Johnny was on fire in 1968 and was willing to take risks to build his career. He defied Columbia Records by doing the famous concert at Folsom Prison, and the risks paid off. During this time, Johnny was trying to do the right and wanted to marry June Carter but was still edgy. That same year Johnny appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and some of the most viewed videos on YouTube occurred during this period. This is the period the show attempts to recreate. With the sincerest respect for Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three, cast plays the parts of the original band.
Gray Sartin's goal as a Johnny Cash impersonator is to give the audience the feeling they're seeing a live performance from 68. Creating the feeling of a real 1968 live Johnny Cash show starts with each member of the Johnny Cash tribute band playing the part of the original Tennessee Three, including Luther Perkins on guitar, Marshall Grant on bass, and W.S. “Fluke” Holland on drums. The band is not just playing their instruments they're also playing a part. During the show, the cast will kid around and poke fun at each other just like the original band did in the beginning. For example, Luther Perkins was known for having very little expression and was kidded about being dead and not knowing it. Marshall Grant was known for being very animated and had no problem interacting with Johnny on stage.
Sartin said, “when people are watching a play, the actors don't remind the audience they're seeing a play and not the real thing. We treat our show the same way. We don't remind the audience we're not the real thing. We want our audience to suspend disbelief for 90 minutes and allow themselves to be caught in the nostalgia of the moment. That's why every show starts with, 'hello, I'm Johnny Cash,' and we've grown every year since July 2011.”
To create the sound, the band concentrates on using vintage style instruments. The clicking of the upright bass, the brushes on the snare, the acoustic strings, and the muted plucking of the lead guitar were paramount for creating that feel. Greg Bauman, the lead guitar player, built a replica of Luther Perkin's first guitar, the Esquire. Greg took the time to get the right parts and built it by hand. Scott Hinds, the upright bass player, does what Marshal Grant did in the beginning, slap that bass, and Pete Maier, the drummer, has perfected the many different subtleties of the train beat.
Gray Sartin is a Johnny Cash tribute artist that creates the look of 1968 by wearing an exact replica of the suit worn at Folsom Prison on January 13th of that year. Cash had black suit with a blood red lining, a deep cut double breasted vest, pants were narrow at the leg, and pointed Italian shoes with a generous heel. Cash had just started to get healthy, after years of amphetamine use but was still thin. His hair was dark brown, and he wore it in a pompadour style.
Also, in 68, Cash appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. Cash was wearing a white turtleneck shirt with gray trousers and a double-breasted black sport coat. This appearance happened after Luther Perkins passed away on August 5th but before he found Bob Wooten, who joined the band on September 17th as the new lead guitar player. Sometimes Gray Sartin is referred to as a Johnny Cash impersonator because his to copy the clothes, hair, and mannerisms of Cash. Gray says, “all the attention to details helps the audience suspend disbelief making for a more enjoyable experience.”