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Event, special state day will honor song man


May 28 is now officially Woody Guthrie Day in the state of Washington, and a large celebration of the musician and his works will take place at the Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center on that date.

The event will include performances from 12 different artists, as well as discussions from experts, including author Greg Vandy, who wrote the book “26 Songs in 30 Days” about Guthrie’s legendary place in Americana culture and Grand Coulee Dam history.

The event will also include screenings of films, including the stolen film “The Columbia,” a film by Elmer Buehler, who happened to be the man chosen to drive Guthrie around the Pacific Northwest as he penned songs for The Bonneville Power Administration. Buehler was ordered by the BPA in the 1950s to burn all copies of the film, but he squirreled away a copy and didn’t tell a soul about it until the 70s, thus preserving a piece of Guthrie and Grand Coulee Dam history.

Woody Guthrie, having experienced firsthand the hardships of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, wrote many songs in the folk-music tradition that captured the experiences. His Dust Bowl ballads from 1940 painted a bleak picture of hard times and farms ruined by dust, people losing their livelihoods.

In 1941, Guthrie was overcome with joy and optimism about the BPA projects and he penned the Columbia River songs, writing 26 in 30 days.

Vandy asserts that these songs were a bright answer and catharsis after the darkness of the Dust Bowl ballads. The dam projects represented optimism for working class Americans who were going through hard times — a light at the end of the Depression tunnel and an oasis of water which must have looked beautiful to Guthrie, who had been ravaged by dust himself.

Vandy explains that Americans in the Depression, despite a lack of material wealth, took pride and solace in the mass of cultural wealth found in our music, our literature, our films, and in every corner of the country, in every home and business on every street, dirty or paved. Woody, according to Vandy, “embodied the classic depression era folk singer” and that’s why the state is honoring him with his own holiday.

Said Governor Jay Inslee in his proclamation of the holiday, “Guthrie is the pre-eminent American folk icon and his Columbia River Songs are a part of our rich cultural history; it’s time for a meaningful recognition of his poetic accomplishments on the 75th anniversary of his Pacific Northwest songs. … I urge all people in our state to join me in the celebration of Woody Guthrie’s work.”

People attending are encouraged to bring their own picnics and blankets to the event.

Speaker Schedule

· 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.: Michael Madjic of University of Oregon: Roll On, Columbia screening and discussion with Greg Vandy

· 3:45 to 4:45 p.m.: Deana McCloud of Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa: “Woody Guthrie, Man of the People” discussion with Greg Vandy

· 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.: Libby Burke of BPA Library: Stephen B. Kahn and the BPA Motion Picture Division: “Get me a Folksinger!” with a screening of “The Columbia: America’s Greatest Power Stream”

· 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Bill Murlin and Joe Seamons: “The Lost Guthrie BPA Recordings”

· 7:45 to 9:00 p.m.: Greg Vandy: “26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest” book reading and discussion

Performer Schedule

1:30 p.m.: Bill Murlin

2:10 p.m.: Annie Ford

2:50 p.m.: Mike Giacolino

3:30 p.m.: Planes on Paper

4:10 p.m.: Country Dave Harmonson

4:50 p.m.: Smokey Brights

5:30 p.m.: John Pontrellow

6:10 p.m.: Michael Wohl

6:50 p.m.: Aaron Semer

7:30 p.m.: The Foghorns

8:10 p.m.: Jacob Miller & the Bridge City Crooners

8:45 p.m.: Joe Seamons & Ben Hunter

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