His songs are deceptively simple, New York-based folk singer Pete Seeger says. "Only after they have become part of your life do you realize how great they are. Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes genius to attain simplicity."
Woody Guthrie wrote hundreds of simple songs. His work has become as much a part of America as its forests, its waters, and the persevering people Guthrie championed.
Born in Okemah, Ok., in 1912, Guthrie began roaming the country at an early age. When he was 17, he was playing with a Texas band named the Corncob Trio. In his twenties, he was composing songs about the Dust Bowl and performing in migrant camps. During the next couple of decades, he gained national fame as an accomplished author, artist, activist, singer, and storyteller.
Diagnosed with Huntington's chorea in 1952, Guthrie spent the last 15 years of his life in and out of hospitals, finally succumbing to Huntington's disabling effects in 1967.
Seeger says that when he learned about Woody Guthrie's death, his first thought was, "Woody will never die, as long as there are people who like to sing his songs."
Playwright Peter Glazer has helped to keep Guthrie alive.
In 1988, Glazer arranged about two dozen of Guthrie's songs, and some of his writings, into an exuberant musical entitled "Woody Guthrie's American Song." Glazer's production follows the itinerant Guthrie as he travels from the Dust Bowl to California and then east to New York City.
Since its premiere, Glazer's show has been presented in over 100 theaters throughout the country. The New York Times said that the musical "manages to find both the high beauty and the earthy humor of Guthrie's love affair with America."
"This land is your land," Guthrie sang, and those words may have inspired Vermont Stage Company Artistic Director Mark Nash to bring "American Song" to Middlebury's Town Hall Theater. It will be the first time since Vermont Stage's move to FlynnSpace in 2000 that the Company will be performing in a new venue.
Award-winning singer and songwriter Patti Casey heads up the cast and serves as musical director. Michael Dean Circe, Tony Roach, and Chuck Meese portray Guthrie at different stages of his life.
There will only be six shows: July 22-25 at 8 pm, and matinees July 25-26 at 2 pm. Tickets cost $25.The Town Hall Theater is at 68 South Pleasant St. in downtown Middlebury. For further information, go to www.townhalltheater.org or call 382-9222.