This Saturday would be folk singer/songwriter and activist Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, and to celebrate the occasion Gainesville musicians are coming together to pay tribute in the most appropriate way – in song.
The North Florida Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration will be held at The Repurpose Project at 519 S. Main St., beginning at 8 p.m. All proceeds for the show will benefit co-sponsors The Civic Media Center and The Harvest of Hope Foundation. The list of artists – who will be performing the words and songs of Guthrie – include Company Man, The Ones to Blame, Kathleen Taylor, Devon Stuart, Kathleen Kennedy, Jon Gaunt, The Tim Version’s Russ Van Cleave, Toby Terrel, Mama Trish and Cathy Dewitt.
“Woody Guthrie was a voice of the common man at a time when the common man was having hard times,” said Civic Media Center co-founder Joe Courter. “His personal evolution and prolific writing and songcraft spoke to many; and those words still ring true to folks today, because these are hard times too.”
It would be difficult to overstate Guthrie’s impact in our society in the past decades. Courter said Guthrie’s tradition was carried on by artists like Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Phil Ochs and Malvena Reynolds, and still lives on today with musicians like Billy Bragg, David Rovics and Bruce Springsteen.
“Woody’s influence is manifested when people recognize the root causes of what’s keeping them down, and begin to organize and fight back,” Courter said. “It’s what our corporate culture is trying to prevent. It is the power that moves us forward.”
“The fact that Woody wrote ‘This Land is Your Land’ as a direct response to Irving Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’ says a lot,” he added.
Even those unfamiliar with Guthrie’s work probably know “This Land is Your Land.” Somehow over the years though, it has often been presented as a patriotic number on par with the tone of “God Bless America,” but if you haven’t heard it all the way through or taken a good look at all the lyrics lately, it’s worth reading and listening to again. Patriotic, without a doubt, but not quite the same as what the Tea Partiers call patriotism today.
Courter said the idea for the Centennial Celebration was birthed out of the CMC’s connection with another voice for the common man, author Stetson Kennedy. Guthrie and Kennedy, who lived in Jacksonville, were close friends. Kennedy was also involved with the CMC since its inception and even donated his personal library of more than 3,000 books to the CMC, creating the Stetson Kennedy Library. Although Kennedy passed away last year, his wife Sandra Parks remains in touch with the CMC and pointed out that July 14 would be Guthrie’s 100th birthday.
“She was the one who brought the date to our attention and we ran with it,” Courter said.
Parks will also be bringing some of Guthrie’s art to the celebration.
If you missed out on the fireworks last week, come to The Repurpose Project Saturday for another great way to celebrate this land.
Courter pointed out that there has been a lot of great coverage in the media recently about Guthrie’s life and music, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation from July 5, and Democracy Now! on July 4 and July 12.