Woody Guthrie, the great American folk musician, was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, on July 14, 1912, and he lived in New York City off and on from 1940 until his death from Huntington’s disease in 1967. Beginning in 2001, various folk performers would come together in Lower Manhattan one evening each July to celebrate Woody’s birthday with a good old-fashioned hootenanny. Some of the personnel changed from year to year, while others returned time and again. Some were full time working musicians, while others were talented semi-professionals: teachers, psychologists, editors, librarians, archivists, and whatnot who played an occasional gig. All shared a love of Woody’s music, and when called upon, they backed each other up with vocal and instrumental accompaniment. The first six Woody Guthrie Birthday Bashes took place at CB’s 313 Gallery, the acoustic twin of CBGB/Omfug, the famed punk-rock club. In 2007, after CB’s 313 Gallery and CBGB/Omfug closed, the Birthday Bash moved across the street to the Bowery Poetry Club. The twelfth and final Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash took place there on July 14, 2012, Woody's 100th birthday.
Over the years, Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash performers have included Hillel Arnold, Fred Backus, Jordan Brand, Oscar Brand, Debe Dalton, Toby Fagenson, Jessica Feinbloom, Richard Fried, Don Friedman, Alan Friend, Emma Graves, Robin Greenstein, Michael Imperiale, David Kleiman, Beth Kotkin, Joel Landy, Chris Lang, Mimi LaValley, Sharleen Leahey, Eric Levine, George Levine, Mark Maniak, Ethan Miller, Lorcan Otway, Sandy Pliskin, Anne Price, Jimmy Rao, Carlos Rosello, James Rubin, Erica Smith, Steve Suffet, Alex Talavera, Gina Tlamsa, Carlos Vazquez, and Frank Woerner.
Open Your Hearts to the Paradise / The Best of the Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash / New York City 2001-2008, featuring 13 artists and 17 tracks, is now available for purchase from CD Baby. Anne Price and Steve Suffet compiled this CD by carefully going through whatever live recordings they could find from the first eight Woody Guthrie Birthday Bashes. These were all “house mixes” taken from the sound board and were never intended to be released to the public. Recording engineer Ray Korona did what he could to sweeten them up, but for some years, including 2001, no usable recording was available. The CD is available from Amazon and other online retailers.
Open Your Hearts to the Paradise is dedicated to the memory of the late Eric Levine (1957-2008), a talented musician and untiring disability rights activist, who performed in the first seven Woody Guthrie Birthday Bashes.
The 2010 Benefit Concert
The $420 net proceeds form the Tenth Annual Woody Guthrie Birthday Bash in 2010 were donated to Oxfam America for Haiti earthquake relief and reconstruction.
The 2012 Benefit Concert