Friday, February 22, 2008

Way down yonder in the Indian nation

By Jimmy Carlisle

With festival season looming, in a matter of months it will be time to make the annual pilgrimage back to those Oklahoma hills where Mr. Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born. But to you and me, he’s just plain old Woody.

This year's event runs July 9-13 in Okemah OK. I have been attending the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival since its first year in 1997. It was of course smaller 11 years ago, but the spirit has grown along with the attendance. The festival has grown into a homecoming for both the artists and the fans. A handful of artists are festival regulars. Jimmy Lafave, Ellis Paul, Joel Rafael, the Red Dirt Rangers, Don Conoscenti and Bob Childers have appeared at every festival.

This year's preliminary lineup includes all those plus John Gorka, Sara Hickman, Butch Hancock and more. Over the years, performers such as The Kingston Trio, Country Joe McDonald, Jackson Brown, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Pete Seeger as have come through the hallowed streets of Okemah Oklahoma. The list goes on and on. And it only takes playing in Okemah once to become a member of the Woodyfest family.

From the first year with the only performance venue being out at the Pastures of Plenty, it has grown to the point where the hardest decision you have is not who to see, but how are you going to see as many artist as you possibly can each day. Of course, you have to start your day off at the Brick Street Café, but then your choices get harder.

You have the option of staying at the Brick and enjoying great performers right there, or you walk out the front door and turn left and go next door to the Rocky Road Tavern and enjoy some great open mic sets the are presented by the Oklahoma Songwriters and Composers Association. Or you walk the few blocks to the Crystal Theater, considered the second main venue of the festival, to take in another stage of festival greats.

Mixed in with those decisions are the ones that involve the Children's Festival on Saturday morning, or finding the time to explore town and see where Woody left his marks in the cement on main street, or walking down to the Hot and Cold Water towers, and finding time to pay your respects out at the cemetery on the hill overlooking the town of Okemah.

This is a festival that demands a full five days of your time. And when Sunday afternoon rolls around and you realize its 2 o’clock and the hootenanny at the Crystal is over and its time to hit the road and head home, you will think to yourself, "do we have to go?" and "how long is it till next year’s festival?" That’s when you realize that your have become part of the Woodyfest family.

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