Woody Guthrie would've been 100 years old on July 14 of this year. Celebrations of the man who wrote "This Land Is Your Land," "Pastures of Plenty," "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You" and hundreds of other songs have been going on all around the country.
Knoxville will celebrate Guthrie's legacy tonight at the Laurel Theater with groups of musicians led by Knoxville's Jack Herranen and Maggie Longmire.
Herranen, Longmire, Greg Horne, Jeff Barbara and Sarah Pirkle, Sam Bo, Frank Bronson, John Colquitt and possibly other artists will present the songs and prose of Guthrie along with music in the spirit of Guthrie's life and work.
"I arrived at Woody Guthrie through Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and I hope to honor that," says Herranen. "Woody was such a porous and fluid figure it would be an injustice to solely focus on him. I think his spirit would be angry if that happened. I want this to be a collective connecting of the dots."
"The dots" would include Guthrie's work as an influence on other writers, as a social activist and a reporter from a side of America that is often forgotten or ignored.
Guthrie had himself come from a fairly well-to-do family in Okemah, Okla., but he became a champion of the working class, the poor and the dispossesed.
"He allowed himself to be a sponge and a lens," says Herranen. "He absorbed things through the color line, across borders and social boundries."
Although Guthrie himself had no Knoxville connection, Herranen points to "Haywire Mac" McClintock and Brownie McGhee as Knoxville-born or -raised artists who belong in Guthrie's circle of influence.
"Public memory is pretty threadbare when it comes to that connection to the working class," says Herranen. "What I'm personally aiming to do (at the concert) is celebrate Woody Guthrie's life, but also hold up to the light the importance of public memory."
Herranen says he doesn't want his part of the event to be overly serious or seem like some educational program. While a lot of young people don't recognize Guthrie's name, Herranen sees his influence continuing. In 1998, Wilco and Billy Bragg released the first of two albums of songs in which they'd written new music to Guthrie lyrics where the music had been lost.
"The Wilco and Billy Bragg project was a good historical bridge," says Herranen. "I see more of a sense of ownership or maybe a sense of belonging to this artistic legacy is some of these young folks. Some of them don't have that linkage, that understanding of history, but it still flows through them. They'll connect it up eventually."
Woody Guthrie Tribute: History Songs
With: Jack Herranen, Maggie Longmire and friends
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Laurel Theater, 1538 Laurel Ave.
Admission: $12, $6 for children under 12
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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