On Saturday night (30th November) I was lucky enough to see the wonderful Prof Will Kaufman presenting his live documentary, ‘Woody Guthrie: The Long Road to Peekskill’.
Along with 90 other members of the enthralled audience, we listened as Will (in his own words!) “blathered and sang” and took us back in time to the volatile political and racial tensions of America in the first half of the 20th Century. All as seen through the eyes, actions, art and most importantly the music of legendary American troubadour, Woody Guthrie.
Throughout the evening we followed Woody Guthrie’s journey from a youthful Oklahoma racist to the ardent anti-racist champion who, along with many others, risked his life holding the line against American fascism during the notorious Peekskill riots of 1949. At times Will’s passionate portrayal of the race hatred, lynching and fascism of the era brought, not only me, close to tears, but Will’s rousing finale of ‘All You Fascist’s Bound To Lose’ showed us that racists are not born, but made – and that they can be unmade.
As always it was a delight to work with Will. He a consummate professional, extraordinarily talented (it’s hard to believe that he only has 5 fingers on each hand when he’s playing the guitar!) and just generally one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – I was even lucky enough to get a ‘Will Kaufman Hug’ – they should be prescribed on the NHS!
This event was also a brilliant example of the talent that we have here at UCLan and how successful and appreciated it can be when we make this available to the public and community at large. Public Engagement is a doddle in cases like this!
ps. Will also introduced us to one of Woody Guthrie’s numerous children’s songs – ‘Taking Me Riding In The Car’ – now a firm family favourite in our house!