Originally Published: September 27, 2012 7:36 p.m.
Singer, songwriter and musician Woody Guthrie, who left an indelible mark on the tapestry of American activism for social justice, will be remembered in a concert on Friday, Oct. 5, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The show honoring the "Dust Bowl Troubadour" begins at 7 p.m. at the Elks Opera House and launches the 34th annual Folk Music Festival at Sharlot Hall Museum on Oct. 6 and 7. Tickets are $15 and maybe purchased by calling the opera house box office at 777-1367 or logging onto www.elksoperahouse.com.
Folk Sessions director Tom Agostino has lined up a host of entertainers who will play and sing Guthrie songs and read from his poetry in a reminiscent tableau of the icon's musical genius and fight for society's oppressed.
Joe Bethancourt, a banjo and guitar player of note in Arizona and a member of the Arizona Music Entertainment Hall of Fame, will perform the Guthrie hit, "Reuben James," a song about the first American warship sunk in World War II.
The late Jim Cook, author of "The Arizona Liar's Almanac," dubbed performer Lon Austin "deputy state liar," and Agostino describes him as "the father of folk music in the Phoenix area."
Whatever moniker may be appropriate, Austin says that he is a "folk singer, songwriter, storyteller and prevaricator."
He's serious, though, when he says that Guthrie and Prescott's own Gail Gardner were the two greatest influences on his career. "Gail Gardner influenced my songwriting and Woody Guthrie my singing style," he said, citing specifically Guthrie's "Goin Down the Road Feelin' Bad," which Sharlot Hall Museum's youth band Generation will perform, and Gardner's memorable poem, "Tying the Knots in the Devil's Tail."
The audience will sense a bit of Utah Phillips in Austin's performance because of the spoken dialogues he laces into his music, and the crowd is bound to be intrigued by the name of his ensemble, The Mexican Beaded Lizard Band when it comes on stage to sing Guthrie songs.
Whence comes the name? Austin said he was reading about the Mexican beaded lizard one day, and it stuck with him as fitting for the band members he leads, playing guitar, 12-string banjo, concertina, auto harp, saw, bass and fiddle.
"The band has a life all its own," he said. "It's kind of an impromptu happening right then."
Cowboy poet Gail Steiger will sing Guthrie's version of "I Ride an Old Paint," and D-Squared, led by Don Charles, will perform the popular "Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key."
The theme of social justice that Guthrie championed threads the tribute together, with appearances by Sandy Moss, Parker Anderson and Jon Meyer reading his poetry, Layne Longfellow reciting from folk legend Peggy Seeger's "Remembering Woody," and a sketch of wandering D.B. Rielly's gives a clue to what he's all about: "So back on the road he goes. You may spot him hitching a ride somewhere, anywhere you're headed is fine. You may spot him in a deserted diner trying to look up the waitress' skirt. But one thing is certain: wherever dogs are howling and little children are holding their ears, you'll find D.B. Rielly and his squeezebox."
The tribute to Woody Guthrie was Agostino's idea and came to him when he learned of a similar plan to recognize the late Johnny Cash. "I thought, doesn't this look like fun, doing a concert like this? I loved what he stood for," Agostino said of Guthrie, adding, "My cat's name is Woody." So Agostino suggested the salute as an opener for the museum's festival to museum business manager Terry Berrett and "he jumped on."
The Women on the Move musicians who play for causes in California will add their collective voices in recognition of Guthrie, and Agostino and his Soul Creek group will be playing "Deportee," a Guthrie ballad about a tragic plane crash that killed Mexican immigrants in 1948.