Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
|Woody Guthrie Folk Festival|
|Genre||Folk, Country, Blues, Folk rock, Red Dirt|
|Founded by||The Orphanage Society and the Woody Guthrie Coalition|
|Woody Guthrie Folk Festival|
The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is held annually in mid-July to commemorate the life and music of Woody Guthrie. The festival is held on the weekend closest to July 14 - the date of Guthrie's birth - in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. Daytime main stage performances are held indoors at the Brick Street Cafe and the Crystal Theater. Evening main stage performances are held outdoors at the Pastures of Plenty. The festival is planned and implemented annually by the Woody Guthrie Coalition, a non-profit corporation, whose goal is simply to ensure Guthrie's musical legacy. The event is made possible in part from a grant from the Oklahoma Arts Council. Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, Woody Guthrie's younger sister, is the festival's perennial guest of honor.
The festival, which over the years has morphed into being called "WoodyFest" by attendees, was founded in 1998 and the inaugural festival included performances by Guthrie's son Arlo Guthrie, British folk-punk-rock artist Billy Bragg, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, and The Red Dirt Rangers. For the festival's founding, the Woody Guthrie Coalition commissioned a local Creek Indian sculptor to cast a full-body bronze statue of Guthrie and his guitar, complete with the guitar's well-known inscription: "This machine kills fascists". The statue, sculpted by artist Dan Brook, stands along Okemah's main street - named Broadway - in the heart of downtown Okemah.
The Woody Guthrie Coalition wanted the Guthrie family's approval before establishing the festival. Arlo Guthrie and his sister, Nora, felt strongly that their father would want the festival accessible to all and stipulated that they would sanction the festival if it were free. The Coalition complied and for 17 years the festival was free, except for a nominal parking fee. After struggling financially for several years, in 2015 the Coalition initiated an admission fee for two venues, while still providing free music at another two venues. To keep expenses at a minimum, artists donate their time, although the Woody Guthrie Coalition pays for the artists' transportation and lodging. According to Rafael, the festival is a wonderful event because musicians are motivated to participate for all the right reasons.
In the early 1960s, Woody Guthrie was living on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, New York. Although Bob Dylan made a pilgrimage to visit Guthrie, who was physically deteriorating due to a neurological disorder called Huntington's Disease, the town of Okemah had no interest in remembering its native son. Okemah residents regarded Guthrie with some suspicion and some believed he was a Communist based on his "Woody Sez" column published in a Communist paper The People's World. In addition, Guthrie sang out his beliefs at labor union rallies - sometimes with other outspoken artists such as Pete Seeger and Cisco Houston. As late as 1971, the Okemah City Council refused to proclaim Woody Guthrie Day due to his radical politics. By the 1970s, although most young people in Okemah had never heard of Guthrie, Guthrie-followers began making pilgrimages to Okemah to visit the house where Guthrie lived. Guthrie's son Arlo - a well-known folksinger himself by the 70s - also made occasional trips to Okemah "to feel the situation out." However, it wasn't until the late 1990s, when Billy Bragg visited Okemah filming scenes for his Man in the Sand documentary about the making of Mermaid Avenue, a collection of unknown Guthrie lyrics put to Bragg's music in collaboration with Wilco, that the town of Okemah started to embrace its wiry wanderlusting native. Bragg fittingly christened the first festival in 1998. In an article for Dirty Linen Annette C. Eshleman wrote: "Residents' attitudes have gone from angry accusations of Guthrie being a Communist, to suspicious tolerance, to embracing his legion of loyal fans. And while the economic boost that a festival provides to such a small community is certainly welcome, the kindness and hospitality of openhearted locals is genuine."
The first annual Woody Guthrie festival was presented in part by The Orphanage Society, a non-profit charitable arts organization dedicated to supporting and presenting live, original folk music in Oklahoma. The 1998 festival included headliners Tom Paxton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Peter Keane, Tom Skinner and Kevin Welch plus artists who would - along with Arlo Guthrie, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, and The Red Dirt Rangers - become "WoodyFest" regulars: Terry "Buffalo" Ware, Don Conoscenti and Bob Childers. The festival's program booklet includes a welcome letter from Michael M. Hagy, Mayor of Okemah, who said "The first annual Woody Guthrie festival is just the beginning of the great things to come."  The festival was held over a period of three days - July 17–19, 1998, with Billy Bragg and Ellis Paul opening the festival earlier in the week with a special benefit show at the Crystal Theater on Tuesday, July 14 - Woody's birthday. Paul stated that when he made his first pilgrimage to Okemah - years before the first festival - he felt that he was walking in Woody’s footsteps and that the experience was like "going to the mount". Paul also admits to being one of the many folksingers who have taken a small piece of rock from the crumbling foundation of Guthrie's house in Okemah, saying, at that time, that he kept the memento in his guitar case.
The program booklet from the second annual festival not only included a welcome letter from Mayor Hagy, but also from the governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, who said "Woody Guthrie left a rich legacy to future Oklahoma musicians and is certainly one of the most well known musical artists to ever hale from Oklahoma." The festival was again presented by The Orphanage Society in tandem with the Woody Guthrie Coalition. Arlo Guthrie headlined the festival along with The Kingston Trio, who would make their first and only festival appearance. Also making their first appearance were Country Joe McDonald, Slaid Cleaves, John Wesley Harding, Chuck Pyle, Peter Keane, Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Larry Long, and others. The festival was held July 14–18, 1999 and kicked-off with a special Woody Guthrie hootenanny at the Crystal Theater on July 14 - Woody's birthday. The hootenanny featured Arlo Guthrie, The Kingston Trio, and Country Joe McDonald. Ellis Paul served as emcee.
The third annual festival was held July 12–16, 2000. The festival's official program booklet included a letter signed by Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, and other staff members of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives in New York City, where Nora is Director. The letter stated "We want to thank all our family and friends in Okemah who have worked so hard over the past few years to organize this great celebration." The festival kicked-off with a special benefit concert at the Crystal Theater with Jackson Browne playing a solo acoustic show. First-timers in 2000 were Pete Seeger (with his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger), Chuck Brodsky, Darci Deaville, Erica Wheeler, Michael Fracasso, Susan Shore, Mary Reynolds, and others. In addition to the main stage performances, after-hours all-star jams were held at the Brick Street Cafe and at the Rocky Road Tavern. The festival ended with a hootenanny on Sunday to benefit the Oklahoma Chapter of the Huntington's Disease Society.
Luna Burnett, Mayor of Okemah in 2001 welcomed attendees of the fourth WoodyFest by saying "I have personally seen the impact Woody Guthrie's style and words of song has made on each and every artist who has appeared through their own expressions of song as they perform during the festival." The festival kicked off on Wednesday, July 11 with a "Tribute to Woody Guthrie" fundraiser at the Crystal Theater. The concert was performed with the original script used Jan. 20, 1968 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The show was introduced by Guy Logsdon and narrated by Bill McCloud. First-time performers at the fourth festival, held July 11–15 were Lucy Kaplansky, Xavier, (Abe Guthrie's band), Vance Gilbert, Bill Miller, Pierce Pettis, and others. A children's festival was held for the first time on Friday and Saturday, and the festival ended on Sunday with a gospel worship service led by Olen Edwards and the Okemah Community Choir joined by other guest performers.
The fifth annual festival began with a Wednesday night benefit concert by performer Steve Young. First-time performers in 2002 included Irene Kelley, Johnsmith, Kat Eggleston, Bill Chambers, Tom Prasado-Rao, and Caroline Herring. Open mics were held at Lou's Rocky Road Tavern and a children's festival was once again held at the Okemah City Park. The festival ended with a Tribute to Woody Guthrie held on Sunday at the Crystal Theater. The tribute was narrated by Dr. Guy Logsdon, internationally recognized authority on the life, times, and music of Woody Guthrie, interspersed with Guthrie songs performed by festival performers.
The Woody Guthrie Coalition welcomed festival attendees to the sixth annual festival in 2003 by saying "We are honored to have back with us Arlo Guthrie & Family along with an American icon, Pete Seeger, and, for the first time, another great folk music legend, Josh White, Jr.". Guthrie family members in attendance included Arlo's daughters Sarah Lee Guthrie (and husband Johnny Irion), Cathy Guthrie, and Annie Guthrie, and his son Abe. In addition, other first-time festival performers included Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Eliza Gilkyson, Ronny Elliot, Carrie Newcomer, Steppin' In It, Blackfire, Christopher Williams and The Burns Sisters. The festival kicked-off with a ticketed event at the Crystal Theater on Wednesday night titled "Welcome Home Woody - An Oklahoma Tribute to Woody Guthrie". The benefit show featured many of the 2003 festival performers. The festival ended on Sunday with a "Hoot for Huntington's" featuring many festival performers donating their time to raise money for the Huntington's Disease Society. Another fundraiser - held for the first time in 2003 - was "Mary Jo's Pancake Breakfast". The breakfast - another event to raise money for the Huntington's Disease Society - provides Woody Guthrie's youngest sister, Mary Jo, an opportunity to share memories and tell stories about her big brother Woody. The first pancake breakfast, which has continued to be held annually, was held in the Okfusgee Historical Society, but subsequent pancake breakfasts were held on the outdoor patio at Lou's Rocky Road Tavern. A variety of artists - including regulars Jimmy LaFave and Joel Rafael - perform Woody Guthrie songs interspersed with Mary Jo's storytelling.
Steve Earle headlined the 7th annual festival held July 14–18, 2004. It was Earle's festival debut. The festival opened on July 14 - Woody's birthday - with a tribute concert called "Happy Birthday, Woody". Other artists who made their festival debut in 2004 were Kris Delmhorst, John Flynn, Karen Mal, Rob McNurlin and David Wilcox. The festival concluded on Sunday with another "Hoot for Huntington's" - an all-star jam at the Crystal Theater.
David Amram, first met Woody Guthrie in 1956. In his report of the 2005 WoodyFest he remembers that meeting: "Ever since that day we first met, I have always hoped that someday I would get the chance to go to Okemah, but with my crazy schedule I never had the opportunity to do so. When I was invited to the festival, I realized that I would be finally be able to see his hometown, and be able to meet his sister, her husband and his remaining old friends from long ago who were still living there. By doing that, and by playing music and spending time with people who were also natives of Okemah, I knew that I would be able to understand Woody and his work in a deeper way." It took Amram 49 years, but in 2005 his life journey finally brought him to Okemah where he, along with his son Adam, headlined the eighth annual festival. Other first-time performers included Peter Yarrow, John Fullbright, and Kevin So.
The ninth annual festival was held July 12–16, 2006. Randy Norman, President of the Woody Guthrie Coalition, wrote: "The first few years were an experiment that continues nine years later. We were very lucky to find a core group of outstanding artists that first year who believed as we did and were willing to help make the first festival a success, if not fiscally at least in the spirit of Woody." First-time festival performers included Ronny Cox, Sam Baker, Joe Ely, Greg Klyma, and others. The festival kicked-off on Wednesday when Arlo Guthrie and family brought their "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" tour to town. Jimmy LaFave closed out the festival on Saturday night at the Pastures of Plenty. Other highlights of the 2006 festival included a poetry and spoken-word tribute to Woody Guthrie featuring prominent Oklahoma poets as well as "Strokes of Electriciy: The Artwork of Woody Guthrie" presented by Steven Brower. The festival concluded on Sunday with another "Hoot for Huntington's" - an all-star jam at the Crystal Theater.
The 10th annual festival took place July 11–15, 2007. To celebrate the ten-year anniversary, one of many Oklahoma centennial-year events, the festival kicked-off with a ticketed event on Wednesday night in Okemah's historic Crystal Theater. Seven "10-year artists" - artists who have participated every year since the festival's inception - performed at a Coalition benefit show titled "In the Spirit of Woody Guthrie". Those artists were Jimmy LaFave, Don Conoscenti, Ellis Paul, Bob Childers, Joel Rafael, Terry "Buffalo" Ware, and the Red Dirt Rangers. The 2007 lineup spanning over four days included more than 60 artists from many genres including folk, alt-country and rock. Members of the Guthrie family scheduled to appear were Arlo Guthrie and Cathy Guthrie (daughter of Arlo) and Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie Nelson), who perform as Folk Uke. More than 100 artists performed at the festival's 10-year celebration including Kevin Welch, Sara Hickman, Butch Hancock, Tim O'Brien, Ronny Elliot, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, Rob McNurlin, Jack Williams, Antje Duvekot, Johnsmith, Sam Baker, David and Adam Amram, The Burns Sisters, Ronny Cox, Michael Fracasso, Radoslav Lorković and Eliza Gilkyson. The tenth festival again concluded on Sunday with a "Hoot for Huntington's", having become a Woody Fest tradition. The hootenanny is coordinated and led by Terry "Buffalo" Ware, a guitarist living in Norman, Oklahoma, and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival All-Star House Band. The House Band also includes Randy Crouch (fiddle/pedal steel), Don Morris (bass), Dean Brown (drums), Dan Duggin (accordion) and T.Z. Wright (keyboard/accordion). The House Band can be heard playing back-up for many festival performers and in 2007 also played a set of their own - as The Oklahoma Geniuses - at the Brick Street Cafe.
In April 2008 festival regular Bob Childers died unexpectedly at home. As a result, a special pre-festival Childers tribute show was held at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa on July 8, 2008, the evening before the official start of the festival. Performers at the tribute included Jimmy LaFave, The Burns Sisters, The Red Dirt Rangers, Mike McClure, Joel Rafael, Stoney LaRue and Tom Skinner. In addition, the festival program booklet included a special Bob Childers Memorial Page, and quotes made by his songwriting friends were interspersed as tributes throughout.
The following night Country Joe McDonald’s Tribute to Woody Guthrie at the Crystal Theater opened the 11th annual festival held July 9–13. It was McDonald’s second appearance at the festival, having performed at the 2nd annual festival in 1999.
Highlights of the 5-day festival included debut performances by Judy Collins, who closed the festival on Saturday night, John Gorka, Jon Vezner and Jimmy Davis. In addition, a special edition of the Phil Ochs Song Night was held, emceed by Ochs’ sister, Sonny Ochs. Performers at the Ochs’ tribute included Gorka, John Flynn, Sean Flynn, Jimmy LaFave, David Amram, Sara Hickman, and Radoslav Lorković. Several young singer-songwriters also made their festival debut. They included Alexinder Gunn, Anthony da Costa, Ali Harter and Amy Speace. Other highlights included the premier of a table reading of “Time Changes Everything,” a one-act play written by John Wooley and Thomas Conner that features two characters: Woody Guthrie and Bob Wills. Although there is no evidence that these two famous songwriters ever met, the play considers the possibility by chronicling two conversations between the men. The starring roles were read by two of the Red Dirt Rangers: John Cooper as Wills and Brad Piccolo as Guthrie. Several musicians participated in the festival's annual Community Outreach Program. Among those who volunteered their time and talents were Nancy Apple, who performed at the Okemah Senior Citizens Center, and Ronny Elliott, who performed at the Okemah Senior Citizens Center.
Several musicians performed at the Children's Festival, including Nancy Apple, Sara Hickman, and the Red Dirt Rangers. Also performing was Ellis Paul, who performed songs from his 2008 award-winning children's CD Dragonfly Races. Other activities for children at the Children's Festival included surrey rides, harmonica lessons, face painting, clowns, and crafts. The Children's Festival is held in the Okemah City Park and is made possible with a grant from the Viersen Family Foundation.
The 2008 festival ended on Sunday, July 13 with the traditional Sunday Hoot for Huntington’s. Randy Norman, President of the Woody Guthrie Coalition, stated that the crowd for the Sunday hootenanny was the largest he had seen. Although in the past the hootenanny closed with Bob Childers performing “Woody’s Road,” in Childers’ absence the WoodyFest House Band and a multitude of performers gathered on stage to perform the Childers-penned song with the audience singing along. A video of this performance has been posted on the YouTube website.
The 12th annual festival began with a special Wanda Jackson pre-festival benefit show held at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa on July 7, 2009. In an e-mail interview before the show Jackson said, "There is no other artist who has influenced the music world any more than Woody Guthrie. He certainly has my respect and admiration for his contributions.” Openers for the show were Nancy Apple and Ronny Elliott.
The festival's official kick-off took place the following night, July 8, 2009, at the Crystal Theater in Okemah. The concert, a benefit for the Woody Guthrie Coalition, featured SONiA and Jonatha Brooke. Brooke is the most recent songwriter - and the first female - to release an album of formerly unrecorded Guthrie lyrics put to her own music. The album is titled The Works. A few days after her first visit to Okemah, Brooke wrote in her blog:
"All I can say is, there was a LOT of love in this room on Wednesday night. The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival draws some of the most generous, lovelyest, singingest, kindest, wonderfulest people EVER. (i think that's how Woody would have said it. ;)"
The first full-day of the festival included the second annual Bob Childers memorial set at the Brick Street Cafe with a variety of musicians led by Jimmy LaFave paying tribute to Childers. That evening, Stoney LaRue made his festival debut by closing out the Thursday night line-up. The popular red dirt musician, now living in Edmond, Oklahoma, said that playing WoodyFest was like "pumice to his soul".
Other musical highlights included Crystal Theater debut performances by Mark Erelli and Andrea Parodi. A few days before his festival performance, Erelli wrote:
"It's a real honor to be a part of this festival in honor of Woody Guthrie. Singer/songwriters often joke that they wouldn't have a job if it hadn't been for Bob Dylan. But Dylan wouldn't have had a job if not for Woody. I can't wait to pay my respects."
Performers at this year's Children's Festival included the Red Dirt Rangers, Ellis Paul, and Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion.
Non-musical highlights included lectures by representatives of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archive. Tiffany Colannino, chief archivist, and Anna Canoni, Guthrie's granddaughter, offered multimedia presentations on Guthrie's legacy. The 12th annual festival also marked the fifth appearance of the Woody Guthrie Poets under the direction of Carol Hamilton and George Wallace.
New for 2009 were songwriting workshops - one conducted by Jack Hardy, and a second conducted by Sam Baker and Ronny Elliott. The workshops were held at Lou's Rocky Road Tavern, the venue that also hosted daily open mics.
Guthrie’s younger sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, hosted her annual pancake breakfast benefiting the Huntington’s Disease Society of America on Saturday, July 11 at Lou's Rocky Road Tavern. Guthrie died of complications from Huntington’s in 1967, at the age of 55.
The 2009 festival ended on Sunday, July 12 with the traditional Sunday Hoot for Huntington’s. Once again, in the absence of Bob Childers, the WoodyFest House Band and a variety of musicians gathered on stage to close the festival by singing Childers' "Woody's Road" with bassist, Don Morris, singing lead vocals.
After traveling from England in 2009 to attend the festival for the third consecutive year, Jela Webb wrote: "Like many others before me, having experienced it once, it took hold of my soul and I just want to keep returning year after year. There is a sense of spirituality that I cannot easily describe in words about WoodyFest, the people and the wonderful camaraderie created through the performances and shared devotion to Guthrie's legacy."
Arlo Guthrie opened the 13th Annual Festival with a performance at the Crystal Theater on July 14, 2010 - his father's 98th birthday. He was accompanied on stage by his son Abe Guthrie, grandsons Krishna Guthrie and Mo Guthrie and band member Terry Hall. Ramsay Midwood also performed an opening set. Musicians making their festival debut included Red Molly, John Wort Hannam, Jess Klein, and Stonehoney.
Pastures of Plenty headliners included Stoney LaRue (Thursday), Ellis Paul (Friday), and Jimmy LaFave (Saturday). Other performers included Lauren Lee, Susan Herndon, Travis Linville, Broken Wing Routine, Monica Taylor, Butch Morgan, the Red Dirt Rangers, Nancy Apple, SONiA, David Amram, the Burns Sisters, Betty Soo, Randy Weeks, Emily Kaitz, Happenstance, Randy Crouch, Jonathan Byrd, Audrey Auld, Ronny Elliott, Don Conoscenti, John Fullbright, Butch Hancock, Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines, Rob McNurlin, Radoslav Lorković, Dao Strom, Mary Reynolds, Annie Guthrie, David Jacobs-Strain, Rachael Davis, Sam Baker, Steppin' In It, and Joel Rafael.
New for 2010 was a guitar workshop conducted by Terry "Buffalo" Ware and John Inmon.
Performers at this year's Children's Festival included Nancy Apple, the Red Dirt Rangers, Butch Morgan, Ellis Paul, and Terry Hall.
The Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archive presented "My Name is New York: Exploring Woody Guthrie’s New York City" presented by archivist Tiffany Colannino and "Bound for Glory: The Legacy of Woody Guthrie" presented by Anna Canoni, Nora Guthrie’s daughter. “My Name is New York” – the newest program from the Archive – explores the lofts, apartments and couches where Guthrie lived and wrote some of his most well-loved songs. “Bound for Glory” is partly a documentary by the same name that was specially created for the “This Land is Your Land: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie” exhibit that toured the country from 1998-2001. Barry Ollman, member of the Advisory Board of the Foundation, presented “Collecting Woody Take IV” describing his 20-year hunt for the letters and drawings of Woody Guthrie.
The Woody Guthrie Coalition is one of several Okemah community organizations that has pledged to help restore the Crystal Theater. In May 2010, the Crystal Theater was purchased by Okemah’s Community Improvement Association. Financing to purchase the theater included funds to quickly make needed repairs so that the theater could once again be utilized for the annual festival. In addition, the CIA immediately initiated a Save the Crystal Campaign to help with the cost of totally renovating the 100-year-old building.
The 14th annual festival kicked-off on July 13, 2011 with an acoustic concert by David Crosby and Graham Nash at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. They were accompanied by Crosby's son, James, on piano. When interviewed a few days before the concert and asked if Woody Guthrie was an artist who had influenced him, Crosby answered: "Absolutely. Guys like Woody, Pete Seeger and Josh White all exposed me to the folk tradition early on. In fact, in my house growing up my parents only played classical and folk music, and that sort of exposure definitely made an impact."
The festival continued over the next four days in Guthrie's hometown of Okemah. Due to the ongoing renovation of Okemah's Crystal Theater, some of the daytime performances were relocated this year to the Okemah Middle School Auditorium. Artists making their WoodyFest debut in 2011 included Shawn Mullins and Gretchen Peters - both performing on the Pastures of Plenty stage. Also making her festival debut - on the relocated Crystal Theater stage - was Jude Johnstone, a songwriter who has been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Trisha Yearwood, and Johnny Cash. Johnstone was backed by Jimmy LaFave's band.
2011 marked the first time that a great-grandchild of Woody Guthrie performed a solo set when Krishna Guthrie (Arlo Guthrie's grandson; Abe Guthrie's son) took the stage at the Brick Street Cafe on Thursday afternoon on his great-grandfather's 99th birthday. Krishna Guthrie has been attending the festival since he was ten or twelve years old and says, “Every time I come here it's like a history lesson.” A familial theme seemed to carry through the festival with Butch Hancock being joined on stage by his 13-year-old son, Rory, and Kevin Welch performing in tandem with his son, Dustin.
David Amram made his eighth festival appearance, but the first one without his son, Adam, who had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from attending. Amram can be found playing a variety of musical instruments with numerous artists during their sets in addition to performing his own solo set. He says, “I just love the whole festival so much,” Amram said. “It's four days of great music, great people, great fellowship, no sleep and an unforgettable time.” It was his experiences in Okemah that inspired Amram to compose Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie in 2007. On Thursday, Amram participated in a one-hour interview and performance for the radio show Art of the Song. The radio show - hosted by John Dillon and Vivian Nesbitt - provides a forum for artists to discuss creativity and their individual creative process. The following day, Ronny Cox was the radio show's guest interviewee.
Jimmy LaFave once again closed out the Saturday night line-up, ending with Guthrie's now-traditional "This Land is Your Land" and stating "see you next year for Woody's 100th birthday". The two-hour-long Sunday afternoon hootenanny, under the direction of Terry "Buffalo" Ware and the WoodyFest House Band, squeezed in 23 musicians each performing one song - the traditional last song being Bob Childers' "Woody's Road".
2012: The Centennial Celebration
During a "Woody100" celebration concert held at the Brady Theater in Tulsa on March 10, 2012, Robert Santelli, Director of the Grammy Museum, presented a plaque to Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon and a representative of the Woody Guthrie Coalition. Santelli read the inscription which honors the city of Okemah and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival for their tremendous efforts in preserving the music of Woody Guthrie.
The 15th annual festival - commemorating what would have been Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday on Saturday, July 14, 2012 - kicked off with a concert by Arlo Guthrie on July 11, 2012 in the newly renovated Crystal Theater. Gretchen Peters was the opener. Other performers during the course of the 5-day festival included Billy Bragg, Jimmy LaFave, Judy Collins, Joel Rafael, Don Conoscenti, Michael Fracasso, Ellis Paul, The Red Dirt Rangers, John Fullbright, Johnsmith, David Amram, Sam Baker, Butch Hancock, Bill Chambers, Radoslav Lorkovic, and others.
Artists making their WoodyFest debut in 2012 included Melanie, John McCutcheon, and Carolyn Hester. Local musician, John Fullbright, who first performed at the festival while still a student at Okemah High School, made his first appearance on the Pastures of Plenty main stage. "People who hadn’t heard Fullbright previously were stopped in their tracks by the brilliance of this 24 year old whose mature lyrics have an immediate impact."
A non-musical highlight of the centennial celebration included a book-signing event by Woody Guthrie's sister, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon who published her new book "Woody's Road: Woody Guthrie's Letters Home, Drawings, Photos and Other Unburied Treasures" earlier in the month. Musician David Amram - who wrote the foreword to the book - was on hand for the book signing, along with co-author and Woody Guthrie historian, Guy Logsdon. At her annual pancake breakfast on Saturday morning, 89-year-old Edgmon said "My voice is not so good anymore. I’m talking through brand-new false teeth. But I applaud the people who came here to swelter, just for this little Okie."
After an absence of 13 years, Billy Bragg returned to Okemah as the Thursday night headliner. "The protest folk singer, who headlined on Thursday, took the (outdoor) main stage, strapped his Telecaster guitar around his neck and proceeded to capture the essence of Guthrie as he sang songs from the Mermaid Avenue sessions."
Jimmy LaFave closed out Friday night by finishing his set with Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills" and "This Land is Your Land".
"The festival finale was given over to the ageless Judy Collins. Known as an interpretive singer, her voice is still clear and beautiful. She told stories about times in New York, meeting a young Arlo Guthrie, being with Bob Dylan when he wrote "Mr. Tambourine Man" and sang snippets of songs, without accompaniment, by way of illustration – her clear soprano ringing out across the Pastures of Plenty. Accompanied by her pianist, she entranced the audience with, amongst others, the Grammy winning "Both Sides Now", Joan Baez’s "Diamonds and Rust" and took to the piano herself for a moving song about her late mother "In The Twilight". Collins returned for one encore "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" - a fitting end to the centenary celebrations.
The artwork for this year's festival was specially created by Woody Fest regular and Advisory Board member, Ellis Paul. The original of Paul's artwork was auctioned on e-bay as a fundraiser for the Woody Guthrie Coalition.
The 16th annual festival took place July 10–14, 2013. A pre-festival benefit show for the Woody Guthrie Coalition took place the day before the festival’s official start at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa and featured Todd Snider. Snider said: “Without debate, he [Woody Guthrie] created the job that I do, actually created it, the same way that somebody might create a job of being a cook.”  Earlier that afternoon, other festival preview performances took place at the Woody Guthrie Center which opened in Tulsa earlier in 2013. Musicians who performed were Annie Guthrie (Woody’s granddaughter), Audrey Auld, and Ronny Cox.
The following evening, Jimmy LaFave and friends officially opened the 2013 festival with Walking Woody’s Road at the Crystal Theater in Okemah. The musical and spoken-word event, produced by LaFave, included performances by Sam Baker, The Red Dirt Rangers, Audrey Auld, The Burns Sisters, Ronny Elliot, David Amram, Ronny Cox, Annie Guthrie, Butch Hancock, Radoslav Lorkovic, and Joel Rafael. The band for the evening included Glenn Schuetz (bass), Bobby Kallus (drums), Terry "Buffalo" Ware (guitar/mandolin), and Lorkovic (piano/accordion). LaFave, Cox, and several others provided narration consisting of excerpts from Woody’s writings.
Over the next three days, more than 50 musical performances took place including festival regulars Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Ellis Paul, Don Conoscenti, and The Red Dirt Rangers. Other returning performers included David Amram, Ronny Elliott, Butch Hancock, Vance Gilbert, Susan Herndon, The Burns Sisters, Samantha Crain, Monica Taylor, John Flynn, Audrey Auld, Annie Guthrie, Greg Jacobs, Butch Morgan, Rob McNurlin, Nancy Apple, Ramsay Midwood, Randy Crouch, Happenstance, and others. Every year since Bob Childers’ death in 2008, a tribute to Childers takes place as the final afternoon set at the Brick Street Café – the time when Childers would typically perform. In 2013 Monica Taylor hosted the set.
The 2013 festival included several musicians making their festival debut. Debut artists included Garrett Lebeau, folkrock duo Trout Fishing in America, Steve Poltz, Rebecca Loebe, Griffin House, Tim Easton, Otis Gibbs, young Oklahomans Parker Millsap and Levi Parham, and others. Lebeau said: “To me, Woody Guthrie is this person who wanted to write about things from people’s perspective … just normal people. And that’s who I write tunes for.”  Ezra Idlet, one-half of the duo Trout Fishing in America said: "Two years ago, I had the time off and I just went (to WoodyFest)....just went and watched — and I was knocked out by the caliber of performers, the camaraderie between the musicians and the presenters."
Butch Hancock closed out the Thursday night festival at the Pastures of Plenty. Grammy nominee and Okemah-area native, John Fullbright was the Friday night headliner, and Jimmy LaFave once again provided the grand finale performance on Saturday night.
Other non-musical events included the Woody Guthrie Poets, book discussions, documentary screenings, Native American storytelling and more. In addition, a silent auction of Ellis Paul's original artwork created for this year’s festival took place during the festival, with proceeds donated to the Coalition.
On Saturday, Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon once again hosted her “pancake breakfast” which raises money for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. The festival ended on Sunday afternoon with the “Hoot for Huntington’s” with various performers backed by the Oklahoma Geniuses under the direction of Terry “Buffalo” Ware. Don Morris, bass player with the Geniuses, led the traditional final song: Bob Childers’ “Walking Woody’s Road”.
A Pete Seeger Sing-A-Long opened the 17th annual festival which took place July 9–13, 2014. The Wednesday night opening show included performances by Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Ronny Cox, Annie and Cathy Guthrie, David Amram, Larry Long, Audry Auld, the Red Dirt Rangers, Radoslav Lorkovic, Tim Easton and Megan Palmer. This year the WoodyFest house band under the direction of Terry “Buffalo” Ware again lent support with Ware on guitar, Don Morris on bass, T.Z. Wright on keyboard and accordion, and Michael McCarty on drums.
With the closing of the Brick Street Cafe this year, the Crystal Theater hosted daytime performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Performers included Lance Canales, Susan Herndon, Folk Uke (Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie), Ronny Cox, John Wort Hannam, Radoslav Lorkovic, Don Conoscenti, Nancy Apple, Wink Burcham, Annie Guthrie, Monica Taylor, David Amram, Audrey Auld, Larry Long, Grant Peeples, Rebecca Loebe, Anthony DaCosta, Ronny Elliott, Tim Easton, Mike Stinson and Ramsay Midwood. Evening performances at the Pastures of Plenty included Butch Hancok, SONiA & disappear fear (making her festival debut), the Red Dirt Rangers, Jimmy LaFave (Thursday headliner), Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines, Michael Fracasso, Trout Fishing in America, Ellis Paul (Friday headliner), Amy Speace, Joel Rafael and John Fullbright. Once again, Arlo Guthrie was the Saturday night closing headliner.
To compensate for the closing of the Brick Street Cafe, Okemah's Community Improvement Association hosted a daytime downtown stage on Friday and Saturday with mostly regional performers.
John Dillon and Vivian Nesbitt, hosts of the Art of the Song radio show, made their fourth visit to WoodyFest, this year interviewing Ellis Paul on Friday and Rebecca Loebe on Saturday. The interviews - which typically include the performance of one or two songs and a Q&A session with the audience - air at a later date.
Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon - Guthrie's baby sister who is now 91 - once again hosted her pancake breakfast on Saturday.
In addition to musical events, non-musical presentations included retired minister Rev. Stephen Edington's "Woody and Jack: Two American Icons" - a presentation noting commonalities between Guthrie and Jack Kerouac. Will Kaufman, an English professor of American literature and culture, offered two presentations spanning Friday and Saturday: "Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travelin’" and "The Long Road to Peekskill". Tim Z. Hernandez shared his research in discovering the names of the immigrants who died in the 1948 plane crash that inspired Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" as his presentation "In Search of the Deportees". And finally the Woody Guthrie Poets, including Oklahoma Poet Laureate Nathan Brown, made their 10th annual WoodyFest appearance.
Once again, the Sunday noon hootenanny closed the festival with the WoodyFest house band accompanying more than 20 performers, and ending with Don Morris leading everyone on Bob Childers' "Walking Woody's Road".
The 18th annual festival took place July 8-12, 2015. A substantial change took place in 2015 when the Coalition decided to charge admission for the first time. Persons aged 13 and above were required to have a wristband for admission to two of the four venues while the other two venues remained free of charge. This decision was made to keep the festival financially solvent.  Other changes included adding daytime performances on Wednesday and offering three daytime stages instead of the typical two. Both of these changes increased the total number of performers to more than 90.
A tribute to the late Bob Childers officially opened the festival on Wednesday evening at the Crystal Theatre. Performers at the tribute show included The Red Dirt Rangers, Monica Taylor, John Fullbright, Butch Hancock, Michael Fracasso, The Burns Sisters, Kevin & Dustin Welch, Susan Herndon, Gabe Marshall, Miss Brown to You, Kierston White, Byron White, Wink Burcham, Rick Reiley, Joe Baxter, and Terry “Buffalo” Ware & The Oklahoma Geniuses. 
Two factors resulted in last-minute changes to the Thursday schedule. The first was torrential rain that fell on Oklahoma two days earlier and that day, turning the Pastures of Plenty outdoor venue into a field of mud and resulting in the Thursday evening performances being moved indoors to the Crystal Theatre. The second change was that Oklahoma Hall of Famer Tom Skinner was unable to perform his scheduled Thursday night set due to illness. In Skinner’s absence, a group of musicians – Skinner’s friends, colleagues, and proteges – performed songs written and/or often performed by Skinner. The group included John Fullbright, Monica Taylor and David Amram.  Skinner passed away a few days later.
Headliners on the Pastures of Plenty outdoor stage included The Damn Quails. Ellis Paul, The Red Dirt Rangers, Michael Fracasso and John Fullbright. Musicians making their WoodyFest debut included Dan Navarro, Patrice Pike, Tish Hinojosa, and others. Hinojosa's bilingual set included her version of Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" in Spanish. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Hinojosa said: "Of course, it’s wonderful. For me to come solo is how I wanted to come, because something like a festival celebrating Woody Guthrie to me is about the lyrics and the stories. I was doing it Woody’s way."
Four musicians performed concerts for children: Ellis Paul and Bob Livingstone (Friday) and The Red Dirt Rangers and Melissa Hembree (Saturday). Monica Taylor and Dan Navarro were interviewed at the 5th annual Art of the Song radio show tapings at WoodyFest.
In addition to music, several other events took place during the festival. Thomas Jones presented Woody Sed – his 1-man show about the life and times of Woody Guthrie. Featuring 19 songs, Jones portrays 25 different characters during the 90-minute play. A representative of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa presented Adding to the Collection and Continuing Woody’s Legacy. Reverend Stephan Edington returned for the third year and presented Woody: Seeking the Spirit in His Final Years. David Amram reminisced about meeting Woody Guthrie in 1956 and told the story behind his This Land: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie at the History Center Museum. Barry Ollman presented Collecting Woody 2015. Pat Stewart, the harmonica man, gave harmonica lessons to children.
Miss Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon once again was present for her annual Pancake Breakfast which was hosted this year by Lauren Lee. Terry “Buffalo” Ware once again coordinated the Sunday Hootennany to close the festival. Tim Easton opened the Hootenanny with his "Festival Song" singing "When we all come together, it feels like the world’s gonna be all right".
"The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is a perfect tribute to the spirit of Woody Guthrie and his beloved hometown of Okemah, and an important cultural event for all of America, setting an example of how to do things right, and celebrate the arts in a joyous way where the community and the artists all join hands to give our young people standards of excellence to aspire to for whatever they do in life."—David Amram
"This is just a special festival. Woody Guthrie is the heart of the whole folk music thing and folk music has taken on a new role."—Joel Rafael 
When invited back for the 2nd annual festival, Ellis Paul accepted the invitation agreeing to perform at the 1999 festival "and every one until the end of time."—Ellis Paul
"...it is not unusual to see impromptu bands form for jams...and we the audience get to see collaborations that we could only normally dream about."—Jela Webb
"...there's definitely something special going on in that scene. It's almost an American music festival secret. It's like beyond description....like, something is happening there that's literally changing the universe....it's rearranging the molecules of the planet...such really soulful musicians."—Jimmy LaFave
"I think the spirit of Woody Guthrie is really alive at that festival, just because I think everybody comes there with a passion for songs and storytelling."—Samantha Crain
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