A Tribute to Woody Guthrie at Timberline Lodge

Yes, my parents are in Portland, it’s been busy busy. And, on a side-note that makes sense to me, I grew up listening to Woody Guthrie.

This morning, we are resting, drinking many cups of milky tea and nibbling on crusty bread and berry pastries. I am stealing away to visit my wee blog and I may even go back to bed. Yesterday was a long and beautiful day.

We drove up to Mount Hood to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the historic Timberline Lodge and to visit the impressive volcanic mountain. Really, we were there for another event and special occasion – a Tribute to Tradition and a musical homage to Guthrie who would have been 100 this year.

An amazing group of musicians gathered at Timberline’s natural amphitheater, and a happy audience – on blankets and log-benches – gloried in a day of music and poetry that wound its way into the night.

By the time the concert had ended, the moon had risen, and the stage was singing into the darkness, whose inky crowd confirmed they were still present by singing right back to them. Moths performed percussion as they dinged and danced against the stage lights. Earlier, the snow on Mt Hood glowed pink in the setting sun and wildflowers swayed in the breeze, keeping time with harp and guitar.

“Music is in all the sounds of nature and there never was a sound that was not music…”

Among the musicians were Sarah Lee Guthrie – granddaughter of Woody – and her husband Johnny Irion, who is the great-nephew of John Steinbeck. What a marriage!


The Steinbecks and the Guthries have a long relationship. Steinbeck, of course, is “the Woody Guthrie of American authors,” sharing a concern for social injustice and a particular understanding of the American spirit. Guthrie’s song Tom Joad was inspired by the fictional character in Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of WrathAnd Steinbeck had this to say about him:

“Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.”

– as quoted in Woody Guthrie: a Life, by Joe Klein.

What I found remarkable yesterday was that so many of the words and sentiments of Woody Guthrie remain pertinent in these oppressive and repressive times. He is a man for all times and I fear he will speak for us far into the future. I know I’ll still be listening.

On that note, I heard (belatedly, as always) that a “lost”, unpublished novel of Guthrie’s – House of Earth – is being edited for publication next year by Johnny Depp and Douglas Brinkley. It is a fictional response to the Dust Bowl storms in the 1930s, of which he wrote many a sad and beautiful ballad.


I look forward to its release.

For now I should check on my guests who are asleep in my bed while I – with no spare room to speak of – will make my bed on the floor.

Reminds me of a song…



6 thoughts on “A Tribute to Woody Guthrie at Timberline Lodge

  1. Dear Deborah, I really enjoyed your post. I had no idea there was any connection between the Guthries and the Steinbecks! Thanks for “stealing away” to your “wee blog” for just a spell.

  2. We were there for the day hosting an informational booth about our group’s work in the restoration of fire lookouts in the forests of Oregon. It was a special day for me as well as 45 years ago this summer our church youth group had taken a week to hike the Timberline trail around the mountain. In those days, the Lodge was but 3 decades old.

    The evening concert capped off a wonderful event, and I agree…. many of the narrations of Woody’s words ring as true today as they did back during the dust bowl and depression era. I am the child of a Dust Bowl refugee so Woody Guthrie’s words and music have always been near to my heart.

    Thanks for your excellent post.

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