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Out & About: Woody Guthrie recalled in centennial tribute

Lifestyle

Out & About: Woody Guthrie recalled in centennial tribute

American folk singer Woody Guthrie was born a century ago in Oklahoma, but the geographic span of his music ranged from California and the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast.

Guthrie sang about common people, and his dozens of popular tunes have left a lasting mark on our culture. This Friday Guthrie's 100th birth anniversary will be observed by a pair of Maine folkies, Dave Peloquin and Bob Webb. The public is invited to One Longfellow Square for the celebration.

Maine’s many summer music festivals will soon start to happen. First up is the International Piano Festival, a production of the Portland Conservatory of Music. Frank Glazer’s June 23 recital will be the first major public event.

Portland String Quartet’s annual Festival of American Music, held late in June each year at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester, kicks off with an historical lecture and concert on June 27.

Woody Guthrie centennial

“This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island.” Those were among the most memorable lyrics of folk singer and American musical icon Woody Guthrie, who was born a century ago in Oklahoma.

During his life, Guthrie wrote songs about common people and current events in America, and his music has made a lasting mark on our culture. He’s particularly known for songs of the Great Depression – when he was known as the Dust Bowl Troubadour – and later penned a number of pieces celebrating the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington.

Among his hundreds of tunes, “Reuben James” was particularly apropos to Maine. The lyric recounts the sinking of the Portland-based U.S. Navy destroyer Reuben James by a German submarine in 1941. Happening more than a month before Pearl Harbor, the men killed are considered the first U.S. casualties of World War II. (There’s a commemorative monument on Portland’s Eastern Prom.)

This Friday, two Maine folk singers will celebrate Guthrie’s life and music at a centennial tribute slated for One Longfellow Square. Dave Peloquin and Bob Webb continue their successful “Sounds Like Old Times” presentations of roots country and western music with a tribute to Guthrie.

Peloquin and Webb will showcase several beloved songs, such as “Hard Traveling,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You,” “Reuben James” and “Pastures of Plenty.” Along the way, they’ll explore and recall American culture of the 1930s and 1940s, when the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II drove many Americans from their homes in search of better lives.

Guthrie aimed to write songs that make people feel good about themselves. His case on behalf of the common man resonates perfectly with contemporary America, even though his untimely death in 1967 put an end to his creativity. By then, his music had influenced a new generation through the folk music revival of the 1950s-1960s. Artists particularly influenced by Guthrie included Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and his own son, Arlo Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie’s songs inspired the folk music revival and the counterculture movement that accompanied it. Guthrie may be the most important songster in 20th-century America, according to Webb. A century after his birth, Peloquin and Webb believe that it’s time to dust off his lyrics, grab a guitar, banjo or harmonica and share the joy and tragedy that distinguish Guthrie’s songbook of real American music.

Catch the Woody Guthrie centennial tribute at 8 p.m. June 22 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

International Piano Festival

Among Maine’s many summer music festivals, the International Piano Festival, hosted by the Portland Conservatory of Music in late June, is perhaps the most modest. But it’s an annual happening that I’ve enjoyed from the get-go, and I expect to continue my happy experiences for the ninth edition, which runs June 23-29.

The public face of the festival revolves around two stellar classical pianists, one from Maine and the other from Russia. Frank Glazer of Topsham is the undisputed dean of Maine musicians, boasting a professional career that began as a boy in the 1920s. Now in his 90s, Glazer remains active on the Maine music scene as a lecturer, performer and mentor at Bates College. Glazer gives the kickoff concert at 7:30 p.m. June 23.

Tamara Poddubnaya, who epitomizes the grand and flamboyant Russian Romantic tradition both in performance and as a noted international pedagogue, is the other headliner. She’s scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 26. Both Glazer and Poddubnaya will perform at the conservatory’s Memorial Hall, at 202 Woodford St. in Portland.

On June 29, two of Poddubnaya’s protegees, Veselin Ninov and Mark Demidovich, will give the third major concert of the festival at 7:30 p.m. at the Little White Church on Salmon Falls Road in Bar Mills.

Call the Portland Conservatory of Music at 775-3356.

Maine Festival of American Music

Among Maine’s many summer music festivals, the Maine Festival of American Music, hosted by the Portland String Quartet in late June, is perhaps the most intriguing. Held at the Shaker Village in New Gloucester, the PSQ celebrates the roots and heritage of American music, often by exploring the links between classical music’s European origins and American musical traditions.

I’ve been attending this festival in recent years, and I’ve always been fascinated by the PSQ’s efforts to position their art in different and illuminating contexts.

This year’s festival begins June 27 with a program titled “The Athens of the North: Music, Art and Architecture in Mid-19th-century Portland.” Earl Shettleworth, Maine’s official state historian, will present a lecture, and the PSQ will perform a string quartet composed by John Knowles Paine, a Portlander who made a mark on American music in the late 1800s.

On June 28 the focus will shift to Shaker music and dance, and the PSQ’s guest will be Maine fiddle ace Greg Boardman. The evening’s culminating event will be the world premiere of Boardman’s Fiddle Quartet.

On June 30 the PSQ will spotlight American women composers, with the main feature being Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet.

From last winter’s onset of first violinist Stephen Kecskemethy’s illness, the PSQ has been performing with a number of guest violinists. Best-known among the performers in New Gloucester will be Dean Stein of Brunswick. Another guest will be pianist Virginia Eskin of Boston, a longtime PSQ collaborator.

The three events mentioned above will take place at 7 p.m. at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, Old Route 26 in New Gloucester. Call 926-4597.