Jazon Mraz with Audience (II) — 21st Annual Woody Guthrie Festival, 2018

Woodyfest 2018: Ellis Paul & Jason Mraz

Old & New

Founding Fabulist Faithful to Festival

Ellis Paul [Sidenote: Part twenty-three of our Woodyfest 21 () cov­er­age fea­tures Ellis Paul and Jason Mraz.] loves Woody. Of the Woody Guthrie tat­too on his right shoul­der, he says it’s the only thing he could put on his body that would be like a badge of who he was. [Sidenote: Alarik, Scott, “Boston’s ‘Soul’ Man Ellis Paul Crafts a Trademark Singer-Songwriter Sound,” Boston Globe, ] It was that tat­too, along with a chance meet­ing with Nora Guthrie, [Sidenote: Woody’s daugh­ter, pres­i­dent of the Woody Guthrie Foundation, and founder of the Woody Guthrie Archive.] that brought Paul to Woody’s birth­place of Okemah. Both were attend­ing a Folk Alliance Conference when Nora asked to see the tat­too. This led to his per­form­ing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame con­fer­ence, Hard Travelin’: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie. [Sidenote: The week-long gath­er­ing was the first major con­fer­ence devoted to Woody Guthrie. Performers included Dan Bern, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Arlo Guthrie, Indigo Girls, Jorma Kaukonen, Jimmy LaFave, Country Joe McDonald, Paul Metsa, Charlie Mosbrook, David Pirner, Tim Robbins, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and Syd Straw. Many of the same musi­cians, includ­ing Paul, reunited for the Guthrie trib­ute, ’til We Outnumber Them.] Less than Paul would head­line the inau­gural Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.

Ellis Paul, “Woody Guthrie, Working Man,” Live at KDHX

Paul has an almost per­fect atten­dance record, per­form­ing at every Woodyfest except for , when his daugh­ter Ella was born. To be sure, he was a happy father, but miss­ing the fes­ti­val killed me. [Sidenote: Conversation between Ellis Paul and the author via Facebook Messenger.]

During Paul’s set, mem­bers of the Guthrie fam­ily watched from stage right on the con­crete stage. The younger fam­ily mem­bers stayed for the fol­low­ing act, for rea­sons which will become clear below.

Group Sing — 21st Annual Woody Guthrie Festival, 2018
Group Sing — 21st Annual Woody Guthrie Festival, 2018. Copyright © 2018 Guy V. Zähller/​Monterey Bay Photo. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Paul sits on the festival’s advi­sory board. An ama­teur illus­tra­tor, his draw­ings have graced the fes­ti­val pro­gram book and the sou­venir T-shirts sev­eral times.

New Blood Attracts New Fans

Plat­inum-sell­ing singer-song­writer Jason Mraz closed out fes­ti­val . In con­ver­sa­tion with var­i­ous fes­ti­val orga­niz­ers, this writer was told that the Grammy®‑winning singer’s book­ing was the first foray into attract­ing a larger and more inclu­sive audi­ence. It’s cer­tainly true that con­tem­po­rary folk music skews white, col­lege edu­cated, and baby-boomer. I didn’t notice a sign­f­i­cant change in that first demo­graphic, but boy-howdy there was a seis­mic shift in the last. The night audi­ence leaned young — I’ve never seen so many tweens and teens at the Pastures of Plenty in the fif­teen years I’ve been attend­ing — and very enthusiatic.

The young folks’ par­ents and grand­par­ents might have not been Mraz fans when he stepped onto the stage, but they were con­verts soon after. Mraz is hum­ble and self-dep­re­cat­ing onstage, but still com­mands the audi­ence. A native of Virginia, he has the air of some­one raised to say Yes, ma’am and Yes, sir and to hold the door open for his elders with­out being asked. He addresses the audi­ence fre­quently between songs, often exhort­ing them to just breathe. An easy-going, “New Age” California vibe per­me­ates his monologues.

Jason Mraz, “I Won’t Give Up,” @ Woodyfest 21 ()

The songs aren’t strictly folk, although the under­ly­ing pos­i­tive mes­sages fit well with how folk music in the was used to incite social reform. The mostly solo acoustic set ranged from singer-song­writer to rock and pop to neo-soul. Mraz duti­fully per­formed his hits to the audience’s delight. Near the end of his set, a cou­ple of fes­ti­val reg­u­lars joined Mraz. Terry “Buffalo” Ware added some elec­tric gui­tar to the mix, while Joel Rafael pro­vided addi­tional gui­tar and vocals.

In this writer’s judg­ment, the organizer’s goal of widen­ing the fes­ti­val audi­ence was a smash­ing suc­cess. I hope they will not only book Mraz for future fes­ti­vals, but will remain open to attract­ing other folk-adja­cent performers.

Gallery: Ellis Paul & Jason Mraz


I didn’t get many photograph’s of Ellis Paul’s set as I was tak­ing a break from my duties, but here are a cou­ple of images I shot from upstage, for what it’s worth. Images from Jason Mraz’s set fol­low below.

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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