This past weekend, Echo Park rolled out the amps, paraded out the picnic tables and filled the afternoon with folk music to celebrate the 100th birthday of its one-time resident, “Dust Bowl Troubadour” Woody Guthrie. Nonprofit organization El Centro del Pueblo hosted an all-day show featuring performers who interpreted some of Guthrie’s most popular songs and performed their own compositions as well.
El Centro’s free extravaganza began with music but evolved into so much more, with offerings of “cowboy soup” (homemade beans), cornbread and other Dustbowl fare like corn on the cob. Art hung on the fences, books about Guthrie and Bob Dylan lay around on tables, and stories were told in an atmosphere that felt more like a community picnic than a traditional concert.
Armed with banjos, guitars, and harmonicas, a talented group of musicians entertained the crowd, encouraging everyone to sing along to “This Land Is My Land” and Guthrie’s popular children’s tune “Why Oh Why.” Bobby Halverston, whose father hails from the same town as Dylan in Minnesota, performed his own original songs inspired by Guthrie. Darryl Holter, a Guthrie historian, impressed the crowd with his dual harmonica-and-guitar-playing skills and told stories about the singer between songs. The Guthrie celebration continued at several shops in the Echo Park area, most notably at Stories bookstore around the corner from El Centro.
Though Guthrie died in 1967, his music and spirit transcended the era. He believed passionately in his vision of truth and justice and he voiced the concerns and feelings of a class of Americans who felt downtrodden and overworked. Though Guthrie hit the peak of his fame long ago and in a very different era, many of his concerns still ring true clear as those well-known chords in “This Land Is My Land.”