Larry Long: American Troubadour
[Larry Long is] a true American troubado[u]r.
In 1977, twenty-six-year-old vagabond singer Larry Long wrote [Sidenote: This post kicks off our review of the twenty-second annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. We’ll be alternating our reporting with essays and photo galleries from the sixteenth festival in 2013, so check in often for a mix of old and new Woodyfest goodness.] Pope County Blues in support of farmers fighting a high voltage power line in Minnesota. A year later he organized Tennessee farmers to form what we would now call a farmers market. Following that, Long accompanied [Sidenote: Both musically and perambulatorily.] the first “Tractorcade,” a procession of family farmers traveling to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate for fair crop prices. [Sidenote: Ode, Kim, “Larry Long: a Troubadour for Social Justice,” 25 April 2014).]
While traveling with the tractorcade, Long conducted taped audio interviews of the farmers and their families. He also documented the procession photographically. Eventually Long edited the material into a slide show, Tractorcade U.S.A., featuring traditional and original music. Tractorcade U.S.A. proceeded to travel across the United States, and the Library of Congress later added excerpts from the slide show to its collection.
The Seeger Connection
Anyone reading this probably sees the parallels with Woody Guthrie, who walked, hitchhiked, and train-hopped his way from Oklahoma to the migrant camps of California during the Dustbowl. Along the way Guthrie wrote and played songs for his fellow climate refugees, eventually becoming a spokesperson for every down-trodden soul to walk the earth in bare feet and rags.
So, of course, Long would meet Guthrie contemporary Pete Seeger, circa 1980. That meeting kicked off a lifelong friendship and inspired Long to organize and oversee the Mississippi River Revival, a successful decade-long effort to clean up the eponymous waterway.
A Lifetime of Accomplishments
Long’s curriculum vitæ is lengthy and impressive. A self-titled
Road Scholar, Long organized and performed for Seeger’s 90th and 95th birthday celebrations. In 1993 Larry performed in Brazil as a United States Consulate cultural ambassador. In 2000 he traveled to South Africa through a grant from the U.S. State Department to hold a collective writing workshop with students, migrant workers and union stewards. He was inducted into the America’s Old Time Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
Not to mention that he organized the first tribute to Woody Guthrie in Okemah in 1988, eleven years before Woodyfest’s birth. Long’s song, “Okemah Waltz,” is the town’s official song. Long wrote it, collectively with Okemah schoolchildren, in 1986. You can hear it, along with other songs from Long’s time in Okemah, on the Flying Fish LP It Takes a Lot of People (Tribute to Woody Guthrie).
There’s much more to Long’s life and career, too much for this article. We encourage you to read his resumé and career highlights on his website.
Long May He Sing
Long returned to Okemah for Woodyfest 2019, his tenth time to grace her stages. He was accompanied in his late-morning performance by violinist “Fiddlin’” Pete Watercott.
This article was expanded on 27 January 2020 after we reached out to Mr. Long with some questions.