Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Concert with Donovan

by Chris Murray on October 16, 2012

On Sunday I accompanied Donovan to the Kennedy Center concert celebrating Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. It was a remarkable show honoring the great American song writer, artist, and activist. Musical artists came from all over to join in the celebration. Performing at the concert were Jackson Browne, Judy Collins, Ry Cooder, Roseanne Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Mellencamp,Tom Morello, Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco, Rob Wasserman, Donovan, and many more. The sold out Concert Hall warmly welcomed all of the performers. There was a great encore with all of the musicians joining together to perform This Train is Bound for Glory, and the audience rose to it’s feet and joined in as well.

Donovan performed Woody Guthrie’s children’s song Riding in My Car, which Donovan recorded on his first album in 1965. Donovan had the audience sing along and clap in time during his performance and they loved it.

Congratulations to Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives along with Bob Santelli from the Grammy Museum, who partnered together to create the wonderful centennial celebration.

Here are some photos from backstage.

Donovan with Judy Collins at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Judy covered Donovan’s song Sunny Goodge Street on her album In My Life in 1967. Copyright © Govinda Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved.

The legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and his long time friend Donovan. Copyright © Govinda Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved.

Donovan with Jeff Daniels, who recited some of Woody Guthrie’s writings at the celebration. Donovan’s song Hurdy Gurdy Man was featured in the Daniel’s film Dumb and Dumber. Copyright © Govinda Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved.

Donovan with activist and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Copyright © Govinda Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved.

Donovan, Roseanne Cash, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Roseanne’s performance of Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got No Home was one of the most moving moments of the concert. Copyright © Govinda Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved.

Woody’s granddaughter Anna Guthrie with Donovan. Copyright © Govinda Gallery Archive. All Rights Reserved.

The Legendary Del McCoury with Chris Murray. The Del McCoury band with Tim O’Brian performed a rousing version of So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh. Copyright © Donovan. All Rights Reserved.

The day after the concert, Monday October 15th, the Washington Post published an exclusive story on a previously unknown collection of drawings, letters, and lyrics that had been given to Donovan by his mentor and former Guthrie manager Pete Kameron. Donovan is donating the collection to the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives. Here is that story from the Post by Chris Richards.

Donovan’s tribute to Guthrie has deep roots
Scottish singer, in D.C. to honor folk icon, treasures his trove of Guthrie papers

by Chris Richards

On a recent Friday afternoon in a West End hotel suite sat Donovan, the Scottish troubadour once called mellow yellow, officially called Donovan Leitch, now 66 years old.
On his person: two necklaces — one beaded, one gold — a fuzzy cardigan, a weathered T-shirt, jeans, boots of black suede.
On his coffee table: Horace’s complete odes in paperback, a laminated photo of Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a book of John Lennon’s scribblings.
And in his hands: a large envelope filled with drawings, letters and lyrics by American folk icon Woody Guthrie.
“Where’s the one about the girlies’ legs?” Leitch asked, searching the envelope for a Guthrie verse about knockout women and beaten-down factory men. “He moves all over the place,” Leitch marveled, “from sex, to capitalism, to prison farms, to the atom bomb.”
Leitch was in Washington preparing for Sunday night’s Kennedy Center Guthrie centennial tribute concert, featuring Lucinda Williams, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Mellencamp and many others. These were just photocopies of the documents bequeathed to Leitch by his late mentor Pete Kameron, a manager who once worked with Guthrie. Leitch was plotting to surprise the Guthries onstage Sunday, announcing that he’d be donating the original documents to the family — and by setting one of the lyric sheets he found in Kameron’s parcel to music.
Raised across the ocean, Leitch says he never felt far from Guthrie’s America. His father, a union man who assembled jet engines at a munitions factory in Glasgow, often read to his son from the family library. By age 3, Leitch had already taken a liking to W.H. Davies, the Welsh poet who hopped American trains in the 1890s, and Robert W. Service, the “bard of the Yukon,” whose “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” Leitch can still — and did — recite from memory.
Leitch discovered Guthrie’s music at 17, after he had read Kerouac but before he had heard Dylan. “Suddenly, the road was there, the Depression was there, the anti-establishment songs were there, the song of freedom and unions and peace,” Leitch said.
The young songwriter decorated his acoustic guitar with the slogan that Guthrie had famously emblazoned on his. THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS. “Only, I took off the word ‘fascists,’ thinking they had gone from the world,” Leitch said. “I’m not so sure now.”
When a journalist asked young Leitch what his guitar could kill, he remembers answering with bright eyes: “It kills ignorance, greed, hypocrisy, fear and doubt.” That sunshiny idealism is largely what Leitch is remembered for. His early hits — “Season of the Witch,” “Mellow Yellow” — signaled an international arrival of youthful innocence and hope, all swaddled in psychedelic colors.
For his 1965 debut album, Leitch recorded “Car Car,” a cover of “Riding in My Car,” one of Guthrie’s many children’s songs, which he planned to reprise at the Kennedy Center on Sunday. As for the new song he hoped to premiere, he searched for it in the stack. There were letters mailed to Kameron in the days when Guthrie had gone from performing at mining camps to playing Mafia-run cabarets, and lyrics, including 25 verses of “Fellershippy Papers,” an epic Guthrie ballad about the tedium of filling out paperwork.
“Look at this!” Leitch said, waving a letter in which Guthrie asks Kameron to defend his work from censorship. As Leitch recited his way down the page, Guthrie’s anger dilated into sweeping lyrical zigzags. “If he had a guitar in hand, that would have become a song,” Leitch said.
Finally, the drawing Leitch was looking for surfaced from the stack. “It sounds like a children’s lyric,” he said, examining the lines typed in all caps above two canoodling stick figures. “A loving lyric.”
Tracing his index finger across the page, Leitch practiced the melody he planned to sing Sunday night:
YUM YUM
YUMMY YUMMM
YUMMMY YUMMY YUMM
GIVVA ME
GIVVA MA
GIVVA ME SOME
Then he smacked his lips, kissing the air in front of him, and asked,“Isn’t that beautiful?”
But when Leitch took the Kennedy Center stage early during Sunday’s sprawling program, he didn’t sing it, and the letters weren’t mentioned. After leading the capacity crowd through a singalong of “Riding in My Car,” he took a bow and sauntered off.
During intermission, Leitch explained that Guthrie’s son Arlo was unable to attend the concert as planned, and Leitch didn’t feel right singing the song without Arlo there.
Those beautiful unheard lyrics stayed that way.

‘A Loving Lyric’: A scan of an original Woody Guthrie drawing, from a collection of the folk icon’s papers given to Donovan Leitch by his mentor. Leitch says he never felt far from Guthrie’s America. Copyright ©Woody Guthrie. All Rights Reserved.

  • Comments

    • john ritz

      Great blog as alsway.
      Sorry I missed him at The Hamilton.

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