Happy Birthday to Woody Guthrie! The folk troubadour was born on this day in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. At the age of 17, he moved to Pampa in the Texas Panhandle, where he experienced the hardship of the Dust Bowl—an event that made a lasting impact on his worldview and songwriting.
Woody's time in the Panhandle is honored at Pampa’s Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center, which occupies the same red-brick storefront that once housed Harris Drug Store, where Woody worked as a soda jerk.
The center’s walls are covered with Woody Guthrie memorabilia and information about Pampa history. Visitors can also pick up a walking tour brochure and audio guide that focuses on Pampa of the 1930s, including the still-open Coney Island Café, known for its chili-cheese dogs and homemade pies.
On Friday nights, including this Friday, the center hosts musicians for a jam session that always includes at least a couple of Woody songs. The center also holds an annual festival honoring Guthrie during the first weekend of October, the anniversary of Woody's death in 1967. The specific events of this year's celebration are pending.
“Mainly we just try to keep the idea of Woody’s legacy alive,” says Michael Sinks, the center’s board president. “This was where he kind of formed himself. He read every book in the Pampa library. This is where he got the basis, I think, for what started his career as a songwriter and a man for the people.”
There’s no doubt that Pampa and the Dust Bowl influenced Woody, just as the time period did everyone else who lived through it. Woody weathered the dust storms in a shotgun shack in Pampa, and later had this to sing about:
“A dust storm hit, and it hit like thunder. It dusted us over, and it covered us under; blocked out the traffic and blocked out the sun, straight for home all the people did run. … So long, it's been good to know you. This dusty old dust is a getting my home. And I got to be drifting along.”