From the Redwood Forests to the Nittany Mountains” would have been a sound lyric choice for “This Land is Your Land,” though in the end, Woody Guthrie wound up praising the gulf stream waters.
Nonetheless, Penn State University will take a prominent role in next week’s “Woody@100” celebrating the folk singer’s centenarian status and his contributions to popular music.
The other major cities selected to participate have notable ties to Guthrie — events will be held in his birthplace of Tulsa, Okla.; and in New York and Los Angeles, where he took residence during the epochs of his career. The decision for State College to participate seems rather arbitrary, and a vote of thanks is owed largely to Jerry Zolten, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and American studies at Penn State Altoona.
“Bob Santelli, the director of the Grammy Museum, and I had previously collaborated on producing some Bruce Springsteen-themed conferences,” Zolten said. “Santelli and Woody’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, were the driving forces behind ‘Woody@100,’ and I volunteered Penn State as one of the venues for the exhibits, conferences, and performances.”
“It’s a practical fit,” Zolten added. “The people of central Pennsylvania were the people Guthrie was singing about, the ones he was an agent and an advocate for — coal miners, farmers, railroad workers. Guthrie’s music tells our story. Additionally, ‘Sing Out!’ the folk music magazine he helped found, is still based in Bethlehem.”
In addition to mobile exhibits, films, conferences and lectures and a keynote address by Nora Guthrie, the State Theatre will host some of Pennsylvania’s most overlooked and crucially important folk singers in “An Evening Of Hard Hitting Songs: Woody Guthrie’s Legacy to The American Labor Movement.”
The concert will feature a guest performance by Noel Stookey — “Paul” of the iconic folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary.
Also on hand will be Si Kahn, a State College-born singer and guitarist, and a prominent activist in the civil rights movement. Kahn relocated to North Carolina as a teenager, with the hillbilly country music of southern Appalachia informing his work, among other influences. Kahn’s best-known song, “Aragon Mill,” discusses the closing of a Georgia textile mill that was crucial to a small town’s employment and infrastructure, but could pretty much be reset in any small American town. “Carry It On” a collaborative album with Pete Seeger, yields a fine version of the tune.
Two Pittsburgh-based singers on the bill draw from Guthrie’s sentiment and aesthetics to fit their personal musical identity. Anne Feeney, famous for the song “Have You Been to Jail For Justice,” champions women’s rights and civil disobedience, while Mike Stout, a former steel mill union grievance steward, is renowned for delivered deeply personal numbers including ‘My Brother Did Not Die in Vain.”
Philadelphia harmonica player Saul Brody rounds out the roster. The winning composer of the “Stand Up & Sing” competition, adjudicated by Stookey, also will perform.
'Woody@100’ events• through Sept. 9: “This Land is Your Land: Woody at 100” exhibit, Borland Gallery, University Park
• 7-9 p.m. Sept. 6: “Stand Up and Sing: Open Masterclass for Music of Conscience” and song contest with Noel “Paul” Stookey, Foster Auditorium, University Park
• 11 a.m. Sept. 7: “Troubadour Blues” film, State Theatre
• 12:45 p.m. Sept. 7: “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward” film, State Theatre
• 2-3:30 p.m. Sept. 7: “Music Matters: A Live Multimedia Documentary” film, Foster Auditorium, University Park
• 2:40 p.m. Sept. 7: “1913 Massacre” film, State Theatre
• 8 p.m. Sept. 7: “An Evening of Hard-Hitting Songs: Celebrating Woody Guthrie’s Legacy to the American Labor Movement” concert, State Theatre
• Sept. 8: “Woody@100: Woody Guthrie’s Legacy to Working Men and Women” conference, Nittany Lion Inn