Larry (I) — 22nd Annual Woody Guthrie Festival, 2019

Woodyfest 2019: Larry Long

Larry Long: American Troubadour

American Troubadour

[Larry Long is] a true American troubado[u]r.

Studs Terkel, fron­tispiece inscrip­tion to Larry Long’s copy of Terkel’s Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.

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.

Pete Seeger & Larry Long — Well May the World Go

A Lifetime of Accomplishments

Frontispiece to Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, inscribed by author Studs Terkel to Larry Long.
Frontispiece to Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, inscribed by author Studs Terkel to Larry Long. Terkel gave the book to Long after he inter­viewed him about his efforts to honor Woody Guthrie in Guthrie’s boy­hood home­town, Okemah, circa 1986 – 1988. The inter­view was recorded for Terkel’s radio show in 1989. You can hear it at https://​bring​ing​woody​home​.org/​a​u​dio. Photo by Larry Long. Copyright © 1990 Larry Long. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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.

Gallery: Larry Long


About Chris J. Zähller

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

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