The concert — which includes performances by Ry Cooder, Tom Morello, Lucinda Williams and Old Crow Medicine Show, among others — marks the culmination of a year of concerts celebrating Guthrie’s life and musical legacy. The performances have roughly traced Guthrie’s footsteps from his beginnings in Oklahoma to Texas, California, Canada and New York.
The folk pioneer, who died in 1967 at age 55, never spent time in Washington, but Guthrie says that in light of her father’s strong social consciousness, the District in many ways provides a fitting place to conclude the tour. (The concert also kicks off the Kennedy Center’s Songs of Conscience initiative, a series of interactive events focusing on the role of civic action in the arts.)
Woody Guthrie’s influence on today’s folk singers is at once well documented and immeasurable.
Nora Guthrie recalls that when her father was sick with Huntington’s disease, Pete Seeger or a young Bob Dylan would come over to play his songs. Seeger’s banjo, she says, was the first she ever heard.
Guthrie, who was only 17 when her father died, cared for him during his illness. Now, she works to preserve his legacy, maintaining ties to his proteges and sharing the bounty of his work through the Woody Guthrie Archives.
“It meant a lot to him to know people were singing his songs,” his daughter says. “Everyone on this show, I have a story about. It’s real. Whatever it is, it’s going to be real.”
Here, five of the artists who will perform on Sunday share their thoughts about the legendary musician.
Daughter of country music icon Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash is a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and an author of three books.
There’s no denying his influence, and he’s part of the American consciousness, really. He’s bigger than himself and bigger than the songs at this point, [with his influence] spread through our cultural sense of ourselves. So it’s important to honor that and remember who we are, and Woody is part of who we are.
I remember my dad talking about Woody, playing Woody, so I would have heard “I Ain’t Got No Home” and “Pretty Boy Floyd” and of course “This Land Is Your Land.” He was a powerful influence on my dad, the rawness of it, the American face of it, how stark it was. He’s like Steinbeck. He’s quintessentially American, and he draws these portraits and creates these narratives that are like small pieces of cinema or a Walker Evans photograph, which is a pretty amazing thing, and then he backs it all up with his social consciousness. . . .