Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

infobox music festival
music_festival_name = Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

caption = [http://www.brookstudio.net Dan Brook] sculpting of Woody Guthrie
Okemah, Oklahoma.
location = flagicon|USA Okemah, OK.
years_active = 1998-present
founders = The Orphanage Society and the Woody Guthrie Coalition
dates = mid-July
genre = Folk, Country, Blues, Folk rock, Red Dirt
website = [http://www.woodyguthrie.com WoodyGuthrie.com]

The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is held annually in mid-July to commemorate the life and music of Woody Guthrie. The festival is held on the weekend closest to July 14 - the date of Guthrie's birth - in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. Daytime main stage performances are held inside at the Brick Street Cafe and the Crystal Theater. Evening main stage performances are held outdoors at the Pastures of Plenty. The festival is planned and implemented annually by the Woody Guthrie Coalition, a non-profit corporation, whose goal is simply to ensure Guthrie's musical legacy.Eshleman, Annette C. [http://www.dirtylinen.com/103/concerts.html Concert Review - Woody Guthrie Folk Festival] . "Dirty Linen", #103, December 2002/January 2003. Retrieved Sept. 17, 2007.] The event is made possible in part from a grant from the Oklahoma Arts Council. Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, Woody Guthrie's younger sister, is the festival's perennial guest of honor.Nightflying Staff. [http://nightflying.com/new/woodykickoff.html 10 years, eight guys, one special night: Woody Guthrie Folk Festival icons jam for kick-off concert.] "Nightflying", July, 2007.Retrieved Sept. 17, 2007.]

The festival, which over the years has morphed into being called "WoodyFest" by attendees, was founded in 1998 and the inaugural festival included performances by Guthrie's son Arlo Guthrie, British folk-punk-rock artist Billy Bragg, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, and The Red Dirt Rangers.1st Annual Woody Guthrie Festival. July 17-18-19, 1998. (Program booklet.)] Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. FindArticles.com. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1132/is_10_56/ai_n16126173 Bound for Glory - Indeed!] Review of "Ramblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie" by Ed Cray. March 2005. Retrieved Sept. 17, 2007.] For the festival's founding, the Woody Guthrie Coalition commissioned a local Creek Indian sculptor to cast a full-body bronze statue of Guthrie and his guitar, complete with the guitar's well-known inscription: "This machine kills fascists". The statue, sculpted by artist Dan Brook, stands along Okemah's main street - named Broadway - in the heart of downtown Okemah.3nd Annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival. July 12-16, 2000. (Program booklet.)]

The Woody Guthrie Coalition wanted the Guthrie family's approval before establishing the festival. Arlo Guthrie and his sister, Nora, felt strongly that their father would want the festival accessible to all and stipulated that they would sanction the festival if it were free. The Coalition complied and festival attendees have never been charged a fee to attend. To keep expenses at a minimum artists donate their time, although the Coalition pays for the artists' transportation and lodging. According to Rafael, the festival is a wonderful event because musicians are motivated to participate for all the right reasons.Wood, Arthur. Joel Rafael. "Kerrville Kronikle", Issue #30, 2002.]

The beginning

In the early 1960s, Woody Guthrie was living on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, New York. Although Bob Dylan made a pilgrimage to visit Guthrie, who was physically deteriorating due to a neurological disorder called Huntington's Disease, the town of Okemah had no interest in remembering its native son.Marroquin, Danny. [http://www.popmatters.com/music/features/060804-okemah.shtml Walkin' the Long Road] PopMatters.com. Aug. 4, 2006. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2007.] Okemah residents regarded Guthrie with some suspicion and some believed he was a Communist based on his "Woody Sez" column published in a Communist paper "The People's World". In addition, Guthrie sang out his beliefs at labor union rallies - sometimes with other outspoken artists such as Pete Seeger and Cisco Houston. As late as 1971, the Okemah City Council refused to proclaim Woody Guthrie Day due to his radical politics. [Curtis, Gene. [http://www.tulsaworld.com/webextra/itemsofinterest/centennial/centennial_storypage.asp?ID=070317_1_A11_TheOk43770 Only in Oklahoma: This man was our man.] "Tulsa World", March 17, 2007. Retrieved Nov. 19, 2007.] By the 1970s, although most young people in Okemah had never heard of Guthrie, Guthrie-followers began making pilgrimages to Okemah to visit the house where Guthrie lived. Guthrie's son Arlo - a well-known folksinger himself by the 70s - also made occasional trips to Okemah "to feel the situation out." However, it wasn't until the late 1990s, when Billy Bragg visited Okemah filming scenes for his "Man in the Sand" documentary about the making of "Mermaid Avenue", a collection of unknown Guthrie lyrics put to Bragg's music in collaboration with Wilco, that the town of Okemah started to embrace its wiry wanderlusting native. Bragg fittingly christened the first festival in 1998. In an article for "Dirty Linen" Annette C. Eshleman wrote: "Residents' attitudes have gone from angry accusations of Guthrie being a Communist, to suspicious tolerance, to embracing his legion of loyal fans. And while the economic boost that a festival provides to such a small community is certainly welcome, the kindness and hospitality of openhearted locals is genuine."Eshleman, Annette C. [http://www.dirtylinen.com/115/115concerts.html Concert Review - Woody Guthrie Folk Festival] . "Dirty Linen", #115, December 2004/January 2005. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2007.]


The first annual Woody Guthrie festival was presented in part by The Orphanage Society, a non-profit charitable arts organization dedicated to supporting and presenting live, original folk music in Oklahoma. The 1998 festival included headliners Tom Paxton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Peter Keane, Tom Skinner and Kevin Welch plus artists who would - along with Arlo Guthrie, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, and The Red Dirt Rangers - become "WoodyFest" regulars: Don Conoscenti and Bob Childers. The festival's program booklet includes a welcome letter from Michael M. Hagy, Mayor of Okemah, who said "The first annual Woody Guthrie festival is just the beginning of the great things to come." The festival was held over a period of three days - July 17-19, 1998, with Billy Bragg and Ellis Paul opening the festival earlier in the week with a special benefit show at the Crystal Theater on Tuesday, July 14 - Woody's birthday. Paul stated that when he made his first pilgrimage to Okemah - years before the first festival - he felt that he was walking in Woody’s footsteps and that the experience was like "going to the mount". Paul also admits to being one of the many folksingers who have taken a small piece of rock from the crumbling foundation of Guthrie's house in Okemah, saying, at that time, that he kept the memento in his guitar case. Casey, Patrick. [http://ardmoreite.com/login.shtml?orq:http://ardmoreite.com/stories/072098/ent_guthrie.shtml "Singers participate in Guthrie festival."] "The Daily Ardmoreite". July 20, 1998. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2007. (Free with registration.)]

The program booklet from the second annual festival not only included a welcome letter from Mayor Hagy, but also from the governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, who said "Woody Guthrie left a rich legacy to future Oklahoma musicians and is certainly one of the most well known musical artists to ever hale from Oklahoma." The festival was again presented by The Orphanage Society in tandem with the Woody Guthrie Coalition. Arlo Guthrie headlined the festival along with The Kingston Trio, who would make their first and only festival appearance. Also making their first appearance were Country Joe McDonald, Slaid Cleaves, John Wesley Harding, Chuck Pyle, Peter Keane, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Larry Long, and others. The festival was held July 14-18, 1999 and kicked-off with a special Woody Guthrie hootenanny at the Crystal Theater on July 14 - Woody's birthday. The hootenanny featured Arlo Guthrie, The Kingston Trio, and Country Joe McDonald. Ellis Paul served as emcee.2nd Annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival. July 14-18, 1999. (Program booklet.)]

The third annual festival was held July 12-16, 2000. The festival's official program booklet included a letter signed by Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, and other staff members of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives in New York City, where Nora is Director. The letter stated "We want to thank all our family and friends in Okemah who have worked so hard over the past few years to organize this great celebration." The festival kicked-off with a special benefit concert at the Crystal Theater with Jackson Browne playing a solo acoustic show. First-timers in 2000 were Pete Seeger (with his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger), Chuck Brodsky, Darci Deaville, Erica Wheeler, Michael Fracasso, Susan Shore, Mary Reynolds, and others. In addition to the main stage performances, after-hours all-star jams were held at the Brick Street Cafe and at the Rocky Road Tavern. The festival ended with a hootenanny on Sunday to benefit the Oklahoma Chapter of the Huntington's Disease Society.

Luna Burnett, Mayor of Okemah in 2001 welcomed attendees of the fourth WoodyFest by saying "I have personally seen the impact Woody Guthrie's style and words of song has made on each and every artist who has appeared through their own expressions of song as they perform during the festival." The festival kicked off on Wednesday, July 11 with a "Tribute to Woody Guthrie" fundraiser at the Crystal Theater. The concert was performed with the original script used Jan. 20, 1968 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The show was introduced by Guy Logsdon and narrated by Bill McCloud. [Davis, Sandi. Folk music returns to Okemah this weekend. "The Daily Oklahoman", July 6, 2001. Page 1-B.] First-time performers at the fourth festival, held July 11-15 were Lucy Kaplansky, Xavier, (Abe Guthrie's band), Vance Gilbert, Bill Miller, Pierce Pettis, and others. A children's festival was held for the first time on Friday and Saturday, and the festival ended on Sunday with a gospel worship service led by Olen Edwards and the Okemah Community Choir joined by other guest performers. [4th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 11-15, 2001. (Program booklet.)]

The fifth annual festival began with a Wednesday night benefit concert by performer Steve Young. First-time performers in 2002 included Irene Kelley, Johnsmith, Kat Eggleston, Bill Chambers, Tom Prasado-Rao, and Caroline Herring. Open mics were held at Lou's Rocky Road Tavern and a children's festival was once again held at the Okemah City Park. The festival ended with a Tribute to Woody Guthrie held on Sunday at the Crystal Theater. The tribute was narrated by Dr. Guy Logsdon, internationally recognized authority on the life, times, and music of Woody Guthrie, [National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. [http://www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/presrel/1_24b_06.html News Release. National Cowboy Museum to Honor Interpreter of the West.] Jan. 24, 2006. Retrieved Sept. 21, 2007.] interspersed with Guthrie songs performed by festival performers. [5th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 10-14, 2002. (Program booklet.)]


The Woody Guthrie Coalition welcomed festival attendees to the sixth annual festival in 2003 by saying "We are honored to have back with us Arlo Guthrie & Family along with an American icon, Pete Seeger, and, for the first time, another great folk music legend, Josh White, Jr.". Guthrie family members in attendance included Arlo's daughters Sarah Lee Guthrie (and husband Johnny Irion), Cathy Guthrie, and Annie Guthrie, and his son Abe. In addition, other first-time festival performers included Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Eliza Gilkyson, Ronny Elliot, Carrie Newcomer, Steppin' In It, Blackfire, Christopher Williams and The Burns Sisters. The festival kicked-off with a ticketed event at the Crystal Theater on Wednesday night titled "Welcome Home Woody - An Oklahoma Tribute to Woody Guthrie". The benefit show featured many of the 2003 festival performers. The festival ended on Sunday with a "Hoot for Huntington's" featuring many festival performers donating their time to raise money for the Huntington's Disease Society. Another fundraiser - held for the first time in 2003 - was "Mary Jo's Pancake Breakfast". The breakfast - another event to raise money for the Huntington's Disease Society - provides Woody Guthrie's youngest sister, Mary Jo, an opportunity to share memories and tell stories about her big brother Woody. The first pancake breakfast, which has continued to be held annually, was held in the Okfusgee Historical Society, but subsequent pancake breakfasts were held on the outdoor patio at Lou's Rocky Road Tavern. A variety of artists - including regulars Jimmy LaFave and Joel Rafael - perform Woody Guthrie songs interspersed with Mary Jo's storytelling. [6th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 9-13, 2003. (Program booklet.)]

Steve Earle headlined the 7th annual festival held July 14-18, 2004. It was Earle's festival debut. The festival opened on July 14 - Woody's birthday - with a tribute concert called "Happy Birthday, Woody". Other artists who made their festival debut in 2004 were Kris Delmhorst, John Flynn, Karen Mal, Rob McNurlin and David Wilcox. The festival concluded on Sunday with another "Hoot for Huntington's" - an all-star jam at the Crystal Theater. [7th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 14-18, 2004. (Program booklet.)]

David Amram, first met Woody Guthrie in 1956. In his report of the 2005 WoodyFest he remembers that meeting: "Ever since that day we first met, I have always hoped that someday I would get the chance to go to Okemah, but with my crazy schedule I never had the opportunity to do so. When I was invited to the festival, I realized that I would be finally be able to see his hometown, and be able to meet his sister, her husband and his remaining old friends from long ago who were still living there. By doing that, and by playing music and spending time with people who were also natives of Okemah, I knew that I would be able to understand Woody and his work in a deeper way."It took Amram 49 years, but in 2005 his life journey finally brought him to Okemah where he, along with his son Adam, headlined the eighth annual festival. Other headlining first-time performers were Peter Yarrow and Kevin So. [8th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 13-17, 2005. (Program booklet.)]

The ninth annual festival was held July 12-16, 2006. Randy Norman, President of the Woody Guthrie Coalition, wrote: "The first few years were an experiment that continues nine years later. We were very lucky to find a core group of outstanding artists that first year who believed as we did and were willing to help make the first festival a success, if not fiscally at least in the spirit of Woody." First-time festival performers included Ronny Cox, Sam Baker, Joe Ely, Greg Klyma, and others. The festival kicked-off on Wednesday when Arlo Guthrie and family brought their "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" tour to town. Jimmy LaFave closed out the festival on Saturday night at the Pastures of Plenty. Other highlights of the 2006 festival included a poetry and spoken-word tribute to Woody Guthrie featuring prominent Oklahoma poets as well as "Strokes of Electriciy: The Artwork of Woody Guthrie" presented by Steven Brower of the Okfuskee Historical Society. The festival concluded on Sunday with another "Hoot for Huntington's" - an all-star jam at the Crystal Theater. [9th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 12-16, 2006. (Program booklet.)]

The 10th annual festival took place July 11-15, 2007. To celebrate the ten-year anniversary, one of many Oklahoma centennial-year events, the festival kicked-off with a ticketed event on Wednesday night in Okemah's historic Crystal Theater. Seven "10-year artists" - artists who have participated every year since the festival's inception - performed at a Coalition benefit show titled "In the Spirit of Woody Guthrie". Those artists were Jimmy LaFave, Don Conoscenti, Ellis Paul, Bob Childers, Joel Rafael, Terry "Buffalo" Ware and the Red Dirt Rangers.WoodyGuthrie.com. [http://www.woodyguthrie.com/2007_Wednesday_Schedule.htm Woodyfest 10-Year Jam] . Retrieved Sept. 18, 2007.] The 2007 lineup spanning over four days included more than 60 artists from many genres including folk, alt-country and rock. Members of the Guthrie family scheduled to appear were Arlo Guthrie and Cathy Guthrie (daughter of Arlo) and Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie Nelson), who perform as Folk Uke. More than 100 artists performed at the festival's 10-year celebration including Kevin Welch, Sara Hickman, Butch Hancock, Tim O'Brien, Ronny Elliot, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, Rob McNurlin, Jack Williams, Antje Duvekot, Johnsmith, Sam Baker, David and Adam Amram, The Burns Sisters, Ronny Cox, Michael Fracasso, Radoslav Lorkovic and Eliza Gilkyson.WoodyGuthrie.com. [http://www.woodyguthrie.com/2007_Entertainers.htm 2007 Sneak Preview.] Retrieved Sept. 18, 2007.] The tenth festival again concluded on Sunday with a "Hoot for Huntington's", having become a Woody Fest tradition. The hootenanny is coordinated and lead by Terry "Buffalo" Ware, a guitarist living in Norman, Oklahoma, and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival All-Star House Band. The House Band also includes Randy Crouch (fiddle/pedal steel), Don Morris (bass), Dean Brown (drums), Dan Duggin (accordion) and T.Z. Wright (keyboard/accordion). The House Band can be heard playing back-up for many festival performers and in 2007 also played a set of their own - as The Oklahoma Geniuses - at the Brick Street Cafe. [10th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 11-15 2007. (Program booklet.)]


In April 2008 festival regular Bob Childers passed away unexpectedly at home. [Stillwater NewsPress. [http://www.stillwater-newspress.com/archivesearch/local_story_115114050.html Robert Wayne “Bob” Childers.] April 28, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.] As a result, a special pre-festival Childers tribute show was held at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa on July 8, 2008, the evening before the official start of the festival. Performers at the tribute included Jimmy LaFave, The Burns Sisters, The Red Dirt Rangers, Mike McClure, Joel Rafael, Stoney LaRue and Tom Skinner. [Transcript Staff. [http://www.normantranscript.com/archivesearch/local_story_179112221 July 8 tribute to Bob Childers to kick off 11th annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.] "Norman Transcript". June 26, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.] In addition, the festival program booklet included a special Bob Childers Memorial Page, and quotes made by his songwriting friends were interspersed as tributes throughout.11th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. July 9-13, 2008. (Program booklet.)]

The following night Country Joe McDonald’s Tribute to Woody Guthrie at the Crystal Theater opened the 11th annual festival held July 9-13. It was McDonald’s second appearance at the festival, having performed at the 2nd annual festival in 1999.McDonnell, Brandy. [http://newsok.com/article/3265507 Singer credits Guthrie’s influence.] "The Oklahoman", July 4, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.]

Highlights of the 5-day festival included debut performances by Judy Collins, who closed the festival on Saturday night, John Gorka, Jon Vezner and Jimmy Davis. In addition, a special edition of the Phil Ochs Song Night was held, emceed by Ochs’ sister, Sonny Ochs. Performers at the Ochs’ tribute included Gorka, John Flynn, Sean Flynn, Jimmy LaFave, David Amram, Sara Hickman, and Radoslav Lorkovic. [Nightflying Staff. [http://www.nightflying.com/new/woodyfest.html 11th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival Kicks-Off with Pre-Festival Tribute: Bob Childers, Godfather of Red Dirt Music, to be Honored.] "Nightflying", July, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.] Several young singer-songwriters also made their festival debut. They included Alexinder Gunn, Anthony da Costa, Ali Harter and Amy Speace. Other highlights included the premier of a table reading of “Time Changes Everything,” a one-act play written by John Wooley and Thomas Conner that features two characters: Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills. Although there is no evidence that these two famous songwriters ever met, the play considers the possibility by chronicling two conversations between the men. The starring roles were read by two of the Red Dirt Rangers: John Cooper as Wills and Brad Piccolo as Guthrie. [Gleason, Matt. [http://www.tulsaworld.com/TWPDFs/2008/Final/W_071008_D_6.PDF Bob, Woody and the meeting we'd like to think took place.] "Tulsa World", July 10, 2008. Retrieved July 29, 2008.] Several musicians participated in the festival's annual Community Outreach Program. Among those who volunteered their time and talents were Nancy Apple, who performed at the Okemah Senior Citizens Center, and Ronny Elliott, who performed at the Okemah Senior Citizens Center. [Okemah News Leader Staff. (Photos with captions.) "Okemah News Leader", July 13, 2008.]

Several musicians performed at the Children's Festival, including Nancy Apple, Sara Hickman, and the Red Dirt Rangers. Also performing was Ellis Paul, who performed songs from his 2008 award-winning childrens' CD "Dragonfly Races". [Parents' Choice Foundation. [http://www.parents-choice.org/product.cfm?product_id=23942&StepNum=1&award=aw Parents' Choice Award: The Dragonfly Races.] Retrieved April 29 2008.] Other activities for children at the Children's Festival included surrey rides, harmonica lessons, face painting, clowns, and crafts. The Children's Festival is held in the Okemah City Park and is made possible with a grant from the Viersen Family Foundation.

The 2008 festival ended on Sunday, July 13 with the traditional Sunday Hoot for Huntington’s. Randy Norman, President of the Woody Guthrie Coalition, stated that the crowd for the Sunday hootenanny was the largest he had seen. [Okemah News Leader Staff. Festival Well Attended by Out-of-Towners. "Okemah News Leader". July 17, 2008.] Although in the past the hootenanny closed with Bob Childers performing “Walking Woody’s Road,” in Childers’ absence the WoodyFest house band and a multitude of performers gathered on stage to perform the Childers-penned song with the audience singing along. A video of this performance has been posted on the YouTube website. [YouTube.com. [http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=qS3YN0U6E4w "Woody's Road" by Bob Childers @ Woody Fest 2008.] Retrieved Aug. 13, 2008.]

WoodyFest quotes

"The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is a perfect tribute to the spirit of Woody Guthrie and his beloved hometown of Okemah, and an important cultural event for all of America, setting an example of how to do things right, and celebrate the arts in a joyous way where the community and the artists all join hands to give our young people standards of excellence to aspire to for whatever they do in life." -- David AmramAmram, David. [http://www.woodyguthrie.org/merchandise/davidamram.htm Report from Okemah - July 2005] Retrieved Sept. 19, 2007.]

"This is just a special festival. Woody Guthrie is the heart of the whole folk music thing and folk music has taken on a new role." -- Joel Rafael [ Okemah News Leader Staff. [http://www.joelrafael.com/reviews/okemah.html Rafael tells why festival is special.] "Okemah News Leader", Vol. 82, #56, P. 1, July 13, 2003.]

When invited back for the 2nd annual festival, Ellis Paul accepted the invitation agreeing to perform at the 1999 festival "and every one until the end of time." -- Ellis Paul

"...it is not unusual to see impromptu bands form for jams...and we the audience get to see collaborations that we could only normally dream about." -- Jela Webb [Webb, Jela. Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. [http://www.maverick-country.com "Maverick Magazine"] , Issue 63, October 2007, p. 27-9. (Review of the 2007 festival.)]

"...there's definitely something special going on in that scene. It's almost an American music festival secret. It's like beyond description....like, something is happening there that's literally changing the universe....it's rearranging the molecules of the planet...such really soulful musicians." -- Jimmy LaFave [Skaff, Hillary R. [http://www.austinmusicmagazine.net/mag-pdf/_AMM-06-07-issue-Web/AMM-06-07-issue-Web.pdf Jimmy LaFave: Pure Americana.] "Austin Music and Entertainment", Issue 12, November/December 2007. Retrieved Dec. 18, 2007.]

"I think the spirit of Woody Guthrie is really alive at that festival, just because I think everybody comes there with a passion for songs and storytelling." -- Samantha Crain


External links

* [http://www.woodyguthrie.com Woody Guthrie Folk Festival website]
* [http://www.woodyguthrie.com/2007_Friends_of_the_Festival.htm Woody Guthrie Coalition Board of Directors]
* [http://www.jimdirden.com/woodyfest.htm Jim Dirden's WoodyFest photos]

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