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23 Years Later, WoodyFest celebrates virtually for the first time

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The 2020 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival was celebrated virtually on July 14, 18 and 19. The festival was free of charge on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Roku.

The Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, also known as WoodyFest, traditionally takes place in Woody’s hometown of Okemah, OK. Randy Norman, the president of the Woody Guthrie Coalition, started out the festival with a message each day. 

“The coalition made the hardest decision we have ever had to make this year by going to an online festival.” Norman said. “We felt like it was the only way we could ensure the safety of our artists, our fans and our community.” 

Artists anywhere from northern Michigan to southern Texas joined the lineup to celebrate the legacy of Woody Guthrie. 

Each day had a set lineup of musicians that flowed one to the next. From bedrooms, backyards, patios and porches, the scenery was ever changing and never grew old. Each artist had a story and a stance, whether they took time to speak or went straight into the story of song. 

The start of the festival took place on Woody’s birthday, July 14. Guthrie would have been 108 this year. 

Hosted by Woody’s granddaughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie,  Two and a half hours of music was played on the first night. Artists such as Ellis Paul, David Amram, Miss Brown to You, Cole Quest & The City Pickers and many others performed.

Sarah Lee Guthrie opened the festival with her rendition of Woody’s song “Dust Bowl Refugee," the lyrics were altered and played as “COVID Refugee."

On July 18 from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., panels and workshops were held. Other than a songwriting workshop, the other online events were free of charge. 

Something to Say: Making Music That Matters presented by Oklahoma Humanities was moderated by Barry Ollman and featured panelists Louie Pérez, Mary Gauthier and Dr. Sunu Kodumthara. 

The panel had an active conversation in regards to folk music and political, cultural and social matters. Mary Gauthier shared words during the panel about the power of song.

“A song can open a heart, a heart can open a mind, and when a mind opens,” Gauthier said. “Different possibilities for connection are given an opportunity and if that happens at large enough scale, one heart, one mind at a time, we change things.” 

This panel set the tone for the evening. The festival lineup began after the discussion panel ended. Music was played and enjoyed from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Day two was hosted by Jaimee Harris. Artists continued to play and voice political matters and their urgency. The lineup for July 18 included BettySoo, Graham Nash, Crys Matthews, Jacob Tovar, Brennen Leigh, Raye Zaragoza, Jason Mraz and many others. 

On July 19 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the final day of WoodyFest took place. Artists such as Terry ‘Buffalo’ Ware, Ali Harter, Annie Guthrie, RT Valine, Peggy Johnson and many others performed.

While the town of Okemah, OK is not full of musicians this year, the legacy of Woody Guthrie is alive and well. The individuality and passion each artist had driven from Guthrie was apparent.

The three days of music was made possible by the Woody Guthrie Coalition, event sponsors and musical artists.

For more information on the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival and the complete lineups, check out