Made For You and Me: Woody Guthrie's Dustbowl Legacy Panel: Austin Convention Center, Friday, Mar 17

Wednesday Night

Jimmy LaFave leads the musical portion of the Woody Guthrie Panel.
Jimmy LaFave leads the musical portion of the Woody Guthrie Panel. (Photo By Martha Grenon)

Made For You and Me: Woody Guthrie's Dustbowl Legacy Panel

Austin Convention Center, Friday, Mar 17

I always consider it a good sign when the dean of rock scribes, Dave Marsh, is on a South by Southwest panel. In the past three years, he's walked off in a huff in the middle of a panel on drug use by musicians (1997), threatened to take an audience member outside for an ass-kicking (1998), and moderated an electrifying presentation on the history of the MC5 (1999). Marsh's volatile mix of knowledge and piss pretty much guarantees a panel you'll be telling your friends about over dinner. However, as moderator of the Woody Guthrie panel, Marsh simply sat back and smiled as Austin faves Michael Fracasso and Jimmy LaFave played classic Guthrie folk tunes interspersed with remembrances from 77-year-old Mary Jo Guthrie Edgmon, Woody's youngest sister. Edgmon was clearly the star of the show. Her fellow panelists responded to her heartfelt family history with reverence, and the audience responded with affection. Edgmon's words had less to do with dissecting her brother's legacy than reclaiming her family's good name from erroneous Guthrie biographers. "Some writers made it seem like Woody was from the wrong side of the tracks and made it seem like the Guthrie family was trash," she explained. "But our father was not trash. He was a fine Southern gentleman." Marsh pointed out Woody's optimism and faith in his fellow man, a trait Edgmon says he inherited from his father. "If you go through Woody's work, you see that he was very spiritual," said Marsh. "His views were actually very similar to the prairie politics of someone like Jim Hightower." Unfortunately, anyone to the left of Douglas MacArthur was liable to be branded a communist or atheist (or both) in the Fifties. Oklahoma has only recently warmed up to officially honoring Guthrie for his substantial role in crafting the course of American music. Edgmon says Woody's hometown of Okemah has done a "1,000-degree turnaround" and named one of its main roads after Guthrie. "That street used to be called Division Avenue," quipped Oklahoma City writer Greg Johnson. Though the realm of Oklahoma officialdom is not quite ready to hold Guthrie on the same echelon as Will Rogers, pressure to do so is building with each passing day. According to Johnson, Oklahoma-bred country pioneer Jimmy Webb initially balked at being inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame because, as Webb himself reportedly put it, "I don't want to be inducted into any Oklahoma Hall of Fame that Woody Guthrie isn't in." The Smithsonian's Woody Guthrie exhibit will make its way to Oklahoma City in 2002, and all panelists agreed that this would be an optimum time for Guthrie's belated induction. With that, LaFave and Fracasso were joined by Edgmon and the Red Dirt Rangers for a rousing, panel-ending rendition of Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills" as a smiling Marsh looked on. Some things are just better said with music

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