By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Country stars Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley, the Civil Wars and Rosanne Cash join forces this week in a fund-raising concert for the restoration of the boyhood home of late legend Johnny Cash.
Cash's humble home in the tiny town of Dyess, Arkansas, was acquired in 2011 by Arkansas State University, which is spearheading the drive to repair and furnish the 1930s era house where the "Ring of Fire" singer grew up with his six brothers and sisters.
"It's been a long process," Cash's song-writer daughter, Rosanne, told Reuters, referring to purchasing the home and getting the restoration underway. "There are a lot of Johnny Cash projects out there, but this is the one that captured my heart."
Cash, an icon of country music whose hits spanned more than 50 years, died in 2003 at age 71.
Bentley, 36, who has had eight number one hits including " "Home," and "5-1-5-0," said he wanted to take part in Friday's fundraiser out of respect for the veteran performers who have paved the way for his new generation of singers.
"I don't know anyone who doesn't love Johnny Cash," Bentley told Reuters. "It's pretty cool to be part of that show."
"To have the chance to be part of a unique festival always excites me, especially when you are raising money for a great cause and it's tied to a guy that this town (Nashville) really respects a lot," Bentley added.
Cash's family moved to rural Dyess in 1936 because they were given 20 acres of land under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal plan to boost agriculture.
Arkansas State University is working to save the Cash house, and other historic buildings in Dyess, as heritage sites and to develop them as tourist destinations.
An initial fundraiser in 2011 raised $300,000 for the Cash home, and Bill Carter, who is producing Friday's Johnny Cash Music Festival event, hopes it will bring in another $200,000.
Local officials say work to rebuild the Cash house and its foundations, a barn and other outbuildings, and to construct a new visitor center and walking trails will cost about $1.9 million.
"The restoration is pretty far along. We are hoping we can raise enough funds from this year's concert so that we can open in the fall of 2013," said Ruth Hawkins, director of the Arkansas Heritage Sites at Arkansas State University.
Hawkins said family members are donating many items that were original to the home, and the group restoring it is also acquiring replicas and looking for furniture from the 1930s and 40s to furnish the house.
John Carter Cash, the son of the "Walk the Line" singer and June Carter, said the festival would benefit the whole area of Dyess, which now has a population of under 500.
"Dyess is an area that really needs help, and this project will help. The best thing is that it is a continuing project, and we hope it will continue for many years to come," Cash said.
The Johnny Cash Music Festival concert will be held at Arkansas State University's Convocation Center in Jonesboro on October 5.
The proceeds will also help support a scholarship fund established in the late singer's name.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Carol Bishopric)