On the trail of Woody Guthrie

Traveling from Tulsa to a show in the Texas Panhandle town of Pampa, musician Arlo Guthrie — the son of folk music legend Woody Guthrie — made this observation to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times:

Speaking from the shotgun seat on his 1989 tour bus, Arlo said the passing scenes reinforced one of the many things he inherited from his father: a fundamental trust in the wisdom and common sense of working people.

“I love that when the government decided to put an end to Route 66, the people said no,” Guthrie told me as we cruised along Interstate 40 through the rolling countryside of the Sooner State that his father most famously lionized in his song “The Oklahoma Hills.”

“They put up their own signs that said ‘Historic Route 66’ or ‘Old Route 66.’ And it wasn’t just one person — it took a lot of people in these towns to raise the money to buy and put up those signs, so that now when folks come from all over to travel it, they can still find it.”

It seems appropriate for Arlo to talk about Route 66. The Mother Road is inextricably linked to his father’s Dust Bowl Ballads and his home state of Oklahoma.

It’s a big year for Arlo’s dad. The year 2012 marks the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth. Concerts commemorating Woody are scheduled from Oklahoma to California, including a wonderful tribute show I witnessed Saturday night in Tulsa. The show included Arlo, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hanson, Jimmy LaFave, Flaming Lips, Del McCoury Band, and Tim O’Brien. It even had  “Route 66: The Mother Road” author Michael Wallis reciting two Woody Guthrie poems.

More importantly, the entire Woody Guthrie Archives is being moved from New York state to his native Oklahoma. It will be housed in a building in Tulsa’s Brady District north of downtown by early 2013. I hold little doubt that Route 66ers and musicians alike will be making a pilgrimage to Tulsa to see it once it opens.

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