Woody Guthrie Centennial Events

Saturday September 22 was a day and evening of speakers, media presentations and music performances celebrating the life and songs of America’s most famous and influential folk poet Woody Guthrie. There was an all-day conference in the Gold Room at the Brooklyn College Student Center 10am to 5pm.  His most famous song was This Land is Your Land.                                                             It is Guthrie’s 100th Anniversary and his songs and writings from the 1930s and 1940s have inspired generations of folk singer/activists to write new music in support of contemporary movements for social justice. Guthrie’s Depression-era songs chronicling the plight of hard-hit working people resonate with renewed urgency.                                                                                           Arlo Guthrie could not make it due to his wife‘s sickness.  Fan Chris Durman came from Tennesse because this was the biggest Guthrie Event. At the conference singer Billy Bragg said he was afflicted by Woody’s music. He said England was ahead of America in rock and roll because they had Rambling Jack and Led Belly appearing.  Lloyd Donogan was part of the skittle movement with songs like John Henry. Three years before Chuck Berry appeared England was exposed to that music. Judy Collins mentioned other folk singers such as The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. Collins met Bob Dylan in the village and thought he would not make it with the songs he played. He grew and evolved and has quite a career. She mentioned Phil Oaks starting the yippies and music was an agent for social/political change. Bragg was very funny and informative. He spoke over Woody writing lyrics and many Jewish songs.  Woody liked the new electronics and had to get a Les Paul guitar when it was new. He got his ideas from the newspaper stories. The Gold Room was packed which has about a 200 person capacity. The crowd was full of baby boomers.   Collins, Bragg and Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics each sang a song.                                     At 7:30pm there was a concert at Whitman Theater with many acts. There were 3 film cameras and 2 were on big cranes moving back and forth to the stage.  Judy Collins known for her versions of Send in the Clowns, Both Sides Now and Amazing Grace unfortunately sang very little.  A moving song in the first half of the concert was Subway which fan Chauncey said made her cry. Guthrie was a ballad writer.  Guthrie wrote numerous Jewish lyrics. Guthrie’s Jewish lyrics can be traced to the unusual collaborative relationship he had with his mother-in-law, who lived across from Guthrie and his family in Brooklyn in the 1940s. He identified the problems of Jews with those of his fellow Okies and other oppressed peoples.                                                Oscar Brand at age 92 said to not worry when he sways a little because he eventually straightens up.  Brand has a music radio show on NPR for 67 years which is on Saturday night at 10pm. He says he knows more about Woody then anyone wants to know.  There were many acts. The Tony Trischka Band had a banjo, fiddle, cello and guitar player and a hootenanny feel. It caused a lot of toe tapping.  Woody wrote about Coney Island a song called Write Love Letters in the Sand. Pete Seeger at 93 has a throaty voice with a vibration to it.  He wrote or popularized If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song), Goodnight IreneWhere Have All the Flowers Gone?, Turn, Turn, Turn, and We Shall Overcome.   He had a sing-a-long to the Reuben James song. In the background of many numbers was a slide show of Woody.  Seeger led the last song of This Land is Your Land with all the acts on stage which was about 2 dozen performers and Guthrie’s daughter Nora who organized the event. Photography was taken with film and is waiting to be developed.

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