“It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people.”
Still basking in the post concert glow from the previous day’s schedule, I hit the interstate earlier than initially planned and rolled back into Okemah specifically to see My Politic perform their noon set on the Crystal Theatre stage. If you read my recap of Friday ( Show Review: WoodyFest 2023 pt 1 ) you’ll remember how impressed I ‘d been by their shared set with Joel Rafael. I’d thought I would be starting my Saturday with Jaimee Harris‘ 1pm set but that certainly changed, and I’m glad it did. I felt like I got a much more well rounded look at My Politic, and I feel like I was spot on in my assessment based on the little bit I had seen the previous day. So, again, please accept my whole-hearted endorsement of this very talented duo. I’m looking forward to digging into and down the rabbit hole on these guys. Jaimee Harris followed, and though I only caught about half of her set, I was once again reminded of what a force of nature Ms. Harris is. That voice, that guitar, and most importantly, those songs. Harris’ first year performing at WoodyFest was also my first year attending, so there’s a kind of connection to that, and I’ve enjoyed how it’s evolved.
Regrettably though, I ducked out earlier than I would have liked so I could nab a seat to catch Serena Guthrie’s set down the street at the Bound For Glory Stage. I just barely found one following the Folk Swingers set featuring Annie Guthrie, Ben Jones and Don Conoscenti. There certainly was a buzz in the air about Guthrie’s appearances, and seating space was pretty limited each time. Much more than when I’d first caught her Rocky Road Tavern performance two years prior. Since then, Guthrie has been honing her craft down in Austin, and it was readily apparent. Her performance this year showed much more confidence than my first time seeing her, and when talking about my festival highlights, both of her performances are obvious top contenders. During her introduction of Guthrie, the “Cadillac Cowgirl” herself, Nancy Apple expressed her disbelief that Guthrie still hasn’t signed a record deal, even offering to record her herself. What a collaboration that would be, and perhaps something to keep an eye out for.
Carter Sampson took the stage next, likely still feeling the effects of jet lag. Sampson had literally just returned form a month long tour with Amelia White all across Europe. Sampson’s one of my absolute favorite Oklahoma songwriters, and someone I’ve seen perform more times than I can remember. It’s always a treat, and this was my first chance to hear live versions of songs from her recent Horton Records release, Gold. I also love the fact that Sampson was the first artist I heard to point out the fact that WoodyFest has gone to great lengths to book as many women performers as men performers. As Carter said, you just don’t see that happening at many other festivals.
I made it back over to the Crystal to catch multi-instrumentalist and Carolina Chocolate Drops alum, Hubby Jenkins’s musical history lesson, before backtracking down the street once again to see Pat Byrne wrap up his set, only to turn around and head back to the Crystal to watch Smokey & The Mirror (joined by Terry ‘Buffalo’ Ware on guitar). At this point I took advantage of the air conditioning for just a bit to really take in and enjoy Kyshona’s set before heading back over to the Bound For Glory stage’s final sets of the festival, catching the last of Kyle Reid’s set followed by Nancy Apple introducing Cassie Latsaw’s high energy shenanigans. The day’s final set at the Crystal was another with an anticipatory pre-show buzz, as festival goers filtered in to catch the infamous duo of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson, know worldwide as Folk Uke. Delightfully obscene, and shamelessly tongue in cheek, Guthrie and Nelson were another performance that I had been really looking forward to, despite their self penned bio’s insistence that they’re ‘notoriously hit or miss’. I’m happy to report this one was kind of definitely more of a ‘hit”. Seriously, Folk Uke is so much fun to see. Perfect balance of comedic and clever, songwriting brilliance. Well done ladies. Thank you for another festival highlight.
After having the previous evening’s performance moved indoors due to inclement weather, it felt really good to step into the Pastures of Plenty again, and what a delight it was to catch Melissa Carper’s festival debut. Carper’s sound is steeped in an eclectic mix of folk, country, blues, jazz and more. I loved it, and it was awesome to discover yet another new-to-me artist at WoodyFest. That wasn’t the case for the next songwriter taking the stage, and in fact I’d probably have needed to hand in my Texas birthright if I hadn’t already known about Willis Alan Ramsey. When the festival line-up was announced, Ramsey’s name immediately jumped out for me, and was one of the artists I was most excited to see. Backed by members of Uncle Lucius as well as Jared Tyler, Ramsey soared through his impressive songbook and easily notched a place in my memory bank of favorite festival memories. Following Ramsey’s set there I was once again, wondering how anything could top what I’d just seen. Silly me, I forgot about John Fullbright.
I’ve been fortunate to see John Fullbright perform quite a few times. I’ve seen him solo, and with a band, but absolutely nothing has compared to seeing the two times I’ve seen him on the Partures of Plenty stage. This time, playing with a full band including Jesse Aycock, Fullbright simply blew me away. I was probably smiling ear to ear the whole time. It was an incredible experience watching him lead the band through just an amazing performance. It was pure magic that I didn’t want to end. As Fullbright’s set came to a close, many of the earlier performers fill the stage for the closing finale of Woody’s “This Land Is Your Land.” This has always been one of my favorite parts of the festival, and tonight was no exception. Such an important song in the American songbook, one that pretty much everyone recognizes, even if they don’t know Guthrie. Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead once explained the phenomenon of their song, “Dark Star,” saying the song was an energy out there, always playing somewhere in the universe that they occasionally tapped into. At that moment, watching Butch Hancock take the first verse, that’s how I envisioned “This Land Is Your Land.” In fact Woody even kind of seemed to touch on it himself once saying, “One day we’ll all find out that all of our songs was just little notes in a great big song!” Or maybe it was just that edible I got handed. Either way it was still pretty darn cool.
It was good to be back at WoodyFest this year. Regardless of whatever bad news is going on around around the world or me at the time, I always leave WoodyFest happy and with a little more hope towards everything than I had before it started. As always, the Coalition did an amazing job keeping everything running smoothly and I can’t thank them enough for the hospitality they always provide to me and Americana Highways. “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple” is what Woody once said, and I guess that pretty sums it up. The Woody Guthrie Festival is the best fest out there, and I’ll stand on Kerrville’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say it. Seriously folks, WoodyFest is one of the best little festivals that somehow flies under the radar. Great inclusive line-ups that balance the tradition and the contemporary, and as I’ve said before, there’s a family feel about it, and an unconcealed excitement that even bigger and better things are on the horizon.
I always leave WoodyFest excited for next year. When will those line-up be announced again?
The 27th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival will return in 2024 right around Woody’s birthday.
Hope to see you in Okemah!
Keep up with WoodyFest here: https://www.woodyfest.com