Despite debt from previous events, WoodyFest continues to sing 

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Woody Guthrie made a career out of singing on the errors of capitalism. Unfortunately, the festival that bears his name can’t set up for free; it needs funding in order to continue Guthrie’s legacy.

Additional efforts include the Women of WoodyFest concert series that began in 2015. The first one this year was March 11 at Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center, and the second is 8 p.m. Saturday in Oklahoma City at The Blue Door, 2805 N. McKinley Ave. Tickets are $20. K.C. Clifford, Melissa Hembree, Susan Herndon, Lauren Lee, Shawna Russell and Monica Taylor will perform.

The event's fundraising committee also launched a GoFundMe account Jan. 4. The goal is set at $60,000 and, at press time, donations have reached $8,221.

As Oklahoma Gazette reported Feb. 17, WoodyFest was $20,000 in debt going into its upcoming 20th anniversary. At press time, the debt has reduced by $3000, said special projects coordinator Karen Zundel. While some of the debt is attributed to decreased sponsorship funding, Mother Nature also played a hand.

“The weather last year was an impact on the festival,” said Zundel, former festival media chairwoman. “There was some violent weather that caused the Thursday night Turnpike Troubadours show to be moved indoors. We were hoping that was going to draw a large group because of the outdoor pasture (stage). But the weather had a negative impact, so not as many people attended.”

Another factor, Zundel said, is transportation costs.

“We reimburse the artists for travel,” Zundel said. “Because of airfare, especially, it’s just really increased the last several years. ... Sometimes it’s just impossible to work within that budget.”

Many longtime sponsors — including George Kaiser Family Foundation, Oklahoma Arts Council, The Landen Foundation and The Sam Viersen Family Foundation — are still committed to help the festival reach its annual $150,000 budget. However, New Dominion oil and gas corporation ended its sponsorship.

“[New Dominion] was a huge supporter,” said treasurer and past president and John Robertson. “As the oil industry took their huge hits, they understandably backed out.”

However, new sponsors have stepped up, especially tribes near Okemah: Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Okemah Casino and Thlopthlocco Tribal Town’s Golden Pony Casino. Committee members are working on sponsorship packages to offer potential supporters.

While a large amount of attention is spent on fundraising, events and activities are still planned for the July 12-16 event in Okemah. Daytime events feature live music, lectures, poetry readings and children’s activities. Nighttime events are held on the Pastures of Plenty stage a short distance outside Okemah.

Overall, Zundel said WoodyFest draws performers and audiences who return for future years.

“There is this magic that happens there, this vibe that’s hard to describe,” Zundel said. “When you’re there, you’re hearing this music and walking the streets where you know Woody walked. Our core group of musicians — and even outside our core group of musicians — they want to come back every year. Those musicians say this is where they come to recharge their batteries.”

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