DC Music Salon

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

DC Music Salon

Woody Guthrie and the Early Folk Protest Movement

Jeff Place at DC Music SalonI don’t like bluegrass. It’s not because it is simple—it is not simple. In fact, the instrumentalists are technically incredible and musically tasteful. This genre of music can be energetic and bubbly and fun for any person, under the right conditions.

So it was with some disappointment that I learned one of the most popular programs hosted at Watha T. Daniel Branch Library (the DC Music Salon) would be about Woody Guthrie. A skinny guy in overalls playing a mandolin doesn’t do it for me. At least that’s what I thought.

Could the man who wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in 1940 really have any message for us in 2012? As it turns out, the candy-coated softer version of this song we all know is missing some essential verses. Expert speaker Jeff Place, archivist at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, helped to put the original verses in context.

To my surprise, I learned Woody was a revolutionary musically and culturally. ‘This Land Is Your Land’ was originally a protest song. He even performed with a guitar emblazoned with a bold phrase: This Machine Kills Fascists. That was in the forties! Few artists today would stick their neck out like that. As Mr. Place continued, we began to see the far-reaching influence Guthrie had on musicians and activists. Some were famous (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy, John Mellencamp) and countless others were lesser-known.

Mr. Guthrie, I apologize for my prejudice. You rocked!

-- Casey Danielson