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Extended interview: Singer-songwriter SONiA Disappear Fear ready for next week's WoodyFest

by Brandy McDonnell Modified: July 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm •  Published: July 4, 2014
SONiA Disappear Fear will perform Thursday at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah. Photo provided
SONiA Disappear Fear will perform Thursday at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah. Photo provided

This is an extended interview that appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Singer-songwriter SONiA Disappear Fear ready for WoodyFest
The 17th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival is set for Wednesday through July 13 at various venues around Okemah, the late, great folk icon’s hometown.

Singer-songwriter SONiA Disappear Fear feels she’s walking in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie — and she’s hardly alone.

“Anyone who’s pursuing an independent path in music after Woody, like from the Beatles to any band that’s performing its own thing – or singer-songwriter – is walking in his footsteps because he really lived it,” she said in a phone interview this week from her hometown of Baltimore. where she was readying to shoot a music video for her song “Farmland and the Sky.”

“So, we’re all walking in his footsteps.”

The award-winning songstress also known as Sonia Rutstein, 55, is preparing to make her third pilgrimage to perform at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, the hometown of the late, great folk icon. WoodyFest begins Wednesday with a Pete Seeger Sing-A-Long benefit show and continues through July 13 with concerts, an open mike, and special events like a poetry reading and more historical presentations and children’s music.

SONiA, who is touring in support of her new album “Broken Film,” will play WoodyFest Thursday at the Pastures of Plenty outdoor stage.

Q: What keeps you coming back to play the festival?

A: Connections. The people that put it together really have the right idea, and I think it helps us remember the real purpose of Woody’s music and to fully carry that torch on to what we’re doing. in our lives – both in music and in our lives.

Q: Do you have a favorite Woody Guthrie song and what does that song mean to you?

A: Of course, I like ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ the popular one, and I love it that people put in their own original lyrics with it, too, to address issues of the day and that it’s open that way. I like also some of like what Billy Bragg and what Ellis Paul have done with some of his (Guthrie) poetry that he didn’t actually put music to but they did later. I think they’re really strong.

I recorded a song of his “Worried Man Blues,” it’s a very bluesy song, it’s standard blues style, and that’s on my “Blood, Bones & Baltimore” CD. … “It’s kind of a good song to get you through a bad day (laughs). Because singing something sad about someone is like watching a soap opera, I suppose. You know, it just makes you feel a little better.”

Q: I like talking to musicians about Woody Guthrie because he wrote so many songs, you can’t possibly know every Woody Guthrie song. So, it seems like I’m always learning new ones. I don’t remember that one, so I’ll be looking it up. Do you have that experience too?

A: Of obscure Woody songs? Yes, they always pump me up. It’s like, “Oh, wait, what’s that one?” It definitely seems like a never-ending hill, but it will be for a long time because he had so many pieces of poetry. When he was like in a creative crush, he just went for it … so there’s still many, many songs to be written with his words that haven’t been written yet. I would love to do it. I’d love to get some lyrics and work with ‘em. It’d be fun.

Q: This is your 17th album. Have you always done music?

A: I’ve been writing songs since I was about 13. … I went on study film, how to make films, in college, with a minor in musicology. And that was good. Eventually, I worked for the rape crisis center in Baltimore, and that’s where I came up with the name ‘Disappear Fear.’ Because I thought if you could disappear fear between people you could get your life back, the choices in your life. And also when you disappear fear between people, what you have is love. For me, I’ve really always done this.

Q: Is there something about this one that maybe builds on what you’ve learned in the past or is specific to this time in your life?

A: The songs really reflect what has happened to me in the past couple of years, certainly the death of my father and just changes around me with friends and family, big changes. …

That was the essence of ‘Broken Film’ was sort of like looking back. I saw this reel that my dad done, like these 8-millimeter films from like birthday parties when we were kids, me and my brother and my sister. And there was his handwriting in pencil, it said “broken film.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s it. That’s exactly it.” … It’s kind of like walking down and finding like a four-leaf clover, seeing it and picking it up.”


17th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival

When: Wednesday through July 13.

Where: Various venues in Okemah.

What: Musical performances, children’s activities, open mike, poetry reading and fundraisers for the state chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

Benefit show: General admission tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door for the Pete Seeger Sing-A-Long at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Crystal Theater, 401 W Broadway Street. For tickets, go to

Festival admission: Free.

Parking: Free for daytime events; $20 per car (including campers) evenings at the Pastures of Plenty Stage.



by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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