Idol Worship

Cash & King imagines two musical titans together

Steven Kent was 13 years old when he met Elvis Presley backstage after a show in Las Vegas. “The whole experience was a bit of a blur, but the buzz around Elvis was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” says the Healdsburg resident, who grew up in Mill Valley and Sausalito. “People were pushing cameras in his face, everyone wanted something from him, and I remember thinking, ‘This’ll make a person crazy eventually.’”

Years later, Kent and former–Spreckels Performing Arts Center Manager Gene Abravaya discussed creating a Country Western–themed benefit event for Spreckels during a chance meeting. Kent described an idea he’d kicked around of doing a concert-style show featuring the songs of Presley and Johnny Cash—who Kent also met.

“I told Gene I was thinking about calling the show ‘Cash & King,’ and that it would weave the greatest songs of Presley and Cash around stories of their lives, and a bit about what they’ve meant to me over the course of my life,” Kent says.

The resulting show was a huge success, packing Spreckels’ main theater. What Kent conceived as a one-time-only night of fun turned into a side-career when he fielded offers to take the show on the road.

“We’ve gone on to do it all over the Western states, in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona; but we haven’t done it again in Sonoma County for a while,” he says.

That changes at 7pm on Sunday, Nov. 3, when Spreckels Performing Arts Center brings Cash & King back to the stage where it all began.

“We’ve put together a great band, and we put on big show filled with some of the best songs ever written,” Kent says. “And we’re excited to be back at Spreckels.”

But back to the thing about meeting Cash.

“I lived a lot of places, and I had a band in L.A., once, and I hung out at The Palomino,” Kent says. “I met a guy named Earl Ball, a piano player, who worked in my band from time to time—when he wasn’t touring with Johnny Cash. He was Johnny Cash’s piano player!”

Over the years, Kent frequently told Ball how much he’d love to meet Cash—some day.

“After several years, I went to see Cash perform at Knott’s Berry Farm,” Kent says. “After the show, I saw Earl, and he grinned at me and said, ‘Turn around.’ And there was Johnny Cash, standing right behind me. My legs almost buckled. I’ve seen a lot of famous people in my life, but I’ve never been around anybody who had the charisma or gave off the excitement I felt from being around Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.”

Speaking of Presley, Kent still remembers his chat with the King back when he was 13.

“I told him, ‘I’m a singer, and I want to be just like you,” says Kent. “Elvis stopped me and said, ‘No, no. Always be yourself.’ I’ve remembered that to this day.”

Cash & King plays Sunday, Nov. 3, at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. 7pm. $30–$40. 707.588.3400.
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