Okemah knows how to throw a birthday party.
Arlo Guthrie is opening the 13th annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival on Wednesday, which commemorates his father's 98th birthday and begins a free folk festival that invites dozens of musicians and thousands of patrons to join Okemah's 3,000-plus fulltime residents for four days and five nights of musical Americana.
A few artists wouldn't miss WoodyFest for the world.
The Oklahoma country act Red Dirt Rangers plays every year. Even a helicopter crash couldn't keep the band from performing.
In 2004, two weeks prior to WoodyFest, bandmates John Cooper, Brad Piccolo and Ben Han sat in the backseat of a downed helicopter after it got tangled in power lines over the Cimarron River. Cooper said he couldn't make it to WoodyFest because of broken ribs, punctured lungs and several other injuries, but drummer Piccolo managed to sing one song onstage at the festival.
"Everybody is there for free," Cooper said. "Nobody is getting anything out of it except for the music, and that's really why I think it's a special festival."
Cooper said it's a labor of love to play in the heat.
"They put it in the middle of July in Okemah, not a choice time to be putting on a festival weather-wise, but it's more than about all of that, it's about honoring Woody and music," Cooper said.
Friday's headliner, Ellis Paul, said he performed in Okemah before the festival's inception because of his fascination with the Guthrie family. He has noticed the town's festival involvement grow.