Woody Guthrie Folk Festival 2009

Woody Guthrie Statue

“What you say and what you do either runs true or dies in the silence between now and then.”  The musical notes of the double base, mandolin, and guitar twisted together as Jack Hardy sang these haunting words.

It’s Saturday the 11th, one o’ clock, and I’m sitting in the Brickstreet Cafe in Okemah, Oklahoma.  It’s WoodyFest!  There are locals, tourists.  There are old hippies, young hippies.  There are seasoned musicians like my dad, and then there’s me: a newbie to the Woody scene.  That’s why I love summer–the ability to go new places and see new things.  That’s why I love Oklahoma–the small town spirit isn’t always so bad or so boring and can come alive, together to shake you to the ground.

Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912.  Despite his trying childhood, Woody was always known for his love of performing.  And as an adult during the Dust Bowl Era, he continued to write songs about the social injustices he saw and experienced while hitchhiking across America.

Before his death to Huntington’s Disease in 1967, he’d written more than 3,000 song lyrics.  Most famous today is the tune This Land Is Your Land. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, this folk music legend is celebrated each year in his home town of Okemah with what better but a music festival.

Going strong for twelve years, this year’s four day music festival (Thursday-Sunday) featured over forty acts including artists such as Audrey Auld, the Burn Sisters, Stoney LaRue, Jamaica Rafael, Annie Guthrie, Ronny Elliott, Jack Hardy, Sam Baker, Jimmy LaFave, and more.

Jack Hardy

As a newbie, my dad made sure I got to check out as many of these performers as possible starting with Jack Hardy.  Hardy runs the longest standing songwriters’ workshop (32 years thus far) in New York City and his work includes over fifteen albums.  Decked in a green crushed velvet jacket, Hardy sensitively strummed his guitar for his love of music, for everyone’s love of music.

Next was Audrey Auld, an Australian from Tasmania who now lives in Nashville.  Auld played on the Crystal Theatre Stage, a stage that Woody himself once played on in his youth, and strummed her guitar in true cowgirl style boots and all.  Not much for country myself (I know, how am I from Oklahoma?),  I particularly liked it when Auld performed an old gospel song a cappella.

Crystal Theatre

My folk music education didn’t stop with Auld.  My dad and I went on to catch some street musicians before listening to Happenstance, then Sam Baker, and then Larry Long.  This is what’s cool about WoodyFest: the mix of the amateur and professional.  The memory of Woody ties all the musicians together and welcomes them to play simply because they love it.

Street Musicians

By the end of the day, I was hot, sweaty (hey, it is summer) and tired but proud to know more about the man who preached, “this machine kills fascists,” speaking of Nazis during World War II.  I drove away from Okemah thinking of Larry Long leading the Crystal Theatre audience in a round of The Land Is Your Land, and I really do feel that it is: the New York Island, the redwood forests, ribbon of highway, and everything in between, so go explore it.  And if you missed the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival then look out your window, see that endless skyway or find your own injustice to ponder and write a folk song in homage to the man who continues to inspire.

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