is also an accomplished keyboardist and so the band's rendition of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" includes that component. "We are authentically doing something better and different," Wilkins said. "We're more fun to watch. We do storytelling. Club owners look at us as an absolute novelty."
Folsom Prism also dabbles into Cash's entire repertoire, which includes his later material under producer Rick Rubin's label featuring the much-acclaimed cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt."
Cash's multi-generational appeal continues to be apparent, said Wilkins, even 10 years after his death. Folsom Prism's shows are well-attended by those who grew up listening to Cash as well as their children and grandchildren.
"He has this crazy appeal that is a piece of Americana, a story of redemption from addiction, divorce, failure - all the way to a redeeming religious experience and then back to his southern roots and his faith," Wilkins said. "The last 20 years of his life were very different than the move (Walk the Line). ... He had a real heart for the downtrodden."
Returning to Cash
Wilkins' father was a regionally successful country music artist, he said, and so Cash was a prominent figure in the household. But in his youth, like many children of the 80s, Wilkins was more about heavy metal.
He said his own appreciation for Cash's work and personal story didn't come full circle until Cash's death in 2003 when, while playing in another band Two Cents Worth, the band threw in a tribute to Cash one night and played "Folsom Prison Blues," "Ring of Fire," and "Walk the Line."
"We literally learned them overnight," he said of the band that also included current Folsom Prism lead guitarist Shane Gillispie. "People freaked out. I kind of fumbled on it and hit that baritone bass thing he does."
In subsequent shows, "we added more, and every place we played the house came down."
Evolving into a "Cash Only" band didn't necessarily appeal to the other bandmates, so members eventually went their separate ways. In 2011, Wilkins said he and Gillispie, a childhood friend going back as far as the third grade, revisited the idea and pooled some notable local talents to form Folsom Prism. Mike Sprayberry on bass and Mark Monteiro on drums round out the group.
The rest is history.
"Returning to a country western thematic musical project is really just coming home to my roots," Wilkins said. "[Cash's] lyrics tell stories and they're long stories."
Returning to Bonney Lake
Last year, the city of Folsom, Calif., invited the band to play at the Powerhouse Pub in the city. They were given a private tour of Folsom State Prison and upon leaving were given a set of bronzed trestle spikes that were once embedded in train tracks that ran through the prison. The warden who was present when Cash formed there also was there to greet them. Wilkins said it was a honor to play for that audience. "We were treated like gods," he joked. "It was off the hook fun."
Tonight's performance is just as much an honor. Wilkins said it is special because he and the other members are regular visible members of the local community who have their kids in public school and volunteer their time. Gillespie and he are DJs for Mountain View Middle School. Robinson sings at Calvary Community Church in Sumner.
Many of their past venues are 18+ only, so the open-air, all-ages atmosphere of Tunes at Tapps will be new but very welcomed. "This is an opportunity to have a segment of our following watch us play and have their children with them," he said.
The show begins at 6:30 p.m. at Allan Yorke Park.