WOODY GUTHRIE: Nashville Honors Folk Legend with Tribute Month

The city of Nashville celebrated the life and music of Woody Guthrie, America’s most illustrious and influential folk singer/songwriter with a series of performances, art exhibits and a film festival.

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Best known for penning the lyrics to “This Land Is Your Land,” Guthrie and his songs have proven to be a critical dynamic in shaping the course of modern American music. The “Dust Bowl Balladeer” has inspired two generations of musicians including Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, extending to contemporary artists such as U2, Billy Bragg, Wilco, and Ani DiFranco.

Born in Okehmah, Okla. In 1912, Guthrie lived a migratory life, traveling and performing throughout Texas and California during the 30s and 40s before finally settling in Coney Island, N.Y. A keen observer of the world around him, he wrote simple yet profound songs about the people and places he encountered on his journeys, weighing in on the plight of rural Americans and consuming himself with issues of social injustice.

Presented by Gibson Guitar and Baldwin Piano, The Woody Guthrie 90th Year Celebration was organized to help promote and sustain public awareness of Guthrie’s legacy through a number of cultural events. These included a film festival at the Belcourt Theatre, seminars, museum and art exhibits, school programs, and many musical performances at selected venues.

Musical performances got under way at the Exit-In with A Guthrie Americana Tribute, where both new artists and veterans paid their respects to Guthrie in an emotionally-charged show. Among those who performed were Michael Kersh, Dave Olney, Paul Burch, Kevin Welch and Jeff Black. Recently signed to Dualtone Records Black comments on Guthrie’s influence: “By the time I was born, his writings, recordings and stories of his personal life had become an idea beyond the man – always proof to me that a man’s contribution can influence many lives after he’s long gone.”

Probably the highlight of the celebration was a benefit concert, Nashville Sings Woody, at the Ryman Auditorium. Guest artists included Arlo Guthrie, Nanci Griffith, Marty Stuart, Guy Clark, Peter Rowan, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Slaid Cleaves and Janis Ian. They represented a number of genres including country, folk, bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll, and each put his/her own reverent touch on Guthrie’s class folk tunes.

Upon the request of Nora Guthrie, Guthrie’s daughter and Director of the Woody Guthrie Archieves, several artists collaborated in creating new music to never-before-heard Guthrie lyrics. Similar to the Wilco/Billy Bragg Mermaid Avenue recordings, the new songs asserted a modern edge while retaining the timeless spirit of Guthrie’s voice.

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