A version of this story ran in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. To hear a clip of my interview with Samantha Crain, click here.
Singer credits Guthrie’s influence
When emerging singer-songwriter Samantha Crain lists her musical influences, they wind from her dad’s favorites including the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan to the electronic experiments of Radiohead to fellow Oklahomans such as Student Film and Ali Harter.
“I’d say a major part of my musical influence does come from Oklahoma, and … the Flaming Lips and Woody Guthrie are probably two of my largest influences because they embody the Oklahoma music sound on two different ends of the spectrum, because you have this kind of experimental rock on the Flaming Lips side and the kind of the more folks and roots Americana music on the Woody Guthrie side,” Crain said in a recent phone interview from tour stop in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Crooning tales of betrayal and redemption in her hauntingly raw voice, Crain, 21, carries on Guthrie’s storytelling tradition on her musical novella “The Confiscation,” which will be released nationally July 22. The Shawnee native and her band, the Midnight Shivers, also will play at July 11 at the 11th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah.
The festival will be Wednesday through July 13 at various venues in Guthrie’s hometown. It will include concerts, panel discussions, children’s activities, an open mike, poetry readings and more. The festival features a lineup of emerging and nationally known talents, including Guthrie granddaughter Annie Hays Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave and Judy Collins in her festival debut.
“We’re happy to start our second decade of the festival with a lot of firsts,” said Karen Zundel, the event’s media chairman.
For the first year, the festival will feature a Phil Ochs Song Night performance, featuring John Flynn, Sean Flynn, David Amram and John Gorka. The tribute shows honoring Ochs started in 1983 and have been performed across the country. The Oklahoma debut will highlight “Bound for Glory,” a song Ochs wrote to honor Guthrie.
Also, Maxine “Lefty Lou” Crissman, Guthrie’s radio partner in the 1930s, will attend the festival and tell stories of their work together.
A special pre-festival tribute to Bob Childers featuring LaFave, Mike McClure, Jason Boland and Childers’ sons, Zach and Jesse, is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Childers, who was considered the godfather of red dirt music and performed at every WoodyFest, died in April.
Other festival highlights will include a reading of the one-act play “Time Changes Everything” about Guthrie and Bob Willis; the musical program “Woody Guthrie: A Life in Songs”; and Mary Jo’s Pancake Breakfast, featuring Guthrie’s youngest sister, Mary Joe Guthrie Edgmon.
“The focus is Woody’s music and keeping his legacy alive,” Zundel said.
Crain, who played WoodyFest for the first time last year, said Guthrie is the “poster child” for Oklahoma’s rich musical and storytelling heritage.
“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,” she said.
Crain’s musical career actually started with seasonal boredom. The summer before her senior year at Dale High School, she started teaching herself to play guitar and turning her short stories into songs. Before those musical forays, her focus was on sports and creative writing.
“I always wrote stories, like my parents would buy me these blank books and I would write these kind of long, lengthy novels,” she said, laughing. “The writing part was always close to my heart, but I didn’t really ever think to write songs until after I started trying to learn the guitar.”
She went to college at Oklahoma Baptist University and at 19, she signed up on a whim for the Contemporary Music Center, an off-campus study program on Martha’s Vineyard. She got college credit for writing songs, playing shows and learning about recording. After she got back, problems with student loan payments presented an opportunity.
“I figured, hey, I had a lot of fun playing these shows and writing these songs, maybe I could do this for a living, which is kind of silly when you think about it. ” she said laughing. “Most people don’t make … such a big decision so nonchalantly. But I did.”
She has spent the past few trying to “self-fuel” her way down her chosen road, touring virtually nonstop and doing her own recordings. She recently signed with the Ramseur Records, which she chose over some larger labels because they were willing to let her have complete creative freedom.
“I’m a very do-it-yourself kind of person, and they have that same mentality over there,” said Crain, who still calls Shawnee home.
After releasing “The Confiscation” EP, which she put on her own last summer, on Ramseur, Crain will record a full-length album of new material in the fall.
“There’s going to be a lot of allusions to the stories of the Choctaw tribe and … their history kind of tucked away in some of the songs,” said Crain, who is of Choctaw heritage.
11th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
When: Wednesday-July 13.
Where: Various venues in Okemah.
What: Concerts, children’s activities, open mike, poetry readings, panel discussions and fundraisers for the state chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
Special event: A pre-festival tribute to Bob Childers will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. For more information, go to www.cainsballroom.com.
Cost: Free except for the opening event at 8 p.m. Wednesday, “Country Joe McDonald’s Tribute to Woody Guthrie,” which costs $20 for general admission or $35 for Gold Circle seating. Parking at the Pastures of Plenty stage in the evenings is $10 per car.