“Gonna rise up till we all stand free”
– Chuck Dunlap
Red Dirt pioneer Chuck Dunlap, now living in Washington state, is not the first Okie to implore the people to rise up.
As Woody Guthrie’s 108th birthday draws near, we are once again seeing the power music has in getting one’s voice heard. From songs articulating the need for solidarity and cooperation amidst a pandemic, to protest music serving as the soundtrack for the Black Lives Matter movement, we are all being reminded of the lesson Woody Guthrie taught us 70 years ago: This Machine kills fascists.
Each generation since then has learned that This Machine (Guthrie’s guitar, in case you’re unfamiliar) is quite versatile. Baby Boomers used it to end a war, advocate for civil rights and prevent the construction of nuclear reactors. Later generations have used it to voice environmental concerns, demand equality and fight injustice.
For the record, my generation is Gen-X, best known for apathy and sarcasm. So, whatever, that’s exciting. But it means that my earliest memories as a child include Stop Black Fox protest events, like the 1978 Sunbelt Alliance Benefit at Mohawk Park. The concert featured Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown as well as local musicians, all gathered together with the common, and ultimately successful goal of preventing the construction of a nuclear power plant on the banks of the Vertigris River.
I learned the power of protest music at a young age. Today, as 2020 seems to go from bad to worse, I take some comfort in knowing that other young people are discovering the same power. I see people of all ages taking to the streets, mostly peacefully, demanding change and using music to give a voice to the injustice they seek to right.
I’m reminded of the words of the late Wilma Mankiller, “Growth is a painful process.” Our nation is in a lot of pain right now. I believe that’s because we’re growing.
We will continue to grow, continue to demand change and stand up for what’s right, and that is why Woody Guthrie will always be relevant. He transcends generations; timeless and universal, like a great song.
July 14 marks the 108th anniversary of Guthrie’s birth in Okemah, Oklahoma. That means it’s time for WoodyFest, and this year, you don’t have to brave the heat. I know, I would also gladly brave the heat, but it’s a silver lining.
Another silver lining is the lineup for the four-day online festival, which includes some big names nationally like Graham Nash, Arlo Guthrie, Mary Gauthier and Jason Mraz, along with local favorites like John Fullbright, Branjae, Jacob Tovar, Red Dirt Rangers and many more. Music will stream live on Tuesday, July 14 from 7 – 9 p.m. to celebrate Guthrie’s birthday. The music will pick back up on Saturday, July 18 from 7 – 11 p.m. and again on Sunday from 2 – 4 p.m. There will also be panels and workshops available on Friday and Saturday.
Streaming will be available through YouTube, AppleTV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Facebook Live, and more. Visit woodyfest.com/watch for streaming options, schedule and other information.
Donations will be accepted through a virtual tip jar with a portion donated to the Red Dirt Relief Fund and Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
I began this column with a quote, which provides a great example of how protest music transcends generations.
Risin’ Up is a new song from Oklahoma songwriter Chuck Dunlap (I know he lives in Washington, but he’s still ours!) which his granddaughter Bailey Dunlap edited with recent footage of the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. It’s a powerful video, and Dunlap, who told me in a 2018 interview that he was done, hanging it up as a songwriter after the release of his outstanding album Full Circle, clearly isn’t done writing great songs.
Go to YouTube and search Risin’ Up – Chuck Dunlap.
What we’ve lost
Giving a voice to people’s struggles is not unique to protest music. Sometimes it’s just to voice pain and the need to help each other, as was done so eloquently by Oklahoma-born songwriter M. Lockwood Porter with his song, What We’ve Lost. Porter, a native of Skiatook who now resides in Chico, California, released the song April 30, and donated all sales proceeds from the first two weeks to Feeding America.
“In order to stop the spread of the virus and address the cases that exist, we need to cooperate and think about how to protect and care for people we may not even know,” Porter writes. “The song is somewhat dark, but there’s also a sense of hope that we can get our act together. And I also get a similar sense of hope from seeing so many people’s desire to help in whatever way they can right now.”
What We’ve Lost is available on bandcamp.com. Visit mlockwoodporter.com/music and check out some of his other songs as well.
Music venues are continuing to host live music to limited capacity crowds. There are opportunities for more COVID-safe outdoor concerts coming up as well, like Randy Crouch and Flying Horse July 4 at Diamondhead along the Illinois River in Tahlequah. And for the safest option, there’s virtual WoodyFest in the comfort of your own home. Plenty of options for all of us to keep searching, keep listening.