Happy birthday, Woody!

Vanaver Caravan’s Dust Storm Disaster (photo by Lois Greenfield)

Here in the Hudson Valley, we have a tendency to get so caught up in counting the passing birthdays of our seemingly indestructible folk-hero-in-residence, Pete Seeger, that this year’s centennial of the birth of the late great Woody Guthrie might have just slipped past us unnoticed. Luckily, the Vanaver Caravan is making sure that we don’t forget such an important cultural milestone.

For several years now, the Rosendale-based world music and dance company has been performing an extravaganza of works by Woody Guthrie under the title Pastures of Plenty. Livia Drapkin Vanaver’s choreography for the program was commissioned by Guthrie’s daughter Nora, a close friend of Livia’s since their college days at New York University. “My parents always talked about doing a show like this, together,” Nora Guthrie has said. “My mother, Marjorie Mazia, was a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and my Dad often accompanied and played for folk dance parties and modern dance performances. As a matter of fact, my parents fell in love rehearsing one of these shows!”

Over four decades have passed since Woody succumbed to Huntington’s chorea, but his legacy remains undimmed, and the Vanavers’ tribute piece serves as an excellent and timely reminder of how much of the genre now known as Americana – not to mention protest music – is grounded in Guthrie’s body of work. The production has been making the rounds of venues throughout the region in this centennial year, including an August performance at the Downtown Dance Festival in New York City’s Battery Park that earned kudos from New York Times reviewer Alastair Macaulay, a Brit who admits to being a curmudgeon about American folk music. “I arrived at this Guthrie tribute ready to resist or condescend,” he wrote. “Instead I was quickly overwhelmed; my eyes repeatedly filled with tears.”


Ready to marvel at the energetic clogging, leaping and twirling of the spectacular Caravan dancers, accompanied by Bill Vanaver’s virtuoso renditions of many of Guthrie’s best-beloved songs? There will be a great local opportunity to catch the Vanaver Caravan in Pastures of Plenty this coming Saturday, November 3 beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Parker Theatre on the SUNY-New Paltz campus. Tickets purchased in advance cost $25 for general admission, $20 for Unison members and $15 for students and children; $2 more at the door. To purchase, call the Unison Arts & Learning Center at (845) 255-1559 or visit https://unisonarts.secure.force.com/ticket#sections_a0FU0000001SMmzMAG. Resistance is useless!

The Vanaver Caravan performs its Woody Guthrie tribute, Pastures of Plenty, at the Parker Theatre at SUNY-New Paltz on Saturday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets cost $25 general admission, $20 for Unison members, $15 for students and children and $2 more at the door. Call Unison at (845) 255-1559 or visit https://unisonarts.secure.force.com/ticket#sections_a0FU0000001SMmzMAG to purchase.