Woody Sez closed out its wonderful encore run with a Standing Room Only performance and an equally packed hootenanny on December 14th that spoke volumes about the reasons for gathering to celebrate story and song. We’ve said it before, quoting Pete Seeger: The Power of Singing Together. You can feel it here, in this generous clip recorded by Lois Fingerhut, take in our DCJCC Community Hall – over 120 singers joined by 8 guitars, 4 banjos, a bass, mandolin, harmonica, spoons, clicking cup; you name it, it was assembled for our final hoot, as we sang “Woody’s Children” led by Doug Mishkin.
And we got the joint warmed up with Dylan and more Seeger.
As we wrote in the program…
We wanted Woody back even before Theatre Washington offered its Helen Hayes endorsements because we knew this show had captured something special during last year’s rousing DC premiere. Perhaps it was the power of the inspired hootenannies after many a sterling performance. Perhaps it was the clapping together in the theater, or the collective movement to tears when Woody loses his mom, or when his mom returns just as Woody loses his own control of locomotion; the fine circularity of this deceptively rich and beautifully structured show. It was a show that brought us together. After so much that’s pulled us apart as a nation—including art keeps asking provocative questions of us a community; these are times that have tested our mettle, our values, our cohesiveness—Here’s a show to bring about some binding. Here’s a troubadour—admired and widely recognized—bringing empathy and identification to the anonymously forgotten; to the nameless and the downtrodden. We wanted to be around that generous spirit that was Woody Guthrie and this wonderfully generous tribute to him just a little bit longer; to make our connection to Woody’s triumphant, enduring legacy that much stronger.
Long may we be inspired. To sing. And speak out.
One night after the high-powered production of If/Then at The National, it was back to acoustic instruments and the homespun inspiration of the original ramblin’ boy Woody Guthrie, as our student subscribers’ final outing of the semester saw us return to Theater J on another historic Friday night performance. Historic because this time we were following the Shabbat performance with a Shabbat Hootenanny sing-along which included songs with Cantor Michael Zoosman (husband to our Director of Community Outreach and New Media, Molly Winston). So in addition to old standby Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are A Changing,” “Blowin’ In The Wind),” “Town-O,” “500 Miles” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” led by Woody Sez cast members Leenya Rideout and David Finch, we had Cantor Mike leading us on “Tumbalalaika” and “Oseh Shalom” and “Bim Bam Shabbat Shalom.” A perfect Jewish summer camp fusion. Check out a clip from the Shabbat Hootenanny sing-along here:
Woody Sez Shabbat Hootenanny Sing a long from Theater J on Vimeo.
But what did last night’s audience make of the entirety of the experience? The contrast of two such different musicals in Woody and If/Then? The construction of the show? The relevance of the lyrics? How does Woody read to a generation of early 20-somethings? Eager to read.
And I encourage y’all to peruse back to other postings of Woody Sez. Review some other write-ups of our hootenannies and see some footage too. Check out a round up of Woody Sez’s recent summer trip to Israel.
There’s another hoot this Sunday night at 9:45 — and a final one next Saturday night (closing night), December 14 at 9:45 again. Bring instruments. Come for the finale!
Let this be a marker for moving text to come; for great pix surely on their way; for video of us hooting, howling, baying at the moon. It was a helluva way to end a record-breaking run; two Sold-Out Sunday shows — a smashing post-show event with Folk Giant Tom Paxton, and the composer of “Woody’s Children,” Doug Mishkin, and the cast of Woody Sez.
Tom was amazing — sharing stories of growing up in Oklahoma, all of 27 miles away from Okhmah, where Woody Guthrie grew up (though Tom was born in Chicago–didn’t move to OK till he was 10). And in discussing Woody’s legacy, we spent a good portion appreciating Pete Seeger, and how, if not for Pete, we wouldn’t have been gathered on our stage celebrating a revered Woody Guthrie. Because it was Pete who brought Woody forward at the critical moment, and kept his music popular and alive. It was Pete Seeger’s philosophy, as Tom summed it up in a nutshell, that said “we’re all in this together” — and he meant the business of life and politics — and music had a major role to play in galvanizing us into a sense of true community. By singing together, we can empower each other; honor each other; become a unified force of spirit.
A magical afternoon. Where we sang together Doug Mishkin’s amazingly enduring tribute song to Woody. Please do check this out!
And a rousing closing performance followed by a jam packed hootenanny in the pre-school lobby. Couldn’t have been more full up to the gills — nor more fun. People loved it. We’ll be doing more of this, I suspect. We’ll just gotta figure out when, and how often a show; how often a month. I love these hoots. You kinda gotta be there, no? Or just wait for the youtube video. I think one’s coming! Meanwhile, hooray and hurrah! Woody Rocked!!!
When’s the last time you sang and played and clapped into the wee hours? We’ve been doing it more and more. Some theaters sing show-tunes. Some do cabarets. I think we’ve found our bliss with the hootenanny. Every Sunday night (for the time being) at the J. And we started singing even before Woody Sez(!), at the closing night of Our Class. Menachem (Tim Getman) brought his banjo, and the artistic director brought his guitar, and we sang and sang until well past 1 in the morning. These Woody Sez hoots are shorter, but they’ve gotten us started on a tradition that won’t stop (I’m predicting Israeli sing-alongs for the closing nights of our Voices From a Changing Middle East Festivals!) For the next two Sunday nights, right after the 7:30 show, beginning at 9:20 pm in the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, where we’ve got a great, great tribute exhibit to Woody Guthrie celebrating his 100th birthday (learn more about the exhibit here), you are invited to bring your instrument, your voice box and your presence down to the J for some Sunday night baying at the moon.
As for the etymology of the word “hootenanny?”
“We was playin’ for the Lumber Workers’ Union. We was singin’ around in the shingle mills. There was a lady out West out there in the lumber camp and her name was Annie and so every time they’d have a songfest Annie would outshout all of them. So people got to call her Hootin’ Annie but the name got spread all over and so out there when they are going to have a shindig they call it Hootenanny.”
And that’s how Hootenannies began, according to Woodrow Wilson (“Woody”) Guthrie.
Read more about the origins of the hootenanny here.
All photos by Dancing Moose Photography (c)