By John Dillon
OKEMAH, OK –– Why is the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival different (dare I say, better) than other folk festivals?
Three reasons. One, it honors the legacy of an amazing troubadour, philosopher, organizer, poet, and prophet. Two, it is a free folk festival. It is free for attendees, and the musicians donate their performances (the festival does cover artists’ travel expenses, however). For this reason, a vibe of generosity and community permeates the whole town of Okemah during the festival. And three, there is a sense of camaraderie among attendees and artists just for enduring the mid-July Oklahoma weather––100 plus degree temperatures, 90% humidity, and the occasional great plains thunderstorm.
This year’s festival was no exception. After dodging a couple of ominous I-40 thunder-boomers, Viv and I arrived Wednesday and headed directly to the Crystal Theater for the performance of “Walking Woody’s Road,” a special evening of song and narration produced by Jimmy LaFave. The show ended with a rousing rendition of the Woody Guthrie classic, This Land Is Your Land.
On Thursday afternoon we hosted an interview with Butch Hancock in the air conditioned basement of the Methodist Church with a cool and attentive audience. A member of the Flatlanders with fellow Lubbock, Texas natives Joe Ely and Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Butch had much to share about music, writing, and his own brand of flatland philosophy. The interview will be heard on Art of the Song and the Standing “O” Project this fall.
Thursday evening’s performances in the Pastures of Plenty featured folk music artists and Art of the Song alum Don Conoscenti, Ramsay Midwood, the Red Dirt Rangers, and Butch Hancock.
Back in the church basement Friday afternoon, we were all treated to the humor and wisdom of Vance Gilbert. Reminiscent of last year’s romp with Sam Baker, Vance kept Viv and I on our toes for the entire Art of the Song interview. There were indeed a few moments that won’t pass FCC muster, so you’ll have to visit the Standing “O” Project for the unedited “Naked Interview.” Again, coming this fall!
Friday evening’s concert at the Pastures of Plenty featured a full line-up of Art of the Song alums: Vance Gilbert, Joel Rafael, Trout Fishing in America, and John Fullbright. It’s amazing to see how much John improves year after year. The the 25-year-old Grammy nominee is truly on an upward trajectory.
Highlights of the rest of the festival included sets by Grant Peeples, Annie Guthrie, Steve Poltz, The Burns Sisters, David Amram, Sam Baker, Ellis Paul, and a Saturday night finale by Jimmy LaFave and his band.
We hope you’ll take a trip to Oklahoma in July and join us for next year’s Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. More information at www.woodyguthrie.com.
MUSINGS FROM THE WOODY GUTHRIE FESTIVAL – 2015
By John Dillon
There’s a folk festival in the middle of Oklahoma in the middle of July that’s like no other. It’s a place where musicians and fans gather once a year to celebrate the music and legacy of Woody Guthrie. It’s a magical festival. People are super-friendly. Many of the musicians and festival goers come back year after year, so it’s a lot like a family reunion. More info at their website.
Katie Mitchell (our Chief Community Builder) and I just returned from an inspiring road trip to WoodyFest. We re-connected with old friends and made many new ones. We taped interviews with Dan Navarro, Monica Taylor and the Burns Sisters for Art of the Song. The warm reception was awesome, and when we explained the Standing “O” Project, both artists and fans agreed it’s a much-needed new business model for music.
Woody Guthrie believed in fairness and equality for all. He stood up for the disenfranchised and spoke up for those who didn’t have a voice. I’m not saying musicians are suffering like the the dust bowl Okies or the California migrant workers, but today the music of hard working musicians is being severely devalued. Music downloads are declining, and CDs will soon go the way of the 8-track and cassette. Music can now be accessed online with little or nothing going into the artist’s pocket, because of this and easy access to free music websites it’s harder than ever for musicians to earn a decent living.
MODERN DAY TROUBADOURS
The music of today’s troubadours is incredibly important. They each want to change the world for the better in their own way. The world needs their songs, their message and their LOVE, now more than ever. Every year these fine musicians gather in Okemah, OK to share their stories and tales of the road, and we’re honored to be among them. It’s our mission at Art of the Song to see that these modern day folk singers not only survive, they prosper as they should. Please join our movement towards Socially Responsible Streaming––the enjoyment of music in a way that honors its creators. Become part of a growing online phenomenon that has the community feel of WoodyFest, and the intimacy of a virtual coffeehouse.
JOIN THE MOVEMENT
When you join the Standing “O” Project you get access to an archive of over 100 Art of the Song interviews, meet and listen to the music of over 300 artists, and enjoy a curated stream of the best music on the site (and we have an iPhone app coming soon!).
But the best part is when you subscribe now, you help musicians earn a living, you help keep the public free radio premier music and interview program on the air, and you support the Woody Guthrie Festival.
WoodyFest may well be one of the best little-known festivals on the planet and we want to see it continue. Use this link to join, and 10% will go to support WoodyFest: