ground beneath us

2018 FELLOWS Danny Wilson & Tracy Schlapp

Folsom50 explores legacy through Cash prison concerts



Danny Wilson and Tracy Schlapp created FOLSOM50 with their band Luther's Boots to commemorate Johnny Cash’s legendary prison concerts. The performance resonates with Cash’s belief in reinvention, his own redemption — a biographical thread that ran through all of Cash’s catalog. Rather than replicating the shows, Luther’s Boots reinterpreted Cash’s music and styling by drawing from his ability to transmit the emotional complexity of hillbilly music. The songs from the “At Folsom Prison” live recording were styled by the band with an ear to contemporary audiences.

Cash empathized with the plight of the incarcerated and in doing so, remembered the forgotten through his music. The strains of his lyrics acknowledge human darkness, frailty, and the light found in redemption. The Cash prison concerts recognized a contract between performer and audience that is dignified through mutual respect. This idea resonated with the project creators as a larger framework for Cash’s musical and social/political legacy. And as such, they revived this spirit through a series of concerts in Oregon Prisons during 2018.

Ground Beneath Us supported a portion of the Oregon Prison Tour which paid travel expenses and musicians to play in prisons outside of the Portland Metro area.

The project continues into 2019 with a series of lectures and workshops that bring the duo back to prisons and the neighboring communities.


Wilson and Schlapp have produced “CASH: Music, Legacy, & Redemption” a performance that mixes stories of bringing a concert and art to adults in custody, punctuated with musical excerpts of Cash songs. The Folsom50 shows were designed to broadcast the experience of folks inside in order to educate people about the needs of adults in custody. After touring the prisons statewide, the band members have experienced the power of making a positive connection. Seeds are sown when people are brought into a space filled with art, music, and ideas. The lecture is designed to cultivate an audience of students, artists, and citizens willing to advocate for adults in custody.


FOLSOM50 co-producer, Tracy Schlapp wrote an essay that unfolds during the year of rehearsals and performances with the band Luther’s Boots. The first part, "Music” was distributed in artist books and used as show programs in the prisons. The essay looks closely at the original prison concerts and contextualizes it through Cash's biography, his own writing, and the songs themselves. The full essay “CASH: Music, Legacy, & Redemption” weaves together the themes found in the songs Cash chose and finds the contemporary counterpoints in Oregon’s prison system. The Oregon Arts Commission provided a generous grant to publish a limited-edition Scoutbook to help document the project.

Artist book distributed to adults in custody during  Folsom50  concerts presented the first part of an essay that contextualized Johnny Cash for adults in custody.  South Fork Forest Camp, Tillamook Forest, Oregon photo: Steve Steckly

Artist book distributed to adults in custody during Folsom50 concerts presented the first part of an essay that contextualized Johnny Cash for adults in custody.

South Fork Forest Camp, Tillamook Forest, Oregon
photo: Steve Steckly


Daniel Duford: JOHN BROWN’S BODY

“John Brown’s Vision on the Scaffold” is part biography of abolitionist John Brown and part examination of the role of redemptive violence in United States history. “John Brown’s Body” was the battle cry sung by Union soldiers against the Confederacy. The tune was then adapted for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Brown, a staunch Calvinist followed the Cromwellian belief that God is the highest law and the only one meant to be followed. Brown emerged publicly during the tense moment when abolitionism took on greater urgency and Southern slaveholders answered with increasing violence. Political compromises from Washington further enabled slaveholders to silence abolitionists. With the intellectual framework of the Concord transcendentalists Brown’s actions in Pottawatomie, Kansas gained a new political and moral context. Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia electrified both the South and the North. The North saw him as an ennobled freedom fighter and the South as a killer proving the depravity of the North. Brown was a much more complex figure than either side allowed. His actions can still be seen from several different prisms and the repercussions still affect us.

Duford began developing “John Brown’s Body” at the Ground Beneath Us. He further developed the work at a residency at the MacDowell Colony in May of 2018. Work from that residency is featured in an exhibition at Linfield Gallery called “America Likes Me” in September 2018.

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This is not limited to the historical. Time is shifted in “John Brown’s Vision on the Scaffold”. It is a meditation on American history and storytelling. The landscape is an essential character in the work. The consideration of tree time is necessary. The slow perception of trees creates a longer narrative arc. Tree time acknowledges other non-human players in the story and accepts their viewpoint. Tree time allows connective tissue to reach over centuries. 

Abolitionism is rooted in a particular historical era. From Quaker activists like the dwarf Benjamin Lay to the Concord Transcendentalists to firebrand journalists like William Lloyd Garrison abolitionism existed to address the institution of slavery. Connected to abolitionism were many other social movements such as women’s suffrage and nascent environmentalism. Branches of those movements still exist today working against slavery by a different name.