20th Annual Tribute to Woody Guthrie
7 p.m. Sunday
The Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley
Greg Johnson said, "The Blue Door is a pretty sacred spot for Woody Guthrie songs."
He should know. As co-owner of The Blue Door, he's been hosting tribute shows to Guthrie since 1994. The series started in 1991, in his former home in Austin, Texas, making Sunday's show the 20th annual event.
"Nobody we know of has been doing Woody Guthrie shows as long as I have," he said.
Not even the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, which started in 1998, has been running as long. Singer/songwriter Kevin Welch remembers the days before the festival.
"Okemah wouldn't even acknowledge Woody Guthrie. He was thought of as a socialist, a communist and all this stuff. They had no interest in Woody at all," Welch said, before crediting a few men in changing that perception. "Between Greg Johnson and Jimmy LaFave, those two guys have been a real force in bringing recognition to Woody's life and work."
Michael Fracasso, a singer/songwriter who has also been associated with the shows since their inception, agreed that Johnson's ongoing work sheds new light on the folksinger.
"People might hear him on some scratchy record, and they might not think much of him. But they hear it live, sung by someone contemporary, and they might get it more," Fracasso said.
And "it" is important to "get."
"It's healthy " a generational awareness of what he wrote and what he fought for," said Welch.
Johnson agreed, citing the work's continuing relevance.
"His lyrics talked about people coming together. He was looking after the next guy," Johnson said. "I don't think he'd be too happy with the way things are going in this country. If he were alive today, he'd be writing songs about how the economy is great for the richest 10 percent but it's tough for the other 90 percent."
Fracasso extends the scope of the idea from now to all time.
"His words "¦ embody so much of what this country is," Fracasso said. "It's part of our culture."
Both Fracasso and Welch will perform at Sunday's show, along with a gaggle of other Woody enthusiasts, including John Fullbright, Red Dirt Rangers, K.C. Clifford, Travis Linville and Tom Skinner. With more than 20 artists in all, don't expect full sets from each.
Each artist will perform two or three Guthrie songs, often with fellow musicians sitting in. Once their time is up, they pass the microphone to the next artist. The finale consists of all of them piling onstage for Bob Childers' "Woody's Road" and Guthrie's own "This Land Is Your Land."
Johnson said the artist community is one of the annual event's best aspects.
"Now it's a little church gathering. A lot of people who don't get to see each other all year come," Johnson said. "It's a real important thing to keep this tradition going."
Johnson does, every year.
"It shines a light on that very important work that Woody did," Welch said. "Stephen Carradini