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Okemah this weekend :) Woody Guthrie festival

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j0_77 15 Jul 99 - 08:10 PM
WyoWoman 15 Jul 99 - 10:35 PM
Liam's Brother 15 Jul 99 - 11:54 PM
catspaw49 16 Jul 99 - 12:12 AM
16 Jul 99 - 01:26 AM
folk1234 16 Jul 99 - 09:56 AM
16 Jul 99 - 12:53 PM
Mudjack 16 Jul 99 - 03:44 PM
folk1234 16 Jul 99 - 05:33 PM
Sourdough 17 Jul 99 - 02:19 AM
WyoWoman 17 Jul 99 - 01:04 PM
j0_77 17 Jul 99 - 01:07 PM
Art Thieme 17 Jul 99 - 03:46 PM
Art Thieme 17 Jul 99 - 03:48 PM
The Shambles 17 Jul 99 - 05:30 PM
Sourdough 18 Jul 99 - 01:10 PM
Art Thieme 18 Jul 99 - 01:44 PM
Peter T. 18 Jul 99 - 03:11 PM
WyoWoman 18 Jul 99 - 03:26 PM
j0_77 19 Jul 99 - 04:15 AM
Sourdough 19 Jul 99 - 04:23 AM
Peter T. 19 Jul 99 - 11:22 AM
Art Thieme 19 Jul 99 - 11:42 AM
Peter T. 19 Jul 99 - 11:47 AM
WyoWoman 19 Jul 99 - 11:51 PM 20 Jul 99 - 01:18 AM
j0_77 20 Jul 99 - 01:46 AM
GUEST,terry 13 Jul 03 - 10:41 AM
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Subject: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: j0_77
Date: 15 Jul 99 - 08:10 PM

I live in Ok and there is a Woody Folk festival this weekend in Okemah OK :) It is located off of the Interstrate east of Oklahoma City. I ain't been dowm there yet - still yet some work to do :( But I will be there tomorrow - Far as I know it is on today Also believe Arlo is playing there.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: WyoWoman
Date: 15 Jul 99 - 10:35 PM

Where in Okla? I grew up there. In Lindsay, and all my family 'cept me and my kids, lives in OKC and Moore now.


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Liam's Brother
Date: 15 Jul 99 - 11:54 PM

In Okemah, OK. OK?

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: catspaw49
Date: 16 Jul 99 - 12:12 AM

I mentioned this in the "Happy Birthday Woody" thread. It's the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival in Okemah, his birthplace, and yes Arlo will be there.


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
Date: 16 Jul 99 - 01:26 AM

Okemah is a little town on US Interstate 40 about an hour east of Oklahoma City. One of Woody's lyrics from yonks ago ran 'Oh ya can't scare me I'm stickin to the Union ....etc Is it relevant today?

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: folk1234
Date: 16 Jul 99 - 09:56 AM

Jo-77, I'll be there on Sat 7/17. I'll be wearing my Mudcat T-shirt. We must be neighbors - I live in Ada, only 65 miles South of Okemah. Are you familiar with the OKC Traditional Music Assn? Check us out at "" and visit us on 7 Aug at our next meeting. Our Annual Benefit Concert is in Edmond on 27 Aug. Wyo Woman, I hope your relatives were unscathed by The Tornado. Please look us up if you get down this way.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
Date: 16 Jul 99 - 12:53 PM

We sure is - I am from Stillwater Oklahoma (not Montana) here is the website for the Woody Free Festival You'll easily recognize me - an ole guy with a beaten up Gibson and some odd looking stuff for sale(Vega 1900 banjar=err good sub for Viagra hehe and a Hohner 1923 Melodian) plus if I get started playin there will be a crowd of pple trying to lynch me LOL Boing Twang - Boing splat

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Mudjack
Date: 16 Jul 99 - 03:44 PM

Times, they have changed.My family amd I vacationed in 1978 and traveled the USA from sea to sea. Our travels included Salisaw OK where my paternal ancestry lived. On the way I noted a town called Okemah and asked everyone if they wanted to stop and look aroud Okemah. There was not one indication in those years that WW Guthrie ever exsisted. Years later after some TV specials and notable folks with national notariety made a scene, They got around to recognizing our folkie founding father. I remember seeing an Arlo hosted program where some locals did'nt even know who he was, and the one's who knew who he was did'nt want to know about the PINKO.But it's comforting to know the water tank in town now bares his name. I wish I could be there for the occasion.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: folk1234
Date: 16 Jul 99 - 05:33 PM

I'll be huntin' fer ya old j0_77. Im not to young no more myselve, I rekon I don'tn play me gwitar no good no more neither, got nuttin' ta sell, 'ceptin' a pot, an I used ta live in Stillwater (actually 6 mi NE in one a dem der under-d-ground houzes).

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Sourdough
Date: 17 Jul 99 - 02:19 AM

I've been reading this Okemah thread with interest because things have obviously changed a great deal there since 1969 when I made my first visit. At that time, just as Mudjack says, the town barely acknowledged his existence. Now there is a festival honoring him. This may be more than anyone really wants to know about Okemah twenty-five years ago but my fingers have taken over into the thread this goes: In the early 1970's, in July, I was on my motorcycle heading from Boston to San Francisco. I hadn't planned on stopping in Okemah, in fact, I didn't know that I-40 passed by it until I saw the silver water tower from the highway. There was nothing special about the water tower.

It didn't say "Okemah, Home of America's Balladeer" or even "Home of Woody Guthrie". There were just the matter-of-fact black, block letters, O-K-E-M-A-H and I had recently read Woody Guthrie's autobiography so I recognized the name.

I pulled off at the exit and a few moments later I was the main street of a small western town, double-wide and edged with two and three story buildings that seemed to have been built four of five decades earlier. My memory may be playing tricks but I seem to recall that most of them were made from a gray, roughhewn stone. That may have been the only the banks since it was the bankers who built the most substantial buildings in town like this. Of course, that comes as no surprise to anyone who reads or sings the poetry of Woody Guthrie.

I drove up and down Main Street not knowing what I was looking for but pretty sure I'd recognize it when I saw it. Maybe there'd be a Woody Guthrie museum or even a local history museum. Unfortunately, the most promising thing I saw was a restaurant but that wouldn't open for another half hour. I was reluctant to leave without opening myself up to the possibility of some sort of experience in Okemah so I decided to have lunch there and in the meantime to go to a dry goods store I seen down the street. I figured on getting myself a souvenir, a white Western shirt with mother of pearl snaps, to remind me of my visit to Okemah. After I'd found enough space in my overstuffed saddlebags to stow my prized purchase, I headed back to the Okemah Cafe. That turned out to be the best decision I made in Okemah.

While looking at the menu I struck up a conversation with an older couple at the next table and asked them about the Poke Salad that was being offered. Mr. and Mrs. Dill were more than happy to answer to tell e that it was made from a common wild plant and that it was a local favorite. On the slender thread of his first contact we built a conversation that lasted most of the day and took us from the Okemah Cafe to their home.

Mr. and Mrs Dill had spent all of their seventy plus years in Okemah. His father had come to the Indian Territory long before statehood. Although he wasn't clear on details a to just how it happened, he told me how his father had arrived in Okemah at the age of fourteen and not long after that had founded a successful bank. When I asked how it was possible for such a young person to organize a bank, he could only answer, "Everybody seems to have trusted him a lot."

One story I remember Mr. Dill telling about his growing up in Okemah was about Indians. Even though it was officially "Indian Territory", Indians were not universally welcomed. According to him, though, they were welcome at least once a year on his family's ranch where several bands would gather by a small lake, what we would call a pond in New England, for a fish fry. As a young boy, Mr. Dill used to go down to the Indian campsite to watch. He remembered how the Indians would dig up snakeweed, a plant with long, tapering roots that they would wrap it around logs brought to the water's edge for that purpose. When they were ready, the men would heft the logs out into the water where they would float, held in place by other men standing in the lake up to their chests. These men had clubs which they used to beat the snakeroot, releasing some substance into the water. After a while, fish would struggle to the surface, paralyzed by the compound in the snakeroot. The fish were collected and a feast was prepared, a giant fish-fry. Dancing, singing, and eating went on for several days before the Indians picked up their campsite and dispersed throughout the territory. Mr. Dill told me that he felt as though he had been given the opportunity to look at something that had been going on for hundreds of years and perhaps much, much longer. It was with real regret that he told me as far as he knew, there had been no such gatherings for nearly fifty years.

The Dills had a real sense of history that grew out of a family tradition that went back several centuries before the Indian Territory. The name Dill, they explained using a piece of paper to illustrate, was a mistranscription of the true family name which had been spelled Durer. Somehow, according to the tellers of the tale, the umlauts that had once crowned the U, and the two "R"s, had been rolled up into a pair of "L"s. This old rancher and his wife took as much pride in their Germanic artistic heritage as they did for having made a life for themselves in this difficult place during a difficult time.

I wanted to talk about the Depression and about Woody Guthrie so when the inevitable question, "What are you doing in Okemah?" came up, I used that opportunity to bring up Woodrow Wilson Guthrie and his family.

Not surprisingly, the Dills remembered the family and they remembered Woody in particular. I'm really disappointed that I can't recall much of what they said about them but I do remember what they told me when I asked why there was no mention of him in the town, no monument, nothing on the water tower, no museum, as far as I could see, nothing at all. The Dills knew why.

Word started to come back to this town about Woody beginning to achieve some measure of fame through his radio programs at first and then as a songwriter chosen by their hero, Franklin Roosevelt to celebrate the great depression busting projects on the Columbia River at Bonneville and Grand Coulee. However, Woody was remembered as a difficult kid who didn't follow the rules. How could parents hold up such a "troublemaker" as a model for their own children? So most people in Okemah just ignored him.

The Dills didn't tell me this but I would guess that as Woody Guthrie's fame became associated with labor organizing, socialism and communism, the people of Okemah felt even further distanced from him.

Mr. Dill told me that people had occasionally come to Okemah to visit Woody Guthrie''s monument. It turned out that there is a monument to him in Okemah, it's in the cemetery. He's not buried there but a stone memorial in the style of a cemetery marker is there. The legend on the marker is, "Bound For Glory".

Following the Dills' directions I found the Guthrie house. It looked as though it had been abandoned for a long while. The glass had been gone from the windows so long that it was hard to even find broken pieces on the weathered flooring. Trees were growing up through the porch. There was no fence and no door so I went inside across the small front yard and, a little worried that I might fall through the rotting floor which was open to the weather. I tried to imagine where Woody's bedroom would have been. I tried to picture him as an eight year old looking through that window at the stars and trying to understand "infinite", "forever" and "God". I imagined him listening to a railroad whistle as he tried to look into his future and all the places he was determined to go someday.

My motorcycle was parked on the street in front of the overgrown lot but before I left I took a harmonica from a saddlebag and very quietly played "So Long, It's been Good to Know You". Then I drove slowly out of town to the Interstate.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: WyoWoman
Date: 17 Jul 99 - 01:04 PM

Sourdough-- Yes, having grown up in Oklahoma, I can attest to so much of what you said. Our native sons are only sources of pride if 1.) they aren't actually *native* and 2.) they've become famous by behaving themselves.

In my community, there were many, many dark-skineed, brown-eyed kids, sons and daughters of ranchers, and they looked darned Indian to anyone who knew. However, none would admit to it -- it simply wasn't done. Years after I left there, I worked for the state historical society and upon reading about my valley, I became more and more convinced that the ranchers whose land had been in the family "for generations" had pretty much decended from those men who'd come into the territory early on and gotten their land by marrying into the Choctaw tribe that was there.

A personal sidelight to this -- I only discovered about three years ago that when my father and his siblings were young, they were teased about being "half-breeds." I've always known that I had some Indian blood. My father looked so much like Will Rogers, they could have been brothers (Rogers was 1/2 Cherokee). But now, my sisters and I suspect that my dad was probably at least 1/4 Cherokee or Choctaw. But the people who can actually tell us are dead and gone now.

It doesn't really matter, but it would be so good to know. (I mean, I'm probably less Indian than Irish, and I don't consider myself anything but an American mutt. But it would be an interesting piece of the puzzle...)

And, Folk1234, yes, my family was unscathed by the tornado, but I was talking on the phone to my mom and sis in OKC as my sis was talking on her other phone to my neice in Moore as she and her two little boys hid in the closet while that monster roared overhead. It was simply amazing and one of the scariest things I've encountered. The twister completely tore up the world about six blocks from my niece's house, but didn't even remove a shingle off their rooftop.

Sourdough, I hope you're writing your stories down. You've got a definite Kerouac thing going here...


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: j0_77
Date: 17 Jul 99 - 01:07 PM

Weelll if it had been Elvis the place would be a national monument - I have been to Memphis Tenn :) And I do like Elvis. What Woody was and is - something really special - he somehow, and I don't believe he planned it, encapsulates all that is good and wholesome from the midwestern culture. As to the City of Okemah - I went there in the early '80's and there was a little lot with grass, bench, statue of Woody and a mural. At the time being brought there by some very special people as a suprise - I commented to some of the local store keepers that I thought Oklahomans were not aware of Woody's international fame nor were they aware of how many people liked him as much for his singin and pickin as the politics he was supposed to have.

The city today is all spruced up for the festival and they have made a big community effort to make this festival a succcess. I bought a copy of The Okehmah News Leader at Hearns Store and the front page is entirely given over to Woody including a letter he sent to the paper in the 1940's.

My impression of the festival - friday evening - excellent. Brandon Jenkins ****** lots of em :) real folk and original. I missed a couple of entertainers so forgive omissions :) Jimmy LaFave - smoeone has to bring home the bacon -This band does it for me. Very entertaining and a great sound I would go just to see em do their own show. One entertainer was called John Wesley Hardin. He came, he said from Hastings East Sussex England. I ought to know something about that as I did my University time at the U of Sussex. Also from that fair town Spike Milligan - writer, comedian, nut, for those into British humor especially Monty Python. John did some Nick Jones stuff - kinda weird for me as I met Nick way back and heard him live many times - but without that driving Nick guitar it kinda sounded jammie. But then again none of the audience knew so they reacted well. After some 'blood n gore' songs - popular at English folk Clubs- I kinda wanted to say to John we see enough of that on the news here. Back to the humor - if I had to give a quick description - John W Hardin is like a Monty Python person being a folk singer. The gem in John's set was his talkin blues complete with 30's 40's cross pickin acc. Sounded very Woodyish to me :)

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Jul 99 - 03:46 PM

On May 21, 1986 I wrote this letter to Jerry Rasmussen---composer/author of the fine song "A HANDFUL OF SONGS" and many others:

Dear Jerry,

It's been a wondrous and strange few weeks since I last wrote...First, let me say that I just had a very nice short (12 day) Western tour that involved a concert in St. Louis, a concert in Oklahoma city and a festival in Tulsa---a Woody Guthrie Tribute tribute concert as part of the city celebration called Mayfest in downtown Tulsa. The festival was strange--to say the least. We (Michael Cooney, Sally Rogers, Fred Small, Jack Elliot, Kate Wolf, Steve Cormier, Allen Damron me and several others) were brought in for the bash. It was right Downtown on a large plaza and, also, inside several storefronts. The main stage was over a waterfall and at least we got 'em to turn off the water so the noise wouldn't drown us out. But the closest audience was 60 yards away---not a terribly intimate situation. And Woody's music needs an intimate situation---or at least an acceptable situation. Still, it's nice (I guess) that his home state is doing something to remember him.

On my way west I had a day before Oklahoma City and I went to Woody's home town, Okemah, wandering around, meeting folks and asking 'em about Woody. They were very open and made no secret about the fact that there are some very mixed emotions about him. Some think it's nice that a famous guy is from their town; others want to use his name to draw tourist bucks to their area. Still others call hime a "commie" and a "red" and seem to want to forget him.---They seem to resent any attempt to memorialize Woody. Somehow, his name got printed on one of the 3 town water tanks. One of them says, "HOT"---one says "COLD"---and the 3rd one says, "HOME OF WOODY GUTHRIE"! This recognition is just about the only recognition of him in the whole town---a still dusty and over-the-hill place. There is an oil painting someone did of the house that Woody & family lived in and that picture is hidden in a corner of the town historical society. But folks will talk all day about Woody. I met several that had gone to school with him. The house (one of several that the family lived in but the only one pinpointed as a one-time Woody residence) is now torn down. There was a big hassle over whether to save it or not. One person told me it was demolished because the town kids were going inside to smoke & do ther stuff since it was so close to the highschool. It was stucturally unsound too--so it was torn down. This happened while others were trying to have it saved. Another person told me that in the 70's STRANGE TYPES were coming into town and sleeping there overnight to pick up vibes left over from the Guthrie days. These Woody worshipers (not unlike myself 'cause I had migrated there to pick up stray information too) wrote "wierd poems" on the walls about Woody and what his music meant to them. Jeez, I wish I'd been able to see some of that graffiti. I bet we'd even know some of the signatures. To make a long story a bit shorter, all that was left of the house was a hole in the ground in the middle of a debris-strewn lot that'd been vacant for some time. It was amazing just the same to stand down there in the basement of the place and feel "vibes" based mostly on what I knew of Woody and not from any actual ghostly situation. The piece of sandstone you'll find in this box is a chunk of the Guthrie house's foundation.

(I just had to go and pick up Chris at a friends & my train o' thought was broken. Let's see; where was I?)

So---------that rock is from Woody's old house...
I was told by a grand fellow who had been in school with Woody that the town mayor was a big fan of Woody's and that I should go over to his place of business and talk to him. So I went over to the office supply store where Mayor Bobby Massey had his office when he wasn't selling paper clips. Had a great talk! He was all for a big Woody memorial in town that'd draw tourists. He'd even had feed caps made that said, OKEMAH, OKLAHOMA---HOME OF WOODY GUTHRIE" and pictures of the 3 watertanks.

The one with "HOME OF WOODY GUTHRIE" is featured prominently---naturally. I bought a few!

Then I went to a rib joint run by a black family and met June Neal! Her husband, Roscoe, was a country fiddler and ran the town TV repair shop. She said she'd love to sit and pick a bit. So I went over and met Roscoe and we had a fine chat and swapped some songs. June phoned and said there were some women over at her resale shop that would love to sing some. So Roscoe and I jumped into his pickup truck with our instruments and within ten minutes we were all singing in the back of June's shop. Jerry, Woody would've loved it (no pun intended). There were 3 Afro-American sisters from the Pentacostal church there as well as several whites from the Baptist church. (June & Roscoe are white.) When I had to reluctantly hit the road to make my gig on time, they all decided I needed a prayer to keep me safe. (Could be?!?!) I stood in the middle of their circle as they did that. Since all the prayers were said simultaneously, and all said their own prayers, it was hard to hear what exactly was being said. All I can say, Jerry, is that I was truly moved by the openness and friendship these good people gave to a total stranger. It was one of the more amazing days of my life! And the concert in Oklahoma City went nicely too. This life is pretty fantastic!

I took a roll of slides in Okemah and would like to use 'em during the show when Freddy Holstein, Jim Craig and I do our annual Woody G. birthday-tribute night at Holstein's club in Chicago. There's even a shot of Mayor Bobby Massey wearing one of the hats. (I'm sending a brick from Woody's house to Charlie Maguire in Minneapolis.)

Love to you and the boys,

Art Thieme

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Jul 99 - 03:48 PM

June Neal grew up in Arkansas and Jimmy Driftwood was her English teacher.


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: The Shambles
Date: 17 Jul 99 - 05:30 PM

Great stuff all.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Sourdough
Date: 18 Jul 99 - 01:10 PM

What a terrific thread. Jo_77 and Art Thieme - I really appreciate the chance to find out what's been happening in Okemah. WyoWoman:

Thanks for the Kerouacian allusion. You all at MudCat are my excuse for writing these stories down. I have written many of them but these on MudCat are ones that I haven't taken the time to think through before. Since they had a slender thread connecting them to the music I felt like sharing them with people who might find them interesting. I know they are long but I figure that people can skip over them if they're not interested. I certainly don't mean to hog bandwidth. Ultimately, these stories will be something I'll leave for my boys. My mother wrote poetry and, out of her entire seventy eight years, what endures with the most sense of her personality and presence is a small collection of about fifty poems that she wrote starting at age eight and continuing through her entire life.

I'm astounded by the depth of experience and knowledge available here. As I get more familiar with the site, I am starting to form personality pictures of some of the contributors and am learning to identify threads that I want to follow. There is so much going on here that selectivity is clearly in order. There is the great luxury of selecting by interest. There is so much quality stuff here that keeping up with it all is impossible so I am forcing myself just to pick threads that look particularly interesting. MudCat has muscled its way into my schedule, shouldering out I'm not sure what yet, to make room for these excursions along those threads that are deeply a part of my life, too.

You also mentioned Will Rogers. (Of course, I never met him but I would have liked him! ;-). However, one late morning on the Navajo reservation, just south of Kayenta, AZ, I got caught in a hailstorm (Yes, this is going to get to Will Rogers. You'll just have to wait to see how it happens.) I'd spent a chilly night sleeping out in the desert near where a hundred years before the Navajos had once had peach orchards. At that time, Kit Carson had come through and destroyed them in an attempt to break the power of the Navajo by destroying their food sources. Knowing the history of the land I was sleeping on probably made my sleep a little less than restful and I was up just as the sky lightened over the Sacred Mountains. I couldn't see the sun because it was seriously overcast. The wind was rising and the temperature falling. I had the sleeping bag rolled up, the tent stuffed and the bike loaded in a matter of minutes and was on my way. I was a long way from Tuba City which was the next town. I didn't make it before the weather broke.

The wind turned especially gusty and then hail started pounding down on the country. The stones were seriously large. They sang as they bounced off my helmet but they hurt when they hit the back of my hands through the gloves. I saw a rock overhang about twenty feet back from the road and figured that would be a good place to take cover. I was concerned about what the hail would do to my bike if I parked it in the open. I took of my leather jacket, a heavy brown, double breasted, belted coat that came down about halfway to my knees, and spread it over the gas tank to protect it from hailstone dings, then I ran for cover. Huddling under there, I wondered how many people in the past ten thousand years had hunkered down in this exact spot to wait out a hail storm. Ten thousand years... I couldn't be the first.

When the storm ended, I was chilled to the bone and not anxious to get back onto the bike and into the wind. I was delighted to discover that there was a small trading post along the highway and I lost no time pulling in there. This was my first trip into the West and the post at Tsegi Canyon was nothing like the trading posts I had seen in other places. There were no neon colored featehrs here, no tiny tom toms with paintings of idealized Indians on the side, no blalsa-wood tomahawks or model teepees. Here on the boardwalk porch in front of the store were Navajos seated quietly. Many of the men were wearing turquoise jewelry made from large chunks of that beautiful stone that is the color of the Arizona sky. The women were wearing velveteen shirts held to wide flowing skirts by silver concha belts as well as necklaces and earing made of turquoise and abalone shell beads. I was the only Anglo in sight. They watched me park the bike near the gas pump with as much interest as they would give a desert lizard who passed in front of them.

Inside the post, it was dark and even quieter. Old saddles, probably taken in pawn, hung on the walls. The main products for sale were sacks of flour, bags of coffee, salt and other basic bulk foodstuffs.

All of a sudden, the quietness was broken open by the appearance of the trader who turned out to be James D. Porter, known as 'Trader Jim' over much of the Southwest. He'd been in the back room and may have heard that a "billicanna" had come into the post. He was an Indian trader of the old school and he knew it. He dressed and acted the part. First of all, he looked like Burl Ives, complete with goatee. Only five foot five or six, he had a deep voice that sounded as though it came from a man half a meter taller. He had a bandly-legged, rolling walk that exuded cockiness. He was clearly the boss here. He began our first conversation without much in the way of a warmup. "Anyone ever tell you that you look like a young Eddie Rickenbacker?"

(Will Rogers is still ahead, really.)

For those of you who don't recognize the name, Eddie Rickenbacker was America's Ace during World War One. I don't remember how many planes he shot down but he led the list. He was well known before then because he was already a famous race car driver when the war broke out. He received a lot of publicity when he'd enlisted and became a combat flier and his achievements over France made him a legend among pilots as well as a hero to the general public. He later went on to a lifetime of accomplishments, any one of which would have distinguished a man but it was during this early period of his life, when he was flying, that Trader Jim had known him. Later I went to the library and looked up some pictures of Eddie Rickenbacker. I think the resemblance was the leather coat. It did look like a World War I flying jacket. The ironic thing was that I had bought it in Germany. I'd been caught in a snowstorm while riding with the Swiss Army's Motorcycle Corps to Appenzell to get some lace handkerchiefs for my mother but that IS another story.

Jim and his wife Caroline and I became increasingly better friends over the next twenty years until his death. I used to visit them at the trading post and then at their small ranch in Bluff, Utah. Jim was one of the best storytellers I ever knew and he certainly would never dream of letting a troublesome fact get in the way of crafting a good tale. Evenings spent with him were golden. They were also brandy-drenched. I discovered that like any good storyteller, even when he ventured into fiction, it was fact-based. He was always true to the subject and the spirit of truth even if he borrowed a piece of information from someone else's story. Eventually I gave up hope of trying to determine whether each fact in one of his stories was true and just enjoyed him for what he was, a great teller of tales.

Now we get to Will Rogers.

Jim Porter had gone to California and had picked up money as a pilot in some Hollywood films including an unintentional on screen crash in "All Quiet on the Western Front". One of his friends there was a stunt pilot named "Broken Neck" Grace. It was there that Jim and Broken Neck had met Will Rogers and Jim had worked on some of his films. According to Jim, Rogers never read a script. He would show up on location and ask to be told what the story was about and then would make up his own lines during rehearsal. The producers didn't seem to mind (I'll bet the writers were pissed though) because his dialog came out so natural. When Jim told me about the last time he saw Will Rogers, just before he and Wiley Post left on their around the world trip that ended in a crash at Point Barrow Alaska, he was crying silently.

I never knew how much to believe of this story about working with Will Rogers but two years ago I was in the California Gold Country at a Rendezvous held by some families up there who have claims and are working them along a number of creeks in that part of the Sierra Nevada. The father of one of the miners, a man in his late seventies, was visiting from New Jersey. I learned that he had been a B-17 pilot in the Eighth Air Force during their great air battle that included the bloody raids on the oil fields at Ploesti and the raids on the ball bearing works at Schweinfurt (I think that was the name). I was somewhat familiar with that campaign and regarded the physical courage of the participants to have been the equal of those men who had looked out the gunports of a wooden ship in the middle of the ocean into the guns of a similar ship and had stood there firing cannonballs at each other, ripping ship and sailor apart until one vessel or the other was destroyed.

The old man started talking about his flight instructor, the man who had taught him to fly a B-17 and to whom I felt he owed his life. Richard "Dick" Grace had been a small plane pilot when the war had broken out and had enlisted in the Air Corps to become a fighter pilot. The Air Staff ruled that he was too old and, against his will, he was turned into a multi-engine Flight Instructor. According to his student, when Dick Grace got his hands on his first B-17, it was as though the two had been made for each other. Grace treated it like it was a fighter plane and he discovered things that could be done with that airplane that the designers had never dared dream it could do. Grace taught his pilots some of these techniques and as a result he gave them an extra edge. This old man had no doubt that it was that edge that got him through the war when most of the other crews didn't get home.

I wondered about that Flight Instructor. Did he have a nickname, "Was he called, Broken Neck"? The old man looked visibly startled. "How in the hell did you know that?" So I told him about Trader Jim Porter and Will Rogers.

I suppose I should put some music in here so that this doesn't need a BS Label. Jim was born on a ranch near Bisbee, AZ and grew up there until he ran away at age sixteen. I asked him about cowboy music. I remember a couple of things he said. One was that he never saw a cowboy with a guitar but he'd known a number who could play the piano. As for songs, the ones he remembered were "Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage", "Daisy" and some Tin Pan Alley favorites of the "Teens". I was disappointed. I was hoping to hear about "Red River Valley", "The Strawberry Roan", "The Zebra Dun". One song he did remember and love though was "Tying a Knot in the Devil's Tail". He went through it with me describing reatas, swallow-forking and the proper use of a dehorning saw. It certainly made that song come alive for me.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Art Thieme
Date: 18 Jul 99 - 01:44 PM


That's pretty vivid. Thanks! As Will Rogers said (I think), "I never Metamucil I didn't like---except the one that's got no flavor."

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Peter T.
Date: 18 Jul 99 - 03:11 PM

Boy, is this a great thread. Sourdough, hog away, as far as I am concerned. Do any of you experts know where the movie of Bound for Glory was filmed? The town at the beginning looked pretty authentic -- the movie as a whole didn't really do anything for me, but it sure was dusty.
yours, Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: WyoWoman
Date: 18 Jul 99 - 03:26 PM

Sourdough, You're a writer. I'm a writer and an editor. I know one when I see one. Get busy.


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: j0_77
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 04:15 AM

Note. I forgot to mention that performers did not get paid but got to sell CDs.

Itz 2.00am and I just got in from a stay over at Okemah Oklahoma, 17/18th. I am dazed by the variety and excellence of the festival. The performances just sizzled they were soo good. Red Dirt Rangers, superb - very entertaining and gureat fun to talk to after the show :) Don Conascenti, I nearly fell over: never seen such skill on a Guitar absolutely mind boggling! Don's singing also excellent - Susan Shore - a treat and a beautiful voice :) Still on the Hill - actually I sorta had a sneak preview twice - once off the web and also at the camp ground where they put on a show :) I guess people were letting 'it' happen. I could not stay for all the performers on the main stage but I could hear a great deal and enjoyed em all.

The camp site was where there was an open stage had some of the nicest little suprises of all. Several singer songwriters did spots- All were excellent. Just cruising around with my ole Gibson and chatting/picking a few with people I soon learned that there was wide variety of style etc. Large number of young pickers form all over the USA. Stayed up most of the night pickin and listening to people. Sunday morning I managed to get sat down and listen to for a spell, a small group guitar/harp duet playing some real hot finger picked blues. That I liked a lot. It was simple unamplified and the lyrics of the songs both interesting and fun.

The Oklahoma Songwriter's Guild presented the winner to their contest before the Sunday Afternoon Show began. That was icing on the cake.

There is a 'fizz' thing about this festival, feels like there used be a torch burning out there in the musical universe that kinda died and this gathering of people has relit with their enthusiam, energy, creativity and courage. John Wesley Harding briefly touched on this at the very start. Country Joe Mc Donald who did the last main stage set expressed it best- not only in his songs and performance but also by his attitude. Freedom to be - what ever you want to be. Hmmm, best I can do right now maybe others could say better, please do :)

People I missed that I wanted to see grrrrrr Bob Childers , The Farm Couple. All this for five bucks parking!! Unbelievable but IT DID HAPPEN. Woody's spirit lives on! Thanyou Mary Jo :) I will be back next year, one day early.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Sourdough
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 04:23 AM

WyoWoman: Thanks for the nice words. I really appreciate the encouragement.

Art Thieme: I re-read your 1986 letter about your Okemah visit. It is filled with so much information that I missed a lot the first time through. Your letters, if they are like this one, must make your friends glad to see your return address on an envelope.


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Peter T.
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 11:22 AM

Answering my own question, in Ed Robbins' Woody Guthrie and Me, he talks about visiting Isleton, California, where the makers of "Bound For Glory" had made the town up to look like Tampa, Texas.
yours, Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Art Thieme
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 11:42 AM


That's PAMPA, Texas. Tampa is 5/6 of a feminine product. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: Peter T.
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 11:47 AM

Gee, Art, that is interesting, I have a Xerox of the page from the book in front of me and it says Tampa. Talk about a misprint!

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: WyoWoman
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 11:51 PM

I used to pass through Pampa, Texas, when I was a stewardess on a cross-country bus. Yes, friends and neighbors, Continental Trailways used to have stewardesses on their buses. And I was one. Red uniform, sweet smile, spilling hot coffee on passengers between Oklahoma City and Amarillo -- Albuquerque if the next girl called in sick. Once we got stuck in a snow drift and I took the bus driver's microphone and "sang up every song that driver knew." I was doing this until I got old enough to be an airline stewardess (21), but decided it wasn't much fun and became a telephone operator instead.

Yrz in trips down memory lane, WW

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
Date: 20 Jul 99 - 01:18 AM

One excellent thing about the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival was that it was still small enough to be "fresh"-- free and funloving without the social problems we find at even the most well-intentioned Rainbow Gathering or Winfield. And did you hear the Farm Couple's rendition of Hobo's Lullabye? It was haunting... So, c'mon now-- tell us who your absolute favorite was? Tom Skinner's got a really charming vocal inflection, and I wanted to hear more of Bill Erickson's hard-livin' snapshots of Okieland throughout the weekend. And how about Traci Grammer & Dave Carter? I'll be there next year, definitely. Notably not heard: That fun song (forget the name) Woody wrote about borrowing money, bought beer... got drunk... went fishing, giving the fish to the finance company.

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: j0_77
Date: 20 Jul 99 - 01:46 AM

Well Kath my absolute favorite is singing! Just plain ole singing like folk singing...sorta - used to be folk singers could sing well - but like all canned music it now attracts folk who $$$sing$$$ - I do wish mp3 was easier to use - !!!!!

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Subject: RE: Okemah this weekend :)Woody Gutherie festival
From: GUEST,terry
Date: 13 Jul 03 - 10:41 AM

Man if you mised the shows in the brick street cafe saterday Tom Skinner, Randy Crouch, Bob Childers, Larry Spears and all the guys in the band they nearly brought down the house. no realy when Tom done Saved they abounded the basement the place was rockin every body in there was dancin and stompin there feet I dont think any won was sitin. Best I think I haver herd.

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