One of the headlining performances of this year's Sisters Folk Festival is “Walking Woody's Road," a musical tribute to legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday.
The program — which has toured all over the country this year — was developed by Austin, Texas singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave, a man with a longstanding connection to the icon. LaFave spent formative years in Guthrie's home state of Oklahoma and counts him as a major influence on his own music.
In fact, for the past decade, LaFave steered a similar Guthrie tribute called “Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway." But he took the opportunity of the centennial birthday to tweak the program a bit and rename it.
The result features a rotating cast of musicians alongside La Fave. Tonight's performance in Sisters will include Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, and Guthrie's granddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie with her husband Johnny Irion.
Finding folks to join the cast was no problem, LaFave said in a telephone interview Monday.
“Everyone loves Woody Guthrie's music," he said. “He's really the godhead of singer-songwriters."
The show will incorporate not only Guthrie's songs, but also his writings on all kinds of topics, from politics and spirituality to music, love and beyond.
“We just try to educate people a little bit about Woody's thoughts. He had some comments that are all still pretty valid today," LaFave said. “And he was such a populist. It's really not a Democrat and Republican show. It's just about Woody and what he said."
The musicians also trade off lead duties on various songs, building toward a big “This Land Is Your Land" finale.
Guthrie's music has experienced a rebirth in recent years, thanks in part to his daughter Nora's efforts to turn his unused lyrics into new songs. LaFave — who is currently setting about 20 lyrics to music — said Guthrie wrote about 3,000 songs, but only 70 were really known in his day.
And beyond music, he painted and wrote poetry, wrote novels (including one about sustainable living in sod houses), and was fascinated by science and nature.
“He was a total sponge," LaFave said. “The guy was not just talking about riding the rails. He was talking about quantum physics. He was so far beyond his time, they must've thought he was nuts.
“There's no one," he said, “that lived 20 different lifetimes like Woody Guthrie."