Arlo Guthrie, Rosanne Cash, the Flaming Lips and More at the Woody Guthrie Centennial Concert
Arlo Guthrie | Old Crow Medicine Show | Tim O'Brien | Jimmy LaFave | Rosanne Cash | Hanson | Del McCoury Band | Jackson Browne | The Flaming Lips | John Mellencamp
Photo by Al Aumuller. Courtesy of the Woody Guthrie Archives
This Land is Your Land: Woody Guthrie Centennial Concert
Brady Theater, Tulsa, Oklahoma
March 10, 2012
After decades of neglecting their most famous musical native son, Oklahoma made up for lost time by finally honoring Woody Guthrie during his centennial year by hosting the first of five tribute concerts around the country. Organized by the Grammy Museum, an all-star line-up assembled for a sold-out crowd at Tulsa's Brady Theater to honor the folk legend.
Woody's son Arlo opened the show with a classic take on his dad's "Talking Dust Bowl Blues" before being joined by a rambunctious Old Crow Medicine Show who backed him on "Howdjadoo." The motored forward with this collaboration model for most of the night: artists backing other before taking the spotlight, creating a flow that kept each artist and genre on even footing.
As Arlo stepped off stage, Old Crow Medicine Show blasted through "Union Maid" with the spitfire Appalachian zeal that managed to surpass even their wildest hillbilly rave-ups, an energy they maintained when bluegrass legend Tim O'Brien took lead vocals on "Sun Jumped Up".
Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave got in touch with his Oklahoma red dirt roots with the night's first non-Guthrie composition, "Woody's Road" by Bob Childress. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and accordion LaFave honored Guthrie with a gruff, powerful tenor.
Rosanne Cash joined LaFave, and was greeted on stage by Jackson Browne, who came out just to give her a hug before she took backing harmonies on "Deportee". With a voice that conveys sadness better than just about anyone, putting Cash on backup seemed an odd choice But it worked. LaFave conveyed the anger and outrage of life and love lost to deplorable work conditions, while Cash provided an undercurrent of despair.
Cash and her husband, John Leventhall, played dual acoustic guitars on "Pretty Boy Floyd". At the end, Cash made one of the few political statements of the night, repeating the song's most memorable couplet: "Some will rob you with a six-gun. Some with a fountain pen," and added, "And it's still happening every day," to whoops and cheers from the crowd.
Next she delved into the list of one hundred songs she should know, that her father gave her when she was eighteen, choosing Blind Willie Johnson's "Motherless Children", which mirrored the destruction of Guthrie's family after his mother's institutionalization and death. She concluded with foreclosure ballad "I Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore", without the harmonica honk of the original, slowed down, Cash's voices bright and heartbreaking.
Arlo returned with HANSON for a hand-clapping, stomping four-part harmony rebel-rouser, "Blowin' Down the Road (I Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way)", full of spirit and gospel fire.
Tim O'Brien returned with legendary bluegrass breathern, The Del McCoury Band for high lonesome harmonies on "Philadelphia Lawyer (Reno Blues)", followed by "Pastures of Plenty", giving the California migrant worker tome the feel of a coal mine dirge. The show cut to intermission with a sing-along of "So Long, It's Been Good to Know Ya".
After an intermission the Grammy Museum presented a plaque to Wood Guthrie Free Folk Festival President Deana Cloud and Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon - Woody's one surviving sibling. With the family's curly hair and dressed in sparkling pink, Edgmon waved and hammed to the crowd from her wheelchair, telling the audience, "I know every one of you!"
Jackson Browne followed the presentation with "You Know the Night". Browne found the poem in the Guthrie archives and set it to a simple, up-tempo orchestration with brushed drums, acoustic guitar and electric upright bass. Guthrie wrote the long poem depicting his first meeting with wife Marjorie. Written after Huntington's Disease ended his performing and traveling life, the song captures Guthrie as a stability-searching romantic.
With an audience filled with older folkies, there seemed a good chance local boys the Flaming Lips might scare away half the audience. Especially when they arrived on stage with four iPads and no instruments. With bandmates creating a soundscape like a slide guitar concerto in outer space, a heavily reverbbed Wayne Coyne treated "Vigilante Man" to a dark chant over a dense bass heartbeat. While murmurs of, "This is weird," peppered the crowd, there wasn't a shortage of fans young and old rushing the stage. After all, Guthrie encouraged individuality and weirdness, and new ways to tell a story.
Browne joined the Flaming Lips for vocals on "The Sun and the Rain", playing acoustic guitar with Coyne while the band continued weaving their cosmic foundation. The warmth of the guitars and Browne's always-emotive voice created a balance of man and machine that sounded like the onset of nuclear winter.
The Flaming Lips concluded its set with Oklahoma's Official State Rock Song, "Do You Realize?" While it has little to do with Guthrie, it's hard to find fault with an exuberant performance to an enraptured crowd.