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SP Show Series: Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration

In a time when Auto-Tune and costume changes dominate the music scene, it’s easy to forget about the beauty of a story well and simply told. This Saturday, however, folks all over the country will gather to celebrate a man known for his minimalism, authenticity, and openness to the human experience, whatever that might be. Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 years old this Saturday, and birthday celebrations are being held in New York, Oklahoma, Chicago, and St. Louis. Here in Champaign, Mike ‘N Molly’s will host the Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration this Saturday night in the beer garden. The event will feature a variety of musicians from across the state who will deliver a relatively small selection of the nearly 3,000 songs written by Guthrie.

Choosing a song or two to perform from Guthrie’s catalogue at Saturday’s event proved difficult for many of the artists slated to perform at the celebration. Event organizer Todd Durnil narrowed down the selection by compiling a list of songs to choose from. He included many lesser-known tunes as well as songs later made famous by artists other than Guthrie. From the list, performers selected songs for a variety of reasons — personal meaning, respect of technique, timeliness — and will present their own takes on these tunes for the event.

One artist scheduled to perform Saturday is musician and journalist Edward Burch. Burch collaborated with Wilco’s Jay Bennett on the 2002 album The Palace at 4 a.m. (Part 1), and plans to perform a “leftover” track from Mermaid Avenue, the 1998 album organized by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, which features previously unheard Guthrie lyrics set to music by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Burch also plans to perform some unreleased material “in honor of both of the men who gave us ‘California Stars’” (referring to Bennett’s goose-bump-inducing take on Guthrie’s song featured on Mermaid Avenue).

Other artists selected their songs based on their relevance to current events. John Coppess, musician and distant relative of Guthrie, chose songs that speak to contemporary struggles — from immigration reform to the relationship between humans and technology — in order to demonstrate the relevance of Guthrie’s music to this day and age.

Singer/songwriter Anne Clements also wishes to highlight the timelessness of Guthrie’s music. When asked about the songs she chose to perform at the centennial celebration, Clements explained, “The thing about [the songs I chose] is that they both lend themselves very well to the current times — I think that’s one of the key features of a good ‘folk’ song, that it can be applied to people’s lives and hearts across time and events.”

Also scheduled to perform are Jeff Arrigo, William Dicker, Kevin Elliott, Mike Felman, John Hoeffleur, Kirby Jayes, Justin Kessel, Rick Kubetz & Terry Bush, Michael Medows, Cully Murphy, Margaret O’Brien, Emily Otnes, Justin Rondon, Gloria Roubal, and Cliff Stoker.

The celebration starts at 8 p.m. this Saturday at Mike ‘N Molly’s. Admission is $8 and all proceeds from the event will help support the annual Folk & Roots Festival held November 2nd and 3rd this year.

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