Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive August 2015 Show 1533 Woody Guthrie Folk Music Celebration

Woody Guthrie Folk Music Celebration

An Okemah, Okla., folk music celebration honors a man whose legacy was often overlooked because of his socialist leanings.
Woody Guthrie Folk Music Celebration

Woody Guthrie Folk Music Celebration

For more information visit these links:

Woody Guthrie Festival

Oklahoma Historical Society

City of Okemah

Show Details

Show 1533: Woody Guthrie Folk Music Celebration
Air Date: August 16, 2015

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: “This land is your land, this land is my land, this land was made for you and me,” words straight out of the beloved Woody Guthrie song that some have even suggested would be an appropriate, and easier sung, national anthem. Now, what is amazing about that song is that in reality it’s a protest song, written in reaction to the Great Depression when folks were unable to find work and were even going hungry. Now, in it, Woody Guthrie starts off by painting a pleasant picture about the United States of America as the land of opportunity, but towards the end of the song he starts to address real social issues. And it was this pointed political criticism that for decades had many people hold Woody Guthrie’s music at arm’s length, even his own hometown. Joining me now is our own Kela Kelln.

Kela Kelln: Well, Rob, today Okemah, Okla., has embraced Woody Guthrie as a favorite son, not always for his politics, but certainly for his music, which brings folk music enthusiasts from around the world to the small town each summer.

[music].

It’s a sound that Woody Guthrie would be proud of.

[music].

From a son paying tribute to his father.

[music].

To musicians of all generations and genres.

[music].

Every July, Okemah becomes a hotbed of folk music.

Phillip reeves: Okemah is everybody’s hometown. It’s just a really nice community with really wonderful people here, a lot of hardworking people, successful people.

Kay Reeves: Woody Guthrie kind of people.

Phillip: Woody Guthrie kind of people.

[music].

Phillip: Well, of course, uh, Woody was, uh, a child of, uh, the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Oklahoma, uh, the nationwide depression. And, uh, he was, uh, you’d have to say he was from the poor side of the tracks.

Kay: And so were we [laughs].

Phillip: And so were we [laughs]. And Woody made the, uh, uh, uh, the “Grapes of Wrath” trips, uh, out to California. And I listened to my father talk back in those years, you, you begin to realize that “The Grapes of Wrath” wasn’t one, uh, migration. It was, uh, something that people did almost every year or every couple years. Uh, they’d go out to California and make enough money and come back and live here till the money was gone, and then they’d go back and make some more money.

[music by Woody Guthrie].

Kela: And in doing so, the young Woody Guthrie became the voice of those less fortunate cast to the fringes of society.

[music by Woody Guthrie].

Phillip: Now, Woody, uh, was on the side of the working people. And of course, the ‘30s and ‘40s, uh, was a real, uh, conflict time between the unions and the, and the industrialized society and the big money people, and Woody was never on the big money side. He was on the poor guy’s side.

[music].

Kela: Guthrie’s birth is celebrated in his hometown of Okemah, where each summer families and entertainers gather together for events that help to keep the memory and traditions of the folk legend alive.

[music].

David Amran traveled from new York.

David Amran: He was always conscious of people who were hurting. Some of his great songs and a lot of his activity was to try to help out people who had no voice, who were in need, who were hurting. But not at the expense of demonizing those who had something, but rather celebrating all of us being together; when he said, “This land is your land, it was meant for you and me,” he meant that literally, that all of us should be a part of the blessings that we have here in this beautiful place of ours.

[music].

Terry Ware: The love of music, that’s why everybody comes here.

[music].

And it is, you know, and it’s the love of music and, and the love of Woody Guthrie, you know. Because everybody that comes here knows what a seminal figure he was as American music. He’s as important as anybody ever has been.

[music].

Kela: And for these musicians it’s not just the music that sounds familiar, it’s the message of their songs that would make Woody Guthrie proud. Terry Ware is from Norman, Okla.

Terry: I mean there’s still people that are hungry, there’s still people that are exploited, you know, workers that are exploited or taken advantage of or are not represented like they deserve to be represented, you know. Uh, because, uh, well, there’s greed still around, so [laughs] as long as there’s greed in the world there’s gonna be, those issues are gonna exist. And there’s always gonna be people like, you know, I think that write songs about it.

[music].

Kela: Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie, comes each year to help celebrate and show respect to his father’s legacy.

[music].

An event that honors not only a life and legend, but most importantly strives to keep the music playing.

[music / applause].

This is the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth, and town folk in Okemah expect their largest crowd ever for the festival that runs from July 11 through the 15th.

Rob: Now, I think before anyone gets to critical of Woody’s leftist leanings, you have to consider that we we’re in the height of the Depression in the 1930s in this country. And then in Europe, the Spanish Civil War going on where the fascists were literally killing millions of people, not to mention, Hitler was making rise in Germany with his own brand of fascism, and we all know what that led to.

Kela: Right. Well, Woody Guthrie was certainly a man of his times, and I think his music speaks for that.

Rob: All right. Well, thank you so much. That was a nice piece. I appreciate it, Kela. When we come back, we dig a little deeper to see where Guthrie may have learned some of those Marxist leanings.