Woody Guthrie: photo by Robin Carson, courtesy Woody Guthrie Archives
Woody Guthrie -- the guitar-strumming man of the people whose influence on American folk music helped to create the sounds and politics of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen -- was born on July 14, 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. One hundred years later, in the land that would become his land -- his adopted hometown of New York, New York -- the intimate and acoustically rich music venue City WineryÂ hosted WoodyFest, a trio of shows celebrating Guthrie with performers and special guests including Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Tim Robbins, and The Wood Brothers.
I was lucky to be among the WoodyFest crowd on Friday, its final night and the eve of Guthrie'sÂ centennial.Â The seriesÂ wrapped up with a moving rendition of his classic song This Land is Your Land when the eveningâ€™s musicians -- Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Amy Helm, and Joe Purdy -- were joined onstage by Woody Guthrie archivists and his daughter Nora Guthrie, author of the just published "My Name Is New York: Ramblinâ€™ Around Woody Guthrieâ€™s Town.â€ť (The guide to NYC locations where he lived and wrote contains historic text and photographs, original song lyrics, and glimpses into Guthrie's NYC address book.)
As the crowd sang along, I was brought back to my early exposure to the tune; a grade school music teacher drilled its upbeat melody into our young minds, still as wide open as the "endless skyway" of its second verse. Little did I know as a member of that kids' chorus that decades later as an adult, I would pass the site where it was written -- an old boarding house on 43rd Street at 6th Avenue in Manhattan -- almost daily, or that the timeless image of Woody playing on the train would come to mind every time I see a subway busker, or that his lyrics would matter even more in the midst of a presidential campaign.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,Â
By the relief office I seen my people;Â
As they stood there hungry, I stood there askingÂ
Is this land made for you and me?
For more on the year-long celebration of his life, visit the Woody Guthrie Foundation's centennial siteÂ and explore the rich selection of books by and about the most grounded of our songwriting legends. As my appreciation of hisÂ musicÂ and influence continues to deepen, here are a few I'm looking forward to reading or rereading over the coming year.
â€śWoody Guthrie: A Lifeâ€ť by Joe Klein
â€śRamblin' Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrieâ€ť by Ed Cray, with a foreward by Studs Terkel
â€śChronicles: Volume Oneâ€ť by Bob Dylan