Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
Photo: woodyfest.com
The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is an annual festival held on the weekend closest to July 14 to commemorate the life and music of American singer-songwriter and musician Woody Guthrie. The festival is held in Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, commonly known as Woody Guthrie, was born on July 14, 1912. He had a natural affinity for music and easily learned to play by ear. Guthrie performed old ballads and traditional English songs around town, accompanying himself on the guitar and harmonica.

Guthrie began to write and perform his own songs in the 1930s and was quickly embraced by the leftist folk music community because many of his songs were dedicated to social injustice. Alongside political and protest songs, Guthrie composed traditional songs, children’s songs and ballads. His musical legacy includes hundreds of songs, the most famous one is “This Land Is Your Land”.

Woodie Guthrie died at age 55 from complications of Huntington’s disease, an inherited progressive neurological disorder. Sadly, his hometown of Okemah had little interest in honoring his memory. The Okemah City Council refused to proclaim Woody Guthrie Day due to his radical political views. The political climate became more liberal in the late 1990s, and a group of enthusiasts founded the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, also known as WoodyFest.

The inaugural festival was held from July 17–19, 1998. It featured performances by Guthrie’s son Arlo Guthrie and well-known folk artists such as Joel Raphael, Jimmy LaFave, Ellis Paul, Billy Bragg, Kevin Welch, Peter Keane, Tom Paxton, and many others. Over the years, the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival has welcomed hundreds of folk artists, established and emerging alike.

For the first 17 years of its existence, WoodyFest was free because Woody Guthrie’s children, Arlo and Nora, felt strongly that their father would want the festival accessible to everyone. However, the Woody Guthrie Coalition had to initiate an admission fee for two of four venues in 2015 because the festival had struggled financially for several years. The venues include the historic Crystal Theater, the Brick Street Cafe, the outdoor CIA Stage in downtown Okemah, and Lou’s Rocky Rod Tavern that hosts open mic nights during the festival.

In 2020, the event was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.


Photo: okcbackup.com




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