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Arlo Guthrie kicks off Woodyfest with a packed house in Okemah

100{+t}{+h} birthday of Woody Guthrie makes this year's Woodyfest more of a celebration.
BY CONNER ROHWER Modified: July 11, 2012 at 11:23 pm •  Published: July 12, 2012

The 15th annual Woodyfest kicked off Wednesday night in Woody Guthrie's hometown of Okemah with a concert headlined by his son, Arlo Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie, who died of Huntington's disease in 1967, would have turned 100 on July 14. The 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birthday has the whole town celebrating.

It is virtually impossible to drive through Okemah without knowing that Woody Guthrie was born and raised there. His image is on the town water tower, and statues and murals featuring him and his guitar can be found all over town. He even has a street named after him. Woody Guthrie is a major part of the identity of the city of Okemah.

Although he died 45 years ago, his legacy lives on — especially through his son, Arlo.

Arlo Guthrie performed for a packed house in the Crystal Theater, which reopened in April after a year of renovations. The theater was an ideal place to kick off the 100th birthday celebration because Woody Guthrie had close ties to the theater in his childhood and played there.

Like his father, Arlo loves to talk as much as he loves music. While singing “This Land is Your Land,” he stopped abruptly in the middle of the song to talk about how the song caught on around the world. He cracked a few more jokes and about 10 minutes into his story, he resumed playing the song without skipping a beat.

Arlo treated the audience to several of his father's songs as well as a few stories about the late folk singer. His guitar playing and ability to engage the audience are two qualities he clearly got from his father.

Gretchen Peters, whose song “Independence Day” was the Country Music Association's Song of the Year in 1995, opened the show. Though she had no direct relation to Guthrie, she said she was honored to perform at Woodyfest again.

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