Woodyfest I

Woody Guthrie’s hometown is at least 70 miles from anywhere. Last Wednesday, we drove in early from Tulsa. Ronny’s first gig was at 11 a.m. at the Colonial Park nursing home. Three other musicians played three other nursing homes as part of festival outreach.

In downtown Okemah that evening, SONiA kicked the festival wide open at the Crystal Theatre. Not your average folkie, she’s the perfect act for those who come hungry from small and/or conservative towns ravenous for like-mindedness and a Guthrie flavored family reunion. SONiA sang about peace, love, and soldiers from Viet Nam to Iraq (“Me Too”); and individual Americans who stand up for all of us (“Who’s So Scared”). One of her most poignant songs, “By My Silence,” was adapted from the WWII Pastor Martin Niemoller poem: “I didn’t know what it meant/By my silence I gave my consent.”

SONiA’s encore was a bluesy number, and she said she’s currently at work on a blues album. Next week, on July 21st, she’ll perform in Tampa at WMNF for the celebration of the life of her friend (and ours) Vicki Santa, the late station manager.

Jonatha Brooke completed the night playing much from her latest album, a collection of Guthrie songs, entitled “The Works.” Her songs are sexy and romantic, and quite a few listeners were taken by Brooke, but my camp felt her songs definitely fell short of Mermaid Avenue. Then again, most albums will.

The next afternoon at the Brick Street Café, Red Dirt singer-songwriter Monica Taylor played “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” and “If I Were a Carpenter” as well as her originals.

Randy Crouch, the fiddlin’ master, followed, packing the dusty basement. David Amram accompanied on Indian flutes and the French horn (not to be outdone, Crouch grabbed his Bud bottle and blew). Randy fiddled the blues, “Okalahoma Hills” and wrapped with the “William Tell Overture.”

Jimmy LaFave, along with the house band (which backed up many of the artists throughout the festival), closed the afternoon show with a tribute to Bob Childers, a festival regular who passed away last Spring.

Loss was an undercurrent of the week. Just over a month ago, festival founder Sharon Jones also passed away. But that just made the importance of this ego-free, family festival shine brighter.

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