Show Review: Woody Fest 2019, Day 1

Show Reviews

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This past weekend I fully immersed myself into the Woody Guthrie Folk Fest, affectionately and most commonly referred to as Woody Fest. This special festival is held annually in Okemah, Oklahoma in mid July on the weekend closest to Woody’s birthday, which was July 14th. Okemah was Woody’s birthplace and hometown and lies 73 miles east of Oklahoma City and roughly 66 miles southeast of Tulsa. The festival came to be in 1997 with the mission of honoring Guthrie’s music as well as his philosophy that every person has worth, none more or less than another. Here in 2019, I’m happy to report that is a mission that still stands true, and this year’s 21st annual festival was one that won’t soon be forgotten. I’m truly honored to have been a small part of the magic that this weekend created.

The 2019 Festival kicked off on the evening of Wednesday July 10th at the Crystal Theatre in downtown Okemah. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to make this one, which was billed as a “Woody & Pete Jamboree”, honoring Guthrie as well as Pete Seeger. The jamboree featured many of the artists I was fortunate to catch up with throughout the remainder of the festival, and no doubt was sure to be a fun evening. My time at the fest began on Thursday after work. I arrived just in time for the two o’clock Greg Jacobs performance at the Crystal. I made the trip from near OKC the next two days, culminating in a memorable Saturday night show that was about as special as any I’ve seen.

This is going to be basically a day by day recap rather than a normal every day review per se. I’ll be including photos, and highlighting artists and moments that really stood out . Over the course of the three days I attended the fest, I saw 32 sets of music at 5 different stage locations. You’ll have to trust me that every single one stood out in its own way, and there wasn’t a disappointing set in the bunch. I discovered a wealth of “new to me” artists, saw several favorites, made new friends and visited with old acquaintances. If I missed a particular set, there was no particular reason. I really tried to catch as much familiar and new music as possible. I think I was successful. So with that, here’s day one……

First and foremost, the organizers of the festival deserve a special call-out, particularly for how the artists were scheduled. One of the biggest flaws I usually find in festival shows is how sets overlap, causing one to have to choose one artist over another. While that did occasionally occur, the majority of the fest saw 30 minute staggered start times, which alleviated much of the concern.

My first set of the festival started nearly immediately after I arrived with the fine songwriter Greg Jacobs at the Crystal Theatre. Following Jacobs set, Monica Taylor graced the stage with her band that included “house band” member Don Morris on bass, as well as Jared Tyler on dobro. Closing out the day’s shows at the Crystal we had Lubbock legend, Butch Hancock. Joining Butch was the aforementioned Don Morris, as well as the rest of the “house band”. These stellar musicians also included, Terry “Buffalo” Ware on guitar, T.Z. Wright on accordion and Michael McCarty on drums. Also highlighted here was Rory Hancock (Butch’s son) rock starring away on guitar as his proud papa beamed. Butch’s set was a highlight of the day so far, but the day was far from over.

Next, I headed over to the main stage over in the Randy’s set was highly entertaining as always, and even had several fans yelling for “one more song”. Unfortunately, the fest runs on a pretty tight schedule, and there was still a lot of other artists to be heard. Crouch’s opener was followed by the Red Dirt Rangers set, which still managed to feature Randy Crouch on fiddle, the wonderful Radoslav Lorkovic on keys, Festival and musical luminary David Amram on percussion and whistles, and of course, members of the “house band”. Essentially, it could have been referred to as the Red Dirt Ranger’s Orchestra with all the talent joining them for their fun, high energy set. Next up, Jacob Tovar brought his traditional country and honky-tonk crooning, turned it up a notch and threw down for a rousing set. For me, the highlights of the day were the final two sets of the night. First up, was Texas’ Jamie Lin Wilson’s enchanting set highlighting songs from her fabulous album “Jumping Over Rocks”. This was my second time seeing (and covering) Jamie, and she and her band simply never disappoint. She’s a creative songwriter, witty and funny, as well a commanding presence on the stage. Tonight’s set was no exception, and I can’t wait to see her and her band again. The final set of night was given by Okemah native, John Fullbright. It really was a masterful and poignant set, and one that showcased the wealth of talent Fullbright possesses. Oklahoma residents that follow this type of music absolutely never take the young songwriter for granted. They undoubtedly realize how special he and his songs are, which is why nearly every show he performs around the state is sold out. Whether seated at the piano, or strapping on the guitar, John’s songs manage to pierce a part of you, and I can think of no better songwriter to close out the first night of Woody Fest. The standard was set mighty high, that’s for sure.

So there you have a brief idea of the first day of Woody Fest. The scheduled evening performances ended at midnight, and as I navigated my way home, I was already mapping out in my head the sets I’d take in on Friday. I speculated if day two could possibly be better. It was, but, I’ll save that for my next recap.

For more information about Woody Fest, please visit their website here:

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