History of the Festival

It all began in 1997 when a group of passionate volunteers gathered with one mission, to honor Woody Guthrie’s music and philosophy that every person has worth, none more or less than another. Thus began the journey of creating a national destination from Woody’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma.

WoodyFest 1999 (Photo by Jim Dirden).

The inaugural 1998 festival included Guthrie’s son Arlo Guthrie, British folk-punk-rock artist Billy Bragg, Ellis Paul, Jimmy LaFave, Joel Rafael, and The Red Dirt Rangers along with headliners Tom Paxton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Peter Keane, Tom Skinner and Kevin Welch.

“Woody Guthrie left a rich legacy to future Oklahoma musicians and is certainly one of the most well known musical artists to ever hale from Oklahoma.” (Gov. Frank Keating, 1999 WoodyFest program)

For the first festival, the Woody Guthrie Coalition commissioned Native American sculptor Dan Brook to cast a full-body bronze statue of Guthrie and his guitar, complete with the guitar’s well-known inscription: This Machine Kills Fascists. Today, the statue is enveloped with a beautiful patina from the reaction of the medium with oxygen in the air. You can find the statue situated between two murals of Woody in a small park between 3rd & 4th Street along Broadway in the heart of downtown Okemah.

The spirit of Woody Guthrie is revived during the month of July when over 10,000 attendees from California to New York City to Denmark to Scotland gather in this town in Okfuskee County.

For a more detailed history of WoodyFest, please visit our Wikipedia page.