As the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth draws near, tributes to the folk troubadour, political rabble-rouser and rambling man are planned as far away as Austria and Germany and as near as the Oklahoma icon's hometown of Okemah.
Arlo Guthrie, Guthrie's son and fellow folk singer-songwriter, again will make the pilgrimage to Okfuskee County to launch the 15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival with a special benefit show Wednesday night at Okemah's historic, newly renovated Crystal Theatre.
The free festival is planned every year around Woody Guthrie's July 14 birthday.
The music legend, who died of Huntington's disease on Oct. 3, 1967, at age 55, would have been a centenarian this year.
“When you have a parent, living or dead, whose 100th birthday comes around, the first thing you think of is ‘I must be getting old myself.'” Arlo Guthrie said in an email interview.
“At least, that is what I thought. As I turn 65 this year, the question ‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?' has already been answered. It's a comfort to be needed or at least fed as the years go by.” Guthrie said, referencing his contemporaries The Beatles.
“How much anyone needs Woody Guthrie has also been answered. It turns out that at 100 years since his birth in Okemah there are still hundreds of thousands (maybe more, maybe less) of people who are in some way celebrating my father's life and work. By any measure it seems he is being remembered fondly even as the voices of his critics fade. I hope the lives of those who attempted to discredit him have not become as irrelevant as those opinions sound these days. And while it may always be true that ‘No man is a prophet in his own country,' my father seems to have at least become more profitable.”
Woody Guthrie's rich artistic legacy — he wrote about 3,000 songs along with essays, newspaper columns and his partially fictionalized autobiography “Bound for Glory,” and as a visual artist created many paintings and illustrations — has been celebrated throughout 2012, with even more events planned for his centennial year.
Arlo and his sister Nora Guthrie worked closely with officials at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles to plan “Woody at 100,” a series of all-star concerts, album releases, conferences and tributes of all kinds. In March, Arlo Guthrie played his father's home state as part of a multiday centennial celebration in Tulsa, where the Woody Guthrie Archives are being relocated.
The younger Guthrie shared the stage at Tulsa's Brady Theater with The Flaming Lips, Hanson, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Del McCoury and more, with the eclectic lineup bearing witness to the elder Guthrie's sprawling influence.
“It's interesting to me in that my father wasn't some great musician — he used his basic understanding of music to convey his thoughts. There's plenty of better guitar players, or people who can hit the notes he never even attempted to sing,” Arlo Guthrie said in his email.
15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival