Tribute concerts are often a mixed bag, especially if the idea is to bring a group of stars together to pay homage to an influential musical figure. The recent tribute to the wonderful singer, Tony Bennett, Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 (Columbia, 2016) is a sad case in point. There is no shortage of stars on that particular album, but the aesthetic understanding of Bennett's music is so limited that it reduces rather than expands the scope of his musical legacy. A good tribute does the opposite of this. It shows the many aspects of an artist and paints a nuanced portrait that goes beyond the easy clichés. It shows the connection between the artist's own story and the musical narrative that he or she has helped to build.
Woody Guthrie died in late 1967. Soon after, two tribute concerts were planned: one in 1968 in New York, and one in 1970 in Los Angeles.
Bear Family, who has always done excellent archival work, has released those two albums in a handsome boxed set. The tributes were done at just the right time, that brief period between mourning his loss and the development of a cynical marketing of memory. Woody Guthrie seems to be revived every decade or so, be it Bruce Springsteen singing him for Obama's inauguration, the Billy Bragg/Wilco albums, or the recent uncovering of a song he wrote about Trump's father.
“Woody Guthrie & Songs for Social Change” was one of the Panels at the Annual Americana Music Conference and Festival in Nashville from September 12-17, 2017. This is always a great Conference with amazing panels and showcase performances.
Folk artist Woody Guthrie's influence can still be felt in music today. While Guthrie's music entered many homes over the years,
Various artists, “Woody Guthrie The Tribute Concerts: Carnegie Hall 1968; Hollywood Bowl 1970” — This three-CD set expands on the original 1972 albums that documented two all-star concerts for Guthrie held in the wake of the folk/protest song pioneer’s death in 1967. The Carnegie Hall concert featured a who’s who from the ’60s folk scene, including Guthrie’s son, Arlo, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, Bob Dylan and others.
Bear Family Records is releasing a deluxe 3-CD set that contains an additional 20 tracks and interviews with Collins, Elliott, Arlo, Country Joe McDonald, Phil Ochs, Paxton, and Seeger. Also included are 240 pages of notes, essays, photos, and reproductions of the concert book along with lyrics and notations. While I still have the original vinyl release, this gem of a set adds so much more detail on a life that was at the foundation of roots music. How much better can you get than Guthrie's songs performed by the elite folksingers of their day who also had the good fortune to have known him?