Freight and Salvage Dwells in Affectionate Memory of Woody Guthrie

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Woody Guthrie, the great American folk-singer who traveled across the United States singing passionate ballads and hitch-hiking rides along the way, played another concert in spirit last Thursday. Memories of the American icon lay in the heart-felt and earnest production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song,” playing through July 22nd at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley.

The Marin Theatre Company first put on this show back in 2010 and continues today with the same winsome cast. The concert’s lead singer and narrator, Sam Misner, gave a strong and charming impression of Guthrie’s voice that mixed well with the comedic tones of Misner’s and co-star Matt Mueller’s scenes. The humor in Guthrie’s writings became vital for the dialogues and skits in between songs and brought laughter all evening.

The concert follows Guthrie’s journey west from Texas to California and east all the way to his fatal end in New York City. It becomes a perfect memoir for the beloved icon on what would have been his 100th birthday. The first half contained songs from Guthrie’s earlier work as he traveled across the plains in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression. His more political work like “Union Maid” drew sing-alongs and dancing from the mixed crowd of an older generation that knew him well and a younger one that simply and genuinely appreciates the iconic artist.

The musicians flawlessly followed the cast’s talent and captured the jovial and earthly essence of not just Guthrie’s music, but of all traditional folk music. Significant events in Guthrie’s later life also came into play through songs and banter throughout the piece. The experienced performers created such smooth transitions between scenes and songs that the few technical accidents remained mostly unnoticed.

The sound and amiability between the cast and audience allowed for the production – created by its writer and director, Peter Glazer – to reflect the warmth that Guthrie brought to the stage in his day. The show memorialized what the revered folk-singer brought to his lyrics in each ballad, and of why he loved his country despite its great flaws of the time. The serene voices of Megan Smith and Monica Wright merged harmoniously to sing each lyric with sincerity in their tribute to the singer.

Based on the critically-acclaimed musical, this presentation may not be for everyone, but it will be enjoyable for those who know and love the historic songs such as “Another Man Done Gone/So Long,” “Nine Hundred Miles” and “This Land is Your Land.” As its second presentation of this show for the Marin Theatre Company, the production gives a strong come-back for its Berkeley audience.

For those who aren’t familiar with Guthrie’s music or life, the nearly three-hour-long show will run on far too long. The anecdotes and scenes connected to his life will remain misunderstood to those unexposed to him. However, to any folk-music lover, the night will make a good time in singing along with the charismatic performers and sitting in the beautiful Coffeehouse.

Contact Melanie Jimenez at [email protected].