Country Joe McDonald will perfrom a musical tribute to Woody Guthrie. - St. Claire Productions

'A Tribute to Woody Guthrie'

Country Joe McDonald will present a show called "A Tribute to Woody Guthrie" Saturday in Ashland. McDonald typically opens the tribute with Guthrie's best-known tune, "This Land is Your Land," and sings 13 Guthrie songs, including Dust Bowl ballads, children's songs, country songs and union songs.

He says he does not mimic Guthrie's style but seeks to convey the emotion and energy that defined famed ballad singer.

The show is a two-act, 90-minute presentation in which McDonald reads from Guthrie's autobiography, his novel and his Daily Worker newspaper column. He also reads some of the quirky letters between songwriter Malvina Reynolds and Guthrie.

These were written in 1955, when Guthrie was hospitalized with the Huntington's Chorea that would ultimately take his life. Readings sprinkled between songs reveal Guthrie's humor through his experiences selling miracle cure potions, drinking low-quality moonshine, and suffering through car breakdowns.

The tribute evolved out of a performance McDonald gave in 2001 for the National Steinbeck Center as part of its display of the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition "This Land Is Your Land: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie."

In 1975, Harold Leventhal, who managed the Woody Guthrie archives, asked McDonald to put music to one of the many lyrics that had no recorded music. McDonald performed "Woman At Home" at the Hollywood Bowl in a tribute concert.

McDonald became a national recording artist during his days with Country Joe and the Fish. The band originated in Berkeley, Calif., in 1965, during the time of the Free Speech Movement on the Berkeley campus of the University of California. The band — McDonald, Barry Melton, Gary "Chicken" Hirsh (who would later move to Ashland), David Bennett Cohen and Bruce Barthol — worked regularly in Berkeley at the Jabberwock coffee house on Telegraph, and at the Avalon and the Fillmore ballrooms in San Francisco.

In 1966, Country Joe and the Fish were signed by Vanguard Records. McDonald's solo career took off at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, when on the first day of the festival, he performed an impromptu solo set. Although Country Joe and the Fish also played at Woodstock, (only Barry Melton and Joe remained from the line-up), it was the solo spot that sealed the singer's destiny as primarily a solo artist for the next 35 years. In his solo set he performed "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag" and the notorious Fish Cheer.

McDonald has released more than 30 solo albums since 1969. He remains active on behalf of Vietnam Veterans and the anti-war movement.

In 2004 he formed The Country Joe Band with Bruce Barthol, Chicken Hirsh and David Bennett Cohen. This was essentially the classic line-up of Country Joe and The Fish except for Melton.

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