By David DeWitte
CEDAR RAPIDS — One century to the day after Woody Guthrie was born, the legendary folk singer known for his “red” leanings and rambling ways will be celebrated in Cedar Rapids.
The New Bohemia Group and KNBO-New Bo Neighborhood Radio will present WOODYFEST on July 14 at the New Bo Beach in Cedar Rapids. Organizer Greg Stokesberry said the event will bring together folkies and protest singers of a more modern era, concluding with an evening performance by headliner Country Joe McDonald.
Guthrie, whose influence on modern protest singers from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, died in 1967 of Huntington’s disease. He rambled across the country like a hobo during the years of the Great Depression, singing songs of hope and empowerment to a demoralized nation struggling with unemployment, the great dust bowl and economic dislocation. He left a folk music and cultural legacy, including “This Land is Your Land” and “Hard Travelin.”
Stokesberry of KNBO Radio planned the affair as a “tribute to Woody” before a sudden onset of heart disease this spring brought him to death’s door. He got back into the planning after five weeks in the hospital, and is now “stoked” about putting on a successful event. He considers the mini-festival an emotional aspect of Cedar Rapids’ flood recovery, which he believes has largely overlooked the community’s spiritual and mental recovery.
Guthrie’s messages of economic freedom and social justice hit Stokesberry at an early age. They influenced his decision to shun a regular 9-to-5 life in favor of roles like musical promoter, radio personality and civil process server. He is now on the team organizing the nonprofit FM radio station in Cedar Rapids’ New Bohemia Arts and Entertainment District that will feature all local programming.
“I’ve been a Woody fan since, like, junior high,” Stokesberry said. “He was the first guy I knew who tried to provide a voice for the people who didn’t have any.”
“I started hoboing around when I was 15,” Stokesberry said. “I was just all ate up with Woody Guthrie, and the more I thought about him the more I though he was the perfect fit for KNBO, which is all about giving people a voice. He sung to the people. He sung for the people. He sung about the people.”
KNBO booked Country Joe McDonald as the event headliner because of his own deep love and appreciation for Guthrie’s songs. McDonald is best known from his Vietnam War era protest songs with the group Country Joe and the Fish.
In 1969, McDonald recorded an album, “Thinking of Woody Guthrie,” that covers Guthrie songs. He performs a Guthrie repertoire and stage act that Stokesberry compares to actor Hal Holbrook’s one-man stage performances of Mark Twain material.
The event will begin at noon and conclude with McDonald’s evening performance. Tickets are $20, and available online , at the CSPS Box office, 1103 Third St. SE, or by calling CSPS Box Office at (319) 364-1580.
The day-long series of acts will include performers Dave Moore, Waite & Drake, Rob Lumbard, Pigs & Clover, Sam Knutson and the Evan Stock Band. The lineup features a Guthrie-esque folk sensibility, Stokesberry said, and all of the performers are well-known in Eastern Iowa.
Proceeds from the event will go to support construction and programming of KNBO-New Bo Neighborhood Radio.
New Bo Beach is a sand volleyball and entertainment facility under development by New Bohemia Group on a city-owned brownfields site just east of the new year-round New Bo Market space under construction on Third Street SE.