NORMAN — As 2012 draws to a close and the centennial celebration in Woody Guthrie's honor winds down, Susan Herndon is happily preparing to play one more show in honor of the iconic Oklahoma troubadour, who was born in 1912 in Okemah.
“It's just proof of his importance. It is fun for me personally just learning a new Woody song for each time I do a Woody tribute,” said Herndon, who lives in Okemah, in a recent phone interview.
On Friday, Herndon will join Travis Linville and Greg Jacobs for the Woody Guthrie Tribute at the Midway Deli in Norman. The show is part of the fledgling Midway Concert Series.
“It's a great thing to do and a lot of fun to be involved in a tribute to a man — and his songs — that is important to me. Very important,” said Herndon, who also played the 15th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah in July and the 22nd Annual Tribute to Woody Guthrie at the Blue Door earlier this month.
“It's like the influence is there whether you will it to be or not. It just is.”
Guthrie wrote songs about the struggles of ordinary folks, she said, and many of his lyrics still feel relevant.
“With some of the fighting in Congress and just the hard times that are still here and they're still what people are going through, he wrote about all that,” Herndon said.
Since Guthrie penned such a wide variety of music, from children's songs to protest anthems, different songwriters often relate to different aspects of his work. Herndon is particularly drawn to the ballads the prolific songsmith wrote about the pain and recklessness of love.
For Jacobs, Guthrie's Dust Bowl ballads are especially significant, and their influence can be heard clearly in his story-songs “Farmer's Luck” and “A Little Rain Will Do.” The Checotah-area native lives and runs cattle on farmland his grandfather bought more than 100 years ago.
“That's the era of Woody's writing that I kind of focus on and identify with. You know, I live on the same piece of land that my dad grew up on. I live in the same house my dad was born in,” Jacobs said in a phone interview.
“My grandfather was a farmer in the Depression, and I think about him every day when I'm out feeding the cows and stuff 'cause we're in a serious drought.”
The folk singer said he particularly admires Guthrie's knack for finding compelling stories that people could relate to and then turning them into songs.
“It's kind of like a picture ... says a thousand words. But sometimes a song can do the same thing. It can put a picture in people's minds. And that's kind of what I envision Woody was doing. And I kind of try to do that; not near on Woody Guthrie's level, though,” Jacobs said.