The 2020 Virtual Woody Guthrie Festival came to a close this past Sunday, putting a wrap on a bold journey into unknown territory for the Woody Guthrie Coalition and the annual fest. Following an impressive all-star line-up of songwriters on Tuesday and Saturday’s broadcasts, the invaluable Terry “Buffalo” Ware got the Sunday show underway with his rollicking “Plain As Day” and some extra fun picking. Next up, Melissa Hembree joined by her pals, Michael Hurd on mandolin and Bruce Metcalf on acoustic bass, performed a great poignant new song, “Okfuskee” down in front of the Woody statue in downtown Okemah. It doesn’t get more fitting than that. Or does it?
Andy Adams made his case, by delivering a stunning version of Jimmy LaFave’s “Music From the Motorcourt,” that does a fine job of capturing the after-hours hotel parking lot scene that really inspires so many. I really enjoyed Adams’ albeit brief performance at the Old Church here in Perkins, OK just a few months back, and have tuned into several of his own livestreams since. Keeping with the LaFave theme, Adams closed out his segment with another of the beloved songwriter and mentor, the aptly titled, “Woody Guthrie.” Up next, the multi-talented, Ali Harter with an older song she indicated she had recently dug out, “Anti-Political, Unpolitical Song.” Not only a gifted songwriter, Harter also designed this year’s logo and merch via her Pigs Fly Shop, and all her endeavors certainly deserve your attention. OKCs K.C. Clifford performed next, straight from her home’s staircase with a really great song that I believe to be titled, “Remember When.” I haven’t taken the opportunity to catch Clifford live yet, but now I certainly know I need to. You probably need to as well. Tell her I sent you. Robert Williams came next, with a nice sing-a-long on Woody’s “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” and was followed by the wonderful, Susan Herndon performing her take of the traditional, “This Train is Bound For Glory.” Need a pick-me-up? Williams and Herdon’s songs should do the trick. Following up on their duo performance on the opening night, Travis Fite and Monica Taylor returned with Fite on vocals for Woody’s “Dust Pneumonia Blues,” which has always been a personal favorite of mine from the vast Guthrie catalog. Great, fun version.
Also returning from Saturday’s show, was another song from Betty Soo. This time, a stunning rendition of her own “Henry & Me,” which just stopped me in my tracks and was one of my favorite songs of the festival. I’ll definitely be digging more into this gifted songwriter’s songs soon. With a perfect Terilingua backdrop, good ol’ Butch Hancock was back with well wishes, a bit of hope and a Flatlander’s cut, “One Road More.” Next, Nellie Clay served as our Okenah tour guide in a great production type clip accompanying a soundtrack of Clay performing Woody’s “Ranger’s Command.” Nellie’s choice of song while visiting the Crystal Theatre, the Pastures of Plenty stage and Guthrie’s homestead for the clip, was just exactly perfect. Jared Deck followed, with his soulful “Mountain Valley Road” that had me wishing for at least one more. Instead, Jaimee Harris was back with “On The Surface,” and a short tale detailing the travels that took her from Terilingua, to Okemah to Taos and Eliza Gilkyson’s home. Harris’ stripped down performances were a highlight throughout the festival, and this version was no different. Definitely take the time to listen. Joel Rafael also returned again, this time with a nice version of “Glory Bound,” followed by the sounds of the Red Dirt Rangers and “Strawberries and Watermelon.” Bristow, Oklahoma’s Cassie Latshaw next performed, what I think is titled, “Hide Away” with her friends Steven and Paul and gave me yet another Okie songwriter I really need to catch soon. Annie Guthrie was back with a new song, one she indicated was still being worked out, and well, she doesn’t really care if you have an opinion about it. Keep it to yourself friend. Right there, the spirit of the Guthrie family was perfectly represented, and despite her likely disregard for this writer’s opinion, it’s a damn fine song.
Gypsy Twang comprised of Sarah Barker Huhn, and Steve Huhn, as well as John Williams and Craig Skinner, added a beautiful version of Woody’s “Ramblin’ Round.” Next, Larry Spears’ “Puppeteer” and it’s Dylan-esque cadence, proceeded to blow me away. Just a great song, look it up. Leading us into the closing stretch, Ken Pomeroy presented her inspired tale of Dylan and Baez, titled, “Joan.” It’s been so much fun watching Pomeroy develop as a songwriter, and even when she covers a song, as she did next with “Deportees,” she unmistakably leaves her fingerprints all of it. I can’t recommend her Horton Records debut release, “Hallways” enough, so be sure to look it up. Jacob Tovar returned from his barn for Tom Skinner’s “Crystal,” while R.T. Valine, with birds accompanying delivered a timely take on “Wish This World (Would Settle Down), while his good boy, Wino, kept watch. In the Oklahoma music scene, I doubt there;s a more valuable asset than Kyle Reid. Besides fronting his own endeavors, Reid has played a part in countless local shows and recordings. Reid’s tent set last year with his Low Swinging Chariots was a highlight, and I always look forward to any opportunity to hear his contributions, which thankfully happens quite frequently here in the OKC area. For this year’s fest, Reid recorded a great original, “Dance Alone” and followed it up with Woody’s Hobo’s Lullaby.”
Throughout the pandemic, Carter Sampson has been right there, doing her part to help keep us sane, and maybe herself too. I’ve probably tuned into more Carter livestreams this year than anyone elses, and there’s a couple of reasons. First, she’s performed nearly 60 of her “Happy Hour w/Carter & Bubba,”, and second, each one has been outstanding. Along with her faithful, canine rescue, Bubba, Sampson provides great songs, stories, Shel Silverstein and well, hope. Hope that all this will someday end. Here, Sampson and Bubba perform a great version of “Queen of Oklahoma” and her more recent, “Rattlesnake Kate” from “Lucky” on Horton Records. Next, Peggy Johnson performed a pair of songs that always hit me hard, “One of the Ones” and “Dustbowl Lullaby.” I just discovered Johnson at last year’s fest, and I’m so glad I did. Closing in on the end, Michigan’s Chris Buhalis dropped in again with another brilliant song for the “Working People,” and introduced himself as a new favorite that I must become more familiar with. Any songwriter that can include a line about Bob Gibson’s fastball high and tight, is on to something. The great Greg Jacobs came up next from Greg Johnson’s Blue Door in Oklahoma City for a loving take on “Do Re Mi,” and a poignant version of his own, “Footprints” before our host Terry Ware wrapped up this years recorded performances for the year with the traditionally played Hoot for Huntington’s, sing-along take of Bob Childer’s “Woody’s Road.”
Like everything else in this crazy world right now, this year’s festival was different, and not quite what any of us wanted. Thankfully though, it did happen. I know I needed it, our community needed it and undoubtedly the performers needed it. Any sense of normalcy has to be grasped, and thank goodness the Woody Guthrie Coalition came through for us, because it really helped. Throughout the broadcasts, performer after performer mentioned how much they missed, and how much they look forward to actually sweating it out at the festival next year. Count me in. Next year’s Woody Guthrie Festival will hopefully return with live performances from Okemah on July 14th -18th. A huge thank you to all the 2020 festival artists, supporters, contributors, Friends of the Festival and Coalition members. The fact that together, all of these people were able to convey the sense of family and spirit over a livestream process, is nothing short of amazing. It really shows the depth of dedication and the love of the music that each one of these beautiful people possesses. I really missed seeing everyone this year, and eagerly look forward to the next time we can all get together. As always, an extra loud thank you to all the members of the Festival Board of Directors: President Randy Norman, Vice-President Gary Hart, Dana Gunn, Miranda Huff, Fred Ellert, Cheyenne Felker, Lindsey Flowers, Maddie Gregory, Roger Hostenbach, Roger Osburn, Dennis Whiteman and Guy Zahller, and lastly, of course, the Guthrie Family. Special people, each and every one.
The 2020 WoodyFest stream can still be viewed until the end of the month on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=woodyfest+2020 and the Coalition would definitely appreciate any support via donations and 2020 fest merchandise. All the information can be found here: https://www.woodyfest.com.