Monday, October 15, 2012

Sounds: This Land Is Your Land – A Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert @ The Kennedy Center

So. This happened over weekend:
This Land Is Your Land – A Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert at the Kennedy Center.

The night, start to finish, was pretty heart stirring.

The evening started out with a true to the word, hootenanny at the Millennium Stage out in the hallway. People brought their guitars (and maaaybe a tambourine. What.) and we all played and sang along to some of Woody’s best known tunes. The jam session was led by fantastic musicians, Tom Paxton, Noel Paul Stookey, Tim O’Brien, and Mark Schatz.  Woody Guthrie’s music is all about community; loving, helping, fighting for, those around you, and so being in the midst of all kinds of voices and people and instruments, all contributing to the music, added a whole new element to the music.  You can watch the performance on the Kennedy Center website.

Following the sing along was the main program held in the Concert Hall. Any day, night, or time in between  that begins with the fellas from Old Crow Medicine Show walking on the stage and ends with Rambling Jack Elliott, singing anything, anything! is destined to be something great, even with slight technical difficulties.

There were about 16 different combinations of musicians that came on and off that stage sharing stories and songs of the great Mr. Guthrie.  Ketch, from Old Crow  very accurately said, “We are all playing in one band tonight; Woody’s band.” We, the lucky audience, heard not only beloved favorites, but also “new” songs. Woody left behind a vast archive of unpublished lyrics. To help keep her father’s music, passion and causes alive, Nora Guthrie works with artists of all genres to put some of these previously “lost” lyrics to music.

Performers included*:
Jacksone Browne
Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal
Judy Collins
Ry Cooder and Dan Gellert
Ani DiFranco
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (singing The 1913 Massacre, which brought a majority of the audience to tears)
Jimmy LaFave
Del McCoury Band
John Mellencamp
Tom Morello
Old Crow Medicine Show
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Tony Trischka
Rob Wasserman
Lucindia Williams

*The actor Jeff Daniels read passages (quotes from Woody) between songs.
Arlo Guthrie was scheduled to also appear, but sadly his wife Jackie passed away. Nora Guthrie and other family members were in attendance.

To further break this down, I counted:
21 guitars
6 banjos
4 harmonicas
3 fiddles
3 mandolins
3 upright basses 
2 accordions
2 drums kits
I grand piano
And one tambourine.

But all these fun little lists cannot even break the surface of the power of the music. Many people when they think of Woody Guthrie think of “This Land Is Your Land,” a little song that we all learned in elementary school, probably for a dazzling school assembly.  But his songs, he wrote over 3,000 song lyrics, had, still have, so much gravity to them, so much power that can fuel the fires of change and goodness in this country. That maybe sound big and flowery, but Woody was never afraid to write and sing about the hard things in life, the wrongs of this country, because he loved it so. He wrote of the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, because he loved them. He knew that love is the most revolutionary word ever spoken.  I think that is why his music is still popular with artists and people old and young alike, and haunting appropriate for our day and age. We are still fighting those same social battles, we are still struggling with survival, we still need songs about the things that matter.

I think that is why the finale, with every single one of those musicians, and every single member of the sold out concert hall singing “This Land Is Your Land,” almost brought me to tears. This land is truly a place for all us, no matter how similar or different we are.

And I have to say, I loved the audience. My newest tip when going to concerts by myself is to find and make friends with the people who are  mostly  like to tell me stories about when they saw The Grateful Dead and/or The Rolling Stones  in the 1960’s.  I guess that is a very PC way to say that I love hanging out with older people at concerts. And at a Woody Guthrie show, this was not hard to do. The fine people I was sitting with were probably older than my mom (I am horrible with guessing ages), but could rival any Justin B.ieber fans with their excitement. It was adorable and inspiring all at the same time.  While chatting before the show, they mentioned to me that this music made them remember when they were revolutionary.  I loved that. I could tell that this music changed them and their lives.  I hope to be still be hooting and hollering at shows (even classy shows at the Kennedy Center), when my hair has turned white.

I have written and rewritten this little show review over and over again and still feel I haven't quite found  the right words to adequate salute arguable one the finest American song writers, so I will leave you with some of his own words:

“This is our country here as far as you can see. No matter which way you walk or no matter what spot of it you stand on, you will hear whole gangs of travelers and settlers arguing about her. What she is, how she come to be, what you are suppose to do here.
And you will hear some argue at you that she is so beautiful you are supposed to spend your life just feeling her pretty parts, sucking in her sweetest breezes and tasting her fairest odors, looking  at her brightest colored scenes.
And I would say that gang has the wrong notion.
And there are some bunches that tell you she is all ugly and all dirty, that there is nothing good about her, nothing clean, that she is all slums, shacks, rot, filth, stink and bad odors, loud words of bitter flavors.
Well, this herd is big, and I heard them often, and I heard them loud, but I come to think that they too was just wrong as the first outfit.
When you have crossed her as may times as I have you will see as many ugly things about her as pretty things. I looked in a million of her faces and eyes, and I told myself there was a look on that face that was good, if I could see it there—in back of all the shades and shadows of fear and doubt, and ignorance, and tangles of debts and worries. I guess it is these things that make our country look all lopsided, lopped over onto the good and easy side or over onto the bad and the hard side.
I seen the pretty and I seen the ugly. And it because I knew the pretty part that I wanted to change the ugly part. And because I hated the dirty part that I knew how to feel the love for the cleaner part.
                                                              ---Woody Guthrie

To find out more about Woody Guthrie, his music, his foundations or his archives visit:

1 comment :

  1. I've read this post three times and I think it is one of your best. The energy and zeal with which you write is transparent and heartfelt.

    And that Guthrie quote? Brilliant.