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Steve Earle spreads the gospel of Guthrie at WoodyFest

Steve Earle

Steve Earle Credit: (Photo by Ted Barron)

This week marks the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie, who is arguably America's most important folk singer.

In addition to writing the classic "This Land Is Your Land," Guthrie was a huge influence on Bob Dylan, as well as just about every other major folkie.

Steve Earle, who says Guthrie "invented my job," is paying tribute to him with a three-night Woodyfest in which he'll perform Guthrie songs with special guests such as Billy Bragg, Tim Robbins and Rachel Yamagata.

amNewYork spoke with Earle.

What do you wish more people knew about Woody Guthrie? That he was an entertainer that happened to be born in very politically charged times and became politicized by the environment. I don't think he woke up and decided to be a political songwriter. He's way bigger than that. He was a songwriter with a journalistic and literary bent. He's truly part of our cultural DNA.

Most people only know him from "This Land is Your Land." Do you think that song sums him up well? I think so. That song was a direct response to "God Bless America." The idea that God blessed America exclusively of other people pissed Woody off. It was originally called "God Blessed America." ... I think we should be singing "This Land Is Your Land" rather than "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium.

Guthrie believed music could change the world. Do you? I grew up during the Vietnam War. I know for a fact that music can change the world. Music helped stop the war ... With all the stuff going on in the world and in New York, I spend a lot of time thinking about what Woody would do and think about all of this. I even wrote a song about it. I think he'd definitely be in Zuccotti Park. So keep your eyes and ears open. You may just see another Woody Guthrie.


If you go: WoodyFest: A Celebration of Woody Guthrie's 100th Birthday, hosted by Steve Earle, is at City Winery at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. 155 Varick St., 212-608-0555, $60-$80.