image of woodyfest
theatre marquee
Crystal Theatre, where Woody once played
2nd Annual Woodyfest

In Okemah, Oklahoma


Above, to your right is the Crystal Theatre, in Okemah, site of the all-star hootenany celebrating the life and times of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Oklahoma's Dust Bowl Balladeer, and World Reknowned Songster. This Hootenany was held on July 14, 1999, the 87th anniversary of Woody's birth. People came from near and far and braved upper nineties temperatures, to hear his son, Arlo, his grandchildren Abraham and Sarah Lee, and many others speak of him and sing his many songs of hardship, endurance, and straight out celebration of the lives of common folk everywhere.

image of letter i HAD KNOWN about the 2nd annual Woodyfest for almost six months. On my budget, it took careful planning. As it came out, I first took the bus to Conway, South Carolina, to visit a good friend of mine who teaches Spanish at a college there. Then, on July 12, I took the bus west, through Atlanta to Dallas. Got to see parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana in the day hours for the first time. Had enough time in Dallas to walk out the Phillip Johnson Designed Cenotaph for JFK, near Dealey Plaza, where I played a bit of guitar. Upon arriving in Oklahoma City the next morning, I found a Botanical Garden just a few blocks from the bus depot. It was very refreshing to gaze upon the splendid array of flowers and trees for a few hours, play the guitar again and contemplate the good will that goes into designing such public facilities. With a nicely clear mind, I arrived the afternoon of the 14th, Woody's birthday, in Okema.

image of woody on 
wall

Above is one part of a very pleasant surprise waiting for visitors to Okemah, Oklahoma. A vacant lot has been cleared, and this mural painted on the wall of the adjacent building. It is signed by the local artist who painted it. Quite colorful in the summer sun, I might add. Besides this, a sculpture of Okemah's most famous song writer stands before a brick platform. Hopefully, this place will become the center of gathering for the area's pickers and singers.

image of woody
statue and 
jesse
Who's that guy with the guitar?

image of
letter i HAD JUST taken some time to visit with folks on the line waiting to get into the "All-Star" Hootenany the night of Woody's birthday, whereupon I stumbled across the lot with the statue behind me. A fellow middle-aged long-hair was standing there by himself with a camera. We both started to say the same thing at once, "I will take your picture if you'll..." We broke out laughing. I took his photo for him, and he did the same for me. I no sooner had my guitar back in its gig bag when a town car drove up with six people in it. I noticed someone waving in the back seat. Out stepped Arlo Guthrie and his son and daughter! Arlo strode over and shook my hand. I mentioned the times he'd had conversations with me before and after shows here in Bloomington, Indiana, since 1980, and he allowed that he had good thoughts for Indiana's cultural mecca. Some other family members got out of the car. I and the fellow who swapped photo ops with me got to witness the Guthrie family share a historical moment. Three generations of Guthrie. They were there for the same reason as we two photo swappers. We watched, greatly amused, as one of Arlo's relatives photographed four Guthries. Then Arlo and his daughter had a great time getting a picture of her standing just like the statue...as I watched I thought to myself, I do think I am going to enjoy this visit to Oklahoma...such synchronicity strokes are sweet indeed. (If you are interested in providing for a Woody Memorial brick, click the photo of Woody'n'me to the left to learn about details.)

Below is an artistically rendered image.

Thanks to Adobe Photoshop and the assistance of a friend, I've been able to present a picture of what I saw, even if the sky is orange (if it was, wouldn't skin be blue?) - we were taking pictures in a shaded area on a very bright sunny day, with that whitewashed wall to contend with besides...my apologies to all for not having a filter for my camera.

image of statue, arlo 
and two children

No sooner had Arlo finished photographing his daughter with the statue of Woody, than a young woman strode up to Arlo and requested he let her boy friend photograph the two of them in front of Woody. She explained she had grown up in Okemah, herself, and no longer lived there. Arlo understood the sweetness of this chance for her and said, "Only one, we gotta go eat!"

Then the woman, her friend and the other fellow who'd been standing there when I first walked up were talking about the town graveyard. We piled into their car and drove to the cemetary. Woody Guthrie had been cremated after his death in 1967, yet the family placed a head stone next to the graves of his parents and sister, who died as a teenager in a tragic fire accident. One of my favorite pencil drawings Woody did of a guy with a guitar has been carved in the modest stone.

image of graveyard
headstone

Tenting Tonight

image of letter wEDNESDAY NIGHT, there were only a few campers beside myself. A young couple in their twenties set up camp near my pup tent. We sat up talking about the way seeing the Milky Way never ceases to amaze...we saw a few shooting stars, talked about what Tom Paxton (another singer songwriter from the sixties folk-"scare") called "chaos, watermelons, and everything..." A mockingbird in the branches of the pine trees above us went through a lengthy repetoire.

STAGE HANDS?

image of letter tHURSDAY AFTERNOON, the outdoor stage needed to be set up. about a dozen volunteers helped two very together fellows from and Oklahoma City company put together the stage, made out of about 24 wooden sections. the sections get legs attached, they get clamped together to be more or less level, and then wood and carpet shims to further level out the whole thing. Four winches on towers held the tube frame work for the canopy, which gets firmly strapped to the tubing and Voila! Show time!! The two fellows were very good at rousting us volunteers into a team. They used direct commands, and good humor. It was fun working with them. Such a treat to see people performing on a stage you set up...We did the same thing in reverse on Sunday afternoon, after Joe McDonald was finished with his set.

As soon as we were finished with the stage, I grabbed a ride into Okemah, about a mile away. Just in time for the free tribute to Woody at the Crystal theatre. Some of the previous nights performers were unable to stay, yet the talented, spirited rendition of Woody's songs chosen for the orifginal tribute done in NYC and then Los Angeles California lifted my spirits. I felt at home in Okemah. Bill McCloud the announcer for all the events in the festival, aptly did the original recitations. Mary Jo Guthrie spoke a bit of her brother, and all the visiting Guthries were introduced from the stage. A tremendously rousing This Land is Your Land got many people singing at the top of their lungs. Woody LIVES as long as people keep singing his songs!


Arlo Guthrie has posted, as of September 18, 2001,
A prayer for Peace in the Spirit of Reconciliation


Interested in the Woodyfest/2008?

Check out the folk art of Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, Woody's youngest sister.
I joke - in my more oxymoronic moments, about being hopelessly optimistic,
but Mary Jo, whom I met there in Okemah,
personifies optimism!


Here's some of my songs

Here's Woody and me on July 14, 2001 in Okemah

jesse and guitar next to statue of woody guthrie with 
guitar
Full image is 26K

The 2001 Foto gallery is here!
Woodyfest 2001


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