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Why I love WoodyFest

Enjoying WoodyFest with Shakara Shepard (middle) and Brittany Gormly (right).

By Kay Thompson

Some people look forward to Christmas, others love Halloween, but my favorite time of the year is WoodyFest. For the last 25 years, the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival has played an integral part of my life. And I’m forever grateful.

As a 13-year-old kid, I worked long shifts at Brick Street Cafe, starting out as a dishwasher and eventually working behind the bar once turning 18. I cherish the time I spent working for and learning from Luna Burnett. Her love for the festival and Okemah lives on through the BancFirst stage.

At Brick Street, I begin to notice the “family reunion” atmosphere and enjoyed seeing familiar faces year after year. Everyone was always so excited to see their friends and fellow music lovers. The camaraderie of the festival-goers drew me deeper into the event. Even though not related by blood, they were family.

My dream was to be a part of this wonderful experience that helped propel Okemah into an international spotlight. See, growing up in Okemah, we didn’t learn about Woody Guthrie. I really had no idea who he even was. In the beginning, to me, he was just some guy from a long time ago that sang some songs. It wasn’t until I got older and began to learn about Woody, partly from my mother reading his book and partly from my own research, that I appreciated the difference he made. He was the voice of the “common folk” who brought injustices to light. Even today, his influence over so many musicians and a broad spectrum of genres amazes me.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I got my chance to help with my favorite festival.

Another Okemahn I admire and am blessed to have worked with is Don Moore. Don’s selflessness to ensure not only the festival’s but Okemah’s success is something for which everyone should strive. I began to help with music events around Okemah because I realized that supporting local music was a passion of mine. When Don asked me to join the Woody Guthrie Coalition, I couldn’t believe it and immediately said yes. With the guidance of Don, Dee Jones (an amazing human being whom I miss dearly) and Shari Parks, I started my decade-long journey helping to plan WoodyFest.

Seeing the inner workings of the festival set my soul on fire. I realized how much work and love and passion went into planning and executing WoodyFest every year. I was amazed by this group of volunteers who spent so much of their time to make sure this “family reunion” happened annually.

They became a family to me, and as families do, not everything was always easy. But it was always worth it. I owe so much to those mentioned and to Cheryl Graham, Randy Norman and John Robertson and many more currently or previously on the Coalition. I made lifelong friendships with board members and festival-goers alike. I look forward to seeing Gerry and the Campground Rounders and discovering new talent at the open mic. I love when Patty Thompson tells me “Happy WoodyFest”. I beam with pride when local musicians whom I love (Melissa Hembree, John Fullbright) get the recognition they deserve. And most of all, I love how Okemahns come together and work to make this the best week of the year.

While it’s been a few years since I resigned from the Coalition, WoodyFest still holds a special place in my heart. This week is nerve-racking for the planning committee, but through all the frustrations, it’s beautiful to see it come together. For, in the end, it’s a family reunion.

So, I’ll see you around town today….all because some man, sang some songs, a long time ago.

*Special shoutout to the current Coalition for all your hard work! Thank you for carrying the torch! Randy Norman- President, Sponsorship; Gary Hart- Vice President, Concert Committee, Local Liaison, Dana Gunn- Secretary, Director of Artists’ Sales; Miranda Huff- Treasurer; Fred Ellert- Festival Music Archivist; Cheyenne Felker- Concert Committee; Lindsey Flowers- Sponsor Advisor, Media Team; Cheryl Graham – Concert Committee, Outreach Coordinator; Maddie Gregory- Media Chair; Roger Hoestenbach- Merchandise Sales Chair; Jami Lucas- Campground Coordinator; Roger Osburn- Concert Committee, Merchandise Sales Assistant; and Guy Zahller- Photography Coordinator.

1 Comment

  1. David Kerner on July 14, 2022 at 5:49 am

    A song from NYC. Have a great Fest …

    From the hills of Oklahoma
    To the streets of New York City
    Woody traveled with his guitar throughout the land
    Before the rise of rock and roll
    Woody rocked this land with all his heart and soul
    He was the poet of the people – the voice of the common man.

    He sang the stories of America
    And the values for which it stands
    He sang his songs to lift the heart of every woman, child and man
    He sang for kids about things like fun car rides
    And the joy of washing your face
    He sang truth to power – and he never backed down
    Any time or any place.

    Today I hear his message sounding
    from the street and from the stage
    So many decades later
    As the winds of changes rage
    It’s still a mighty hard row that together we all must hoe
    To build that better world that’s coming
    And it’s coming – don’t you know!

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