Woody Guthrie's American Song 2012

Show Summary

In the must-see event of the Summer, and celebrating Woody Guthrie’ 100th birthday, the Freight is proud to present a concert production of Woody Guthrie’s American Song, the award-winning musical based on the life and music of the iconic American folk singer, conceived, adapted, & directed by Peter Glazer. From the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma at the dawn of the Great Depression, the musical follows Guthrie west to a migrant camp in California and east to a Bowery bar on the New York island. The veteran cast brings to life Guthrie’s jokes, tales, & music—classics like “Bound for Glory” and “This Land Is Your Land,” as well as lesser-known treasures like “Jolly Banker” and “Ludlow Massacre”— for a show The New York Times said "manages to find both the high beauty and the earthly humor of Guthrie's love affair with America."

Peter Glazer“I am tremendously excited about this production’s focus as an amazing concert experience,” says director Peter, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. “We are reuniting the immensely talented cast from the Marin Theatre Company production, along with top-notch musicians, the Freight’s stellar acoustics, and musical director Jeff Waxman’s brilliant, contemporary arrangements of Woody’s gorgeous songs for a truly unique production. It’s deeply moving to experience something so ingrained in our cultural psyche in such a fresh, new way.” Peter’s works and collaborations include Michael, Margaret, Pat & Kate; Heart of Spain – A Musical of the Spanish Civil War; O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music; and Foe, adapted from the novel by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee; as well as Woody Guthrie’s American Song, which has been seen at over 100 theaters around the United States and won dozens of awards, including two Bay Area Drama Critics Awards, three Joseph Jefferson Awards in Chicago, and Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations in New York City.

 

Cast

Lisa Asher  Berwick Haynes  Sam Misner  Matt Mueller  Megan Smith

The cast of musician/actors features Lisa Asher, Berwick Haynes, Sam Misner, Matt Mueller, and Megan Smith. A Denver Post review of 20th anniversary production of Woody Guthrie’s American Song at the 2008 Colorado Shakespeare Festival production says, “Sam Misner dons Woody’s dusty hat first, singing with a bit of a rasp and a grittiness that resemble Guthrie’s own. When Lisa Asher and Megan Pearl Smith join in . . . . it is unerringly a thing of beauty.”

Lisa, a nationally touring actress & singer with two CDs, shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen, Ani DeFranco, and Arlo Guthrie in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s tribute to Woody Guthrie. She has appeared in two world premieres, I Married Wyatt Earp at Bristol Riverside Theatre, and Almost Heaven, Songs and Stories of John Denver for the Denver Center Theater Company.

Berwick, a Berkeley native, most recently appeared as Belize in Portland Playhouse’s Angels in America. Other regional credits include Oklahoma! at Portland Center Stage, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at San Jose Repertory Theatre, and Seussical the Musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

A veteran of five productions of WGAS, Sam also performs alongside Megan Smith in the award-winning americana/folk duo Misner & Smith, appearing at the Freight on August 11.

Matt has appeared in Taming of the Shrew at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre; Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Megan’s theatre credits include CalShakes, San Jose Rep, TheatreWorks, Center Rep, SF Playhouse, Capital Stage Company, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Willamette Rep, and the Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

 

Band

Chuck Ervin  Robin Flower  Tony Marcus  Harry Yaglijian  Jeff Waxman

The house band includes long-time Freight regulars Chuck Ervin, Robin Flower, Tony Marcus, and Harry Yaglijian, as well as Musical Director Jeff Waxman.

Bassist Chuck currently performs swing music with Sylvia Herold & the Silvertones, folk music with Euphonia, classic country with the Mike Stadler & Mary Gibbons Band, jazz and pop with guitarist Chris Grampp and the Spin Cats, bluegrass with the Nell Robinson Soldier Stories Band, and occasionally even Celtic folk/rock with Wake the Dead.

Robin innovates on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle in a myriad of styles, and has played in acoustic duos and trios with such musicians as Barbara Higbie, Nancy Vogl, and Laurie Lewis; toured with finger-picking legend Elizabeth Cotton, old-time music stars Hazel and Alice, and Holly Near; recorded four albums as leader of the Robin Flower Band; and performed for the past twenty years with her partner Libby McLaren.

Tony, who appeared in both the Berkeley Rep & Marin Theatre’s productions of WGAS, has played from Tokyo to Dublin with groups including Cats & Jammers, Geoff Muldaur, R. Crumb and the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and many others.

Harry has been a member of many memorable bands including the Good Ol’ Persons, Old Friends, High and Lonesome, Lost Highway, Lost Tribe, Carolina Special, the Boomtown Lulu’s, and the Shell Road Band, and has also been a substitute member of many Bay Area bluegrass bands, among them High Country, the David Thom Band, Done Gone, the Circle R Boys, and Redwing.

The show’s musical director, arranger, and orchestrator Jeff’s many credits include serving as the orchestrator, vocal arranger, and musical director for Almost Heaven, Songs and Stories of John Denver, which premiered at the Denver Center Theatre Company and producing the Grammy-nominated cast album of the Broadway musical Doonesbury, which he also arranged, conducted, and musical directed.

Show Dates


Woody Guthrie’s 100th Birthday Open House

Saturday July 14, 1-5 pm, Free

“Some day people are going to wake up to the fact that Woody Guthrie and the 10,000 songs that leap and tumble off the strings of his music box are a national possession, like Yellowstone or Yosemite, and part of the best stuff this country has to show the world.”

—Clifton Fadiman,
The New Yorker 1943

You are invited to celebrate & learn about Woody at an open house on his 100th birthday—Saturday, July 14. The open house features performances by cast members from Woody Guthrie’s American Song, musician Evo Bluestein (folklorist Gene Bluestein’s son), and a discussion on Woody with Peter Glazer, the director & author of Woody Guthrie’s American Song. Running concurrently with the show is the first public exhibit of The Kids Write to Woody . . . Woody Writes Back, letters Woody Guthrie wrote in the summer of 1955 when he was bed-ridden with Huntington’s disease at Brooklyn State Hospital. A few dozen children attending a summer camp outside St. Louis had sent post cards to Guthrie, and he answered each one individually. Here’s a sample:

“Makes me feel lots better already as I trot my eyes up and down your good, fine letter here about This Land, which I’ve always been awful partial to in my own deepest heart and soul. Glad to see that you wrote to me on our own good day called the Fourth of July . . . Write more.”

The musical director of the summer camp was renowned folk artist and folklorist, the late Gene Bluestein, who went on to become an English professor at Fresno State University and an occasional Freight performer. His family provided copies of the letters for the exhibit.

 

West Coast Live @ the Freight!

Saturday, July 14, 21, & 28

West Coast Live, the nationally syndicated radio show (heard locally on KALW) will be broadcasting live from the Freight on July 14, 21, & 28. Each week, from 10 am- noon, host Sedge Thompson, engages, entertains and enlightens with a wildly diverse set of topics, music, and interviews. On July 14th, Sedge will help celebrate Woody’s 100th birthday by interviewing playwright & director Pete Glazer. Tickets to enjoy the show in person are available at www.wcl.org.

 


Woody Guthrie Biography

Woodie GuthrieWeathered, lean, and kindly, Woody Guthrie’s face is the face of American folk music. Born in 1912, this astonishingly prolific composer is to the gritty, acoustic story-song what Louis Armstrong is to jazz and Elvis Presley is to rock & roll—the clearest, deepest source.

He was born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma. His father was a singer, banjo player, and sometime professional boxer. Guthrie left home at sixteen and roamed through Texas and Louisiana, working as a newsboy, sign painter, spittoon washer, and farm laborer. He also sang in the streets.

While visiting his uncle Jeff Guthrie in Pampa, Texas, in 1929, he learned to play guitar. During the Depression, Guthrie rode the rails as a hobo until around 1937, when he settled in Los Angeles and hosted a radio show on KFVD for a dollar a day.

After World War II began, he relocated to New York. There he met the Weavers and Pete Seeger. He briefly embraced communism and wrote a column for The People’s Daily World, but he was denied membership in the Communist Party because he refused to renounce his religion.

Although Guthrie’s leftist leanings did not endear him to the U.S. Government, his anti-Hitler songs did. His guitar had a sign on it saying, “This Machine Kills Fascists.” From 1943 to 1945 Guthrie was with the U.S. Merchant Marine in England, Italy, and Africa.

In 1945 he married Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia. They had four children: Cathy (who was killed in a fire at four), Nora, Joady, and Arlo.

During his years of riding the rails, Guthrie developed a drinking problem. In 1952 he was diagnosed as alcoholic and confined to a mental institution before his problem was correctly identified as Huntington’s chorea, a genetically transmitted degenerative disorder of the nervous system from which Guthrie’s mother had died.

The disease kept him largely inactive and hospitalized during the last decade of his life, but in the 1930s and ’40s he reinvented the American folk ballad as a vehicle for social comment and protest, laying the groundwork for Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Odetta, Bruce Springsteen, John Doe, Joe Strummer, and many other folk and rock singer/songwriters.

—This biography is adapted from material in the Rolling Stone Artists website and The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001), with contributions from Mark Kem.

Woody Guthrie photo by Al Aumuller

 

Executive Director's Note

Steve BakerHere at the Freight we're delighted to celebrate the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth with a concert production of Peter Glazer's Woody Guthrie's American Song. Presenting a two week run of any production is a unique departure for us, but there’s no better vehicle for that departure than Peter’s masterful offering of the words and music of Woody Guthrie, who, 45 years after his passing, ranks as one of our most influential and inspiring artists. Woody’s life and work pre-figured, by a few short years, an explosive uncovering of the folk roots of American culture and a veritable renaissance of authenticity in music. Woody’s passion for justice and drive for creative engagement left us with a deep, enduring, and awe-inspiring body of songs and writings.

For me, there is an unexpected personal story that this production brings forward. As we began assembling the cast, Susan Lefkowich, our incomparable Director of Development, learned that the family of the late Fresno-based folklorist, Gene Bluestein, possessed a collection of letters Woody had written in 1955 to the kids at the summer camp where Gene, as a young and inspired friend of Woody’s, worked as Music Director. Earlier that year doctors had diagnosed Woody as suffering from Huntington’s Disease, a rare and disabling neurological disorder. Gene encouraged his young charges to send postcards to the composer of their dining hall and campfire favorites who was now entering the hospital where he would spend the final years of his life. Amazingly enough, Woody answered each of the postcards. In preparing our lobby display of copies of the hand-written letters to the kids, I learned that Gene had pulled this correspondence together on the shore of Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, at Camp Hawthorn where my brother, sister, and I had spent more than a few summers. While we had missed out on the postcards and letters by only a year, it’s clear that we had spent those summer days and nights in a place bubbling over with the creative energy flowing in the wake of Gene’s invocations of Woody’s spirit and ethos. When we sang “This Land is Your Land”—which happened almost every day—the words fired our imaginations as a testament to a deep commitment to freedom and equality “for you and me” as well as to the limitless possibilities of artistic expression inherent in the vista of that “endless skyway.”

Woody Guthrie’s American Song celebrates a life and a body of work that resonate as freshly today as ever. Whether you’re a long-time fan, or just now learning about him, I hope you find your own connection to what Woody, in his own words, set out to accomplish:

I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.

Thank you and Happy Birthday, Woody.

—Steve Baker
Executive Director, Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse

 

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