Woody Guthrie was, at his very best, a great thinker. He rode rails, reached people, wrote words, incited passions. Today, his very name holds some pre-conceived meaning worldwide, depending on the age, education level, thoughtfulness and social depth of the person invoking thought. He believed in the Everyman. America The Beautiful is an anthem. His music was and is about freedom.
I had no opinion about Woody Guthrie until a few years ago. I knew more of his son, having played Arlo’s music on Georgia State’s 88.5 FM, WRAS, Album 88 back in my college DJ days. Then I checked out the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival, As a journalist, with camera in tow, I visited Okemah, Oklahoma for a dusty, hot Friday afternoon that turned into a glorious reverberating, revitalizing evening of music and fellowship. It was one day in a remarkable annual weekly event that brings important names inmusic history (Judy Collins, etc.) and some lesser known but powerfully talented men and women who play, play, play for free. Some show up on busses with ragged guitars in tow to play at theopen mikes. Others foot their own bill to be a part of it, when thousands in appearrance fees would be the norm. I studied Woody’s history, searched for the dpeth and meaning of his messages, and found out about the sad nature of his killer, Huntington’s Disease.
The Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival in 2010 runs July 14-18. Don’t worry about tickets or anything other than gas for your car and a cooler and blanket for your health. Head to Okemah, Oklahoma and just ask somebody. Meet Woody’s relatives, his fans and put meaning to his personae.
And before you go, enjoy the television news story did that year I found out about his legacy….