skip to Main Content

Woody Guthrie Columbia River Collection

May 20, 2016 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm



Columbia Gorge Discovery Center welcomes musicians Bill Murlin and Joe Seamons for a special presentation of music by folk singer Woody Guthrie. The evening will begin at 6 p.m. with a Chicken Florentine dinner, followed by the concert at 7 p.m.

The dinner menu is Chicken Florentine pasta, green beans, mandarin orange and walnut salad with berry vinaigrette, dinner rolls and carrot cake. The dinner and concert are $26, the concert only is $10. Reservations are required by May 18, 2016.

This year (2016) is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Woody Guthrie Columbia River  Collection. In the spring of 1941, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) hired a then-unknown folk singer named Woody Guthrie to record songs about the Columbia River hydroelectric system and sway public opinion to convince the residents of Oregon and Washington of the advantages of public power projects. Guthrie traveled the region and wrote 26 songs in 30 days, including classics such as “Roll On, Columbia,” “Pastures of Plenty,” and “Grand Coulee Dam.”

Spokane native Bill Murlin, the BPA officer who assembled all 26 of Guthrie’s 1941 song sheets and records, told Timothy Egan of The New York Times on the BPA’s 50th anniversary, “If we hired Woody Guthrie today, we’d have him singing about saving salmon and conserving energy instead of using him to sell power.”


Bill Murlin

Joe Seamons and Bill Murlin are co-executive producers of the pending album in which 13 Northwest artists will have recorded all 26 songs Woody wrote 75 years ago during his work for the BPA.  Their project has been endorsed by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. These songs are unique and specific to the Northwest, and mark a unique chapter in Guthrie’s life.

Woody said he viewed the “Columbia River and the big Grand Coulee Dam from just about every cliff, mountain, tree and post from which it could be seen.” He also visited logging camps, farms, skid rows and granges. His voice and lyrics touched the hearts of working people in the Pacific Northwest.

Woody Guthrie’s success was born from poverty, family tragedy, and the Great Depression. Years of riding the rails, singing in hobo camps and learning folk songs from the array of migrating vagrants blown west by the Dust Bowl helped Woody understand that people resonate more to the power of lyrics and music than speeches or books. He took up social causes and helped establish folk music, not only as a force for change but as a viable new commercial genre within the music business. His music touched the hearts of hard-working, common folk and launched him into the popular consciousness. His most famous song, “This Land is Your Land,” became an unofficial national anthem.


Joe Seamons

In 1987 the legislature named “Roll On, Columbia” Washington’s official state folk song. A whole generation of folksingers, including but not limited to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, consider Woody Guthrie its special inspiration. Bob Dylan said, “The songs themselves were really beyond category. They had the infinite sweep of humanity in them.”

Bill will have a songbook for sale the night of the event, showcasing the compiled Woody Guthrie songs. The Columbia River Trading Co. museum store will have copies of Greg Vandy’s book “26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest” for sale.

It will be a night of celebration for this great American folk singer who, 75 years ago this month, traveled the Columbia River and memorialized his journey in song.

Leave a Reply