Legendary folk musician and songwriter Woody Guthrie will be paid tribute throughout the month of April as the Steelville Arts Council celebrates with the Woodystock folk festival every Saturday night at Gallery Zeke.
A figurehead of the American folk music movement, Guthrie’s musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional, and children’s songs and ballads. Many of his songs reflect his experiences and travels during the Dust Bowl era of the Great Depression, when he led the life of a hobo, traveling with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and expressing the pain and sorrows of the poor and downtrodden working class. Steeped in traditional folk and blues, his songs earned him a nickname as the “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”
Guthrie’s life and music will be honored throughout the month of April with special live music performances and other events scheduled at Gallery Zeke in downtown Steelville every Saturday night.
“This is an opportunity for us all to remember Woody Guthrie and recognize his important contributions to American music and culture, which continue to resonate in art and music still today,” said Woodystock organizer Chris Case, who also serves on the Steelville Arts Council board of directors. “But more than that, it’s about celebrating traditional folk, country, and blues music, which all are part of American society, as well as our Ozark regional culture. Woody Guthrie is to traditional folk music what Hank Williams is to country, Miles Davis to jazz, or Chuck Berry to rock and roll. His legacy is unmatched and should be recognized for its impact and longevity.”
Guthrie’s songs had a direct influence on the folk revivalist movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he was an inspiration to many others who went on to have musical fame, such as Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp. After spending the latter part of his life in a hospital, in deteriorating mental and physical health, the singer passed away in 1967 due to complications arising from Huntington’s Disease.
Scheduled events began last Saturday, April 5 with a special tribute to Pete Seeger by local musician Chris Case. Seeger passed away at the age of 94 this year and was a figurehead in the folk revival and Civil Rights movements. Writer Robin Wheeler of Belleville, Ill., also presented a discussion on her book project and talk about the life of Woody Guthrie. Wheeler is in the final editing stages of her Guthrie book, which she has been working on for the past two years, and she will be serving as an artist in residence in Steelville throughout the Woodystock month of April as she looks to prepare a final draft for publication.
Scheduled events for the month continue this weekend and for the following two Saturdays in April.
On Saturday, April 12, photographer Corey Woodruff, who also drums for several working bands in St. Louis, will be at the gallery for an opening reception for his photography show: a collection of 32 photographs depicting Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s resolutions of 1942. Using local or regional musicians in many of the photographs, it is a fascinating project that was completed in time for the celebration of what would have been Guthrie’s 100th birthday. The art exhibit will be at Gallery Zeke throughout the month. The opening reception starts at 6:30 p.m.; doors at the gallery open at 6 p.m.
Also that same night, folk musician Lukas Simpson will perform an acoustic set for the crowd at 7:30 p.m. Simpson performs solo and in various group settings, and has been part of the Goldmine Pickers old-time acoustic band. He is an instructor at the Folk School in St. Louis.
On Saturday, April 19, Mark Bilyeu and Cindy Woolf return to Gallery Zeke to perform their unique brand of Ozark folk music. The couple last performed for the arts council at Zeke’s in 2013. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Doors at the gallery open at 7 p.m. There will be a cover charge at the door to help defray production costs.
The month of Woodystock events comes to a close on Saturday, April 26 when Gallery Zeke celebrates Hootenanny Night. Local musicians are encouraged to bring a guitar or other acoustic instrument and sing their favorite folk song on the gallery stage. It’ll be a night of sing-a-longs and socializing. St. Louis musician Cassie Morgan will be the featured entertainer of the evening, performing one set of her music at 7:30 p.m. The hootenanny will follow her performance and continue until closing time! Doors open at 7 p.m.
Due to scheduling conflicts with the Woodystock events, the monthly Open Mic & Open Jam Night, will be held on the third Friday night of that month, on Friday, April 18, starting at 6 p.m. Area musicians can bring an instrument and perform on the stage for Open Mic at 6 p.m. The Open Jam for musicians of all levels of experience will take place at 7:30 p.m. All are welcome.
Gallery Zeke is located at 106 East Main Street in downtown Steelville. For more information and regular updates, follow the Gallery Zeke and Steelville Arts Council pages on Facebook. The Steelville Arts Council is a nonprofit, 501C3 organization dedicated to supporting the arts and artists of the Missouri Ozarks. Your tax-deductible financial donations to the arts council are gladly accepted and will help continue the support of artists in our region.