Woody Guthrie Folk Festival (aka “WoodyFest”) celebrates the life and musical legacy of one of America’s greatest folk music songwriters and troubadours, Woody Guthrie. Held every year in Okemah (Guthrie’s hometown), this festival offers music, children’s activities, poetry readings and more.
In the early 1960s, many Okemah residents regarded Guthrie with suspicion and some believed he was a Communist. As late as 1971, the Okemah City Council refused to proclaim Woody Guthrie Day due to his radical politics. By the 1970s, Guthrie fans began making pilgrimages to Okemah to visit the house where Guthrie lived.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when Billy Bragg visited Okemah to film scenes for his Man in the Sand documentary (about the making of Mermaid Avenue), that the town of Okemah began to embrace Guthrie.
In an article for Dirty Linen, Annette C. Eshleman wrote:
“Residents’ attitudes have gone from angry accusations of Guthrie being a Communist, to suspicious tolerance, to embracing his legion of loyal fans. And while the economic boost that a festival provides to such a small community is certainly welcome, the kindness and hospitality of openhearted locals is genuine.”
The first annual Woody Guthrie festival was presented in part by The Orphanage Society, a non-profit charitable arts organization dedicated to supporting and presenting live, original folk music in Oklahoma.
For the festival’s founding, the Woody Guthrie Coalition commissioned a full-body bronze statue of Guthrie and his guitar, complete with the guitar’s well-known inscription: “This machine kills fascists”. The statue, sculpted by artist Dan Brook, stands along Okemah’s main street in downtown Okemah.
The Woody Guthrie Coalition wanted the Guthrie family’s approval before establishing the festival. Arlo Guthrie and his sister, Nora, felt strongly that their father would want the festival accessible to all and stipulated that they would sanction the festival if it were free. The Coalition complied and festival attendees have never been charged a fee to attend.
|1998||Tom Paxton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Bragg, Peter Keane, Tom Skinner, Kevin Welch, Arlo Guthrie, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, Red Dirt Rangers, Terry “Buffalo” Ware, Don Conoscenti, Bob Childers|
|1999||Arlo Guthrie, The Kingston Trio, Country Joe McDonald, Slaid Cleaves, John Wesley Harding, Chuck Pyle, Peter Keane, Dave Carter, Tracy Grammer, Larry Long, Ellis Paul|
|2000||Jackson Browne, Pete Seeger, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Chuck Brodsky, Darci Deaville, Erica Wheeler, Michael Fracasso|
|2001||Lucy Kaplansky, Xavier, Vance Gilbert, Bill Miller, Pierce Pettis|
|2002||Steve Young, Irene Kelley, Johnsmith, Kat Eggleston, Bill Chambers, Tom Prasado-Rao, Caroline Herring|
|2003||Arlo Guthrie & Family, Pete Seeger, Josh White, Jr., Sarah Lee Guthrie, Johnny Irion, Cathy Guthrie, Annie Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Eliza Gilkyson, Ronny Elliot, Carrie Newcomer, The Burns Sisters|
|2004||Steve Earle, Kris Delmhorst, John Flynn, Karen Mal, Rob McNurlin, David Wilcox|
|2005||David Amram, Adam Amram, Peter Yarrow, Kevin So|
|2006||Arlo Guthrie, Jimmy LaFave, Ronny Cox, Sam Baker, Joe Ely, Greg Klyma|
|2007||Arlo Guthrie, Cathy Guthrie, Amy Nelson (daughter of Willie Nelson), Kevin Welch, Sara Hickman, Butch Hancock, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines, Jimmy LaFave, Don Conoscenti, Ellis Paul, Bob Childers, Joel Rafael, Terry “Buffalo” Ware, Red Dirt Rangers, Sam Baker, David and Adam Amram, The Burns Sisters, Ronny Cox, Michael Fracasso, Radoslav Lorković and Eliza Gilkyson, Randy Crouch|
|2008||Country Joe McDonald, Judy Collins, John Gorka, Jon Vezner, Jimmy Davis, John Flynn, Sean Flynn, Jimmy LaFave, David Amram, Sara Hickman, Radoslav Lorković, Alexinder Gunn, Anthony da Costa, Ali Harter, Amy Speace, Ellis Paul|
|2009||Wanda Jackson, Nancy Apple, Ronny Elliott, SONiA, Jonatha Brooke, Jimmy LaFave, Stoney LaRue, Mark Erelli, Andrea Parodi, Red Dirt Rangers, Ellis Paul, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Johnny Irion|
|2010||Arlo Guthrie, Abe Guthrie, Krishna Guthrie, Mo Guthrie, Ramsay Midwood, Red Molly, John Wort Hannam, Jess Klein, Stonehoney, Stoney LaRue, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Lauren Lee, Susan Herndon, Travis Linville, Monica Taylor, Butch Morgan, Red Dirt Rangers, Nancy Apple, SONiA, David Amram, the Burns Sisters, Betty Soo, Randy Crouch, Audrey Auld, Don Conoscenti, John Fullbright, Butch Hancock, Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines, Radoslav Lorković, Mary Reynolds, Annie Guthrie, Sam Baker|
|2011||David Crosby, Graham Nash, Shawn Mullins, Gretchen Peters, Jude Johnstone, Krishna Guthrie, Butch Hancock, Kevin Welch, David Amram, Jimmy LaFave|
|2012||Arlo Guthrie, Gretchen Peters, Billy Bragg, Jimmy LaFave, Judy Collins, Joel Rafael, Don Conoscenti, Michael Fracasso, Ellis Paul, Red Dirt Rangers, John Fullbright, Johnsmith, David Amram, Sam Baker, Butch Hancock, Radoslav Lorkovic, Melanie, Jimmy LaFave|
|2013||Jimmy LaFave, Ellis Paul, Butch Hancock, John Fullbright, Samantha Crain, Ramsay Midwood, Red Dirt Rangers, Randy Crouch, Parker Millsap|
- • Walkin’ the Long Road | Pop Matters
• Thousands descend on Oklahoma town to honor Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday | Dallas Morning News