He gave America some of its most memorable music. Now Woody Guthrie's home town is getting ready to honor its most famous native son. The second annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival opens Wednesday night for a four-day run.
For years, it almost seemed Woody Guthrie didn't have a hometown. Okemah was said to want nothing to do with the folk singer some labeled a communist. Now most Okemans think it's time to put that controversy behind their town. The memory of Woody Guthrie is revived and respected in a memorial park on Main Street and an annual folk festival. Woody supporters say it's long overdue. "If we can't be tolerant and allow someone to believe what they want to believe, in my thinking that's pretty bad and pretty un-American right there, so. That's all that Woody did," said Mike Lambeth, Woody Guthrie Coalition.
The Second Annual Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival was created to honor all that Woody did. T-shirts, magazines and books celebrate his legacy, as do some townsfolk. The festival opens at the old Circle Theatre on what would've been Woody's 87th birthday. His son, Arlo, is on the bill along with the Kingston Trio and Country Joe McDonald.
30 other artists are scheduled in free concerts through the weekend. Organizers say they're discovering how well known and loved Woody is. "I'm in charge of camping and RVs and stuff like that and people are calling and e-mailing from Florida, I've had some from New Hampshire, and they're coming from Texas, St. Louis, from all around," said Randy Norman.
There's not much of Woody left in Okemah. But supporters hope visitors will see the small exhibit in the local historical society, featuring what few photos have been gathered and a guitar that some claim may have once belonged to Woody. A painting commemorates the last home in Okemah the Guthrie family lived in. It was destroyed by fire several years ago.
Only the foundation of the house remains on an overgrown hillside that once provided Woody a clear view of life beyond.
Okemah's water tower proudly claims Woody. The signature he scrawled in wet cement years ago is enclosed in brick on a sidewalk. Woody was cremated in New York, so a grave marker in the family plot is empty. But those committed to Woody Guthrie's memory are full of hope for what may result. And that Woody Guthrie, the little man from the little town who made a big print will be remembered.
For more information on the Woody Guthrie Festival, call (918) 623-2440. Or for a schedule of events, go to the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival web site at http://www.woodyguthrie.com