Journey to Woody Fest
“This land is your land, this land is my land. From California, to the New York Island. From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters. This land was made for you and me.” -Woody Guthrie
While Dust Bowl droughts ravaged the once fertile farmland of the South, the landscape becoming less and less uninhabitable, Depression-era refugees and fed-up farmers sought shelter from the impending storm, heading West along The Mother Road (Route 66), in search of a better life with one voice singing out.
Woody Guthrie, aka The Dust Bowl Troubadour, walked what is today the back road of America with his fellow refugees, thousands of songs tumbling from his fascist-killing machine (his umber colored guitar) and tugging at their heartstrings.
And it’s here, in the birthplace of Guthrie, just 30 miles South of Route 66 in the small Oklahoma town of Okemah, that folk lovers gather once a year at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival to pay tribute to America’s homegrown son.
Even Guthrie’s children gather at the festival (dubbed the Woody Fest) for four days and five nights of folk music rivalry complete with poetry readings, panel discussions, community outreach activities and of course music, with indoor and outdoor concerts spread throughout the town, this time with Arlo Guthrie commemorating his father’s 98th birthday by headlining the dimly-lit and surely intimate Crystal Theater.
Local Oklahoma boys the Red Dirt Rangers play every year, along with this years guests Stoney LaRue, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines, Sam Baker, Audrey Auld, Annie Guthrie, the Burns Sisters, Butch Hancock, Jonathan Byrd, Susan Herndon and many, many more.
Not to be outdone by their father’s political stewardship, the Guthrie children have insisted from the beginning that the festival (now in its 13th year) be free of charge, with even the musicians donating their time. After all, it’s all about the music.
Okemah: Meldoy of a riot
If you plan on ever attending the yearly festival, your jalopy in tow, there are some must-see landmarks along the way, but beware of the red dirt of the dust bowl ramblers still caked along the highway and the surely needed pitstop carwash.
A craved tree, located on 301 South First Street, marks the childhood home of Guthrie before it burned down. (Suggested reading: This land Was Made For You and Me).
A few blocks South on Broadway and Fourth Street, a statue and two murals commemorate the Dust Bowl Troubadour.
It is said there is a cemetery marker of Guthrie in the Okemah Cemetery on the first hill heading South of town on North Woody Guthrie Street. (Note: I searched in the pouring rain to no avail.)
Get yer kicks on Route 66
Commissioned in 1926, Route 66, a 2448 mile-long stretch of the American landscape, crossing eight states, from Chicago to California, and three time zones, is still home to soda pop shops and mom-and-pop gas stations/greasy spoons galore and Oklahoma boasts the longest segment of the original Route 66 (roughly 400 miles).
The Route 66 Museum, located on Route 66 in Clinton, Oklahoma, is littered with backroad memorabilia complete with kitschy road signs and 57 Chevys.
The Round Barn, located on Route 66 in Arcadia, Oklahoma, showcases the long-forgotten craftsmanship of yesterday’s America.
Pops, also in Arcadia, is a pit stop must, and boasts every kind of soda imaginable in glass bottles no less, everything from the mega caffeinated Jolt to Birch Beer, and don’t forget to gas up for the journey home.
13th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival