Woody still wows the world

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The Independent Culture

For a man who has been dead since 1967, it has been a good year for Woody Guthrie, the folk singer who would have turned 100 yesterday. New books on Guthrie have been published, more Guthrie songs have been released and, in the small Oklahoma town of Okemah where he was born, nobody wants to burn him in effigy for his politics anymore.

"It's a new world," said Arlo Guthrie, 65, standing outside the town's refurbished cinema that hosts this weekend's Woodyfest folk festival. This year, from California and New York to Germany and Italy, the man dubbed the "Dust Bowl troubadour" is being fondly remembered at Guthrie centennial gatherings. Not bad for a singer and songwriter who was a commercial flop.

Guthrie first caught the public's attention for his songs about the 1930s Dust Bowl. He became an advocate for migrant farm workers and the trade union movement, and a columnist for a communist newspaper.

But his commercial career was short-lived, and he died after spending most of his last 15 years in hospital.