Twenty-Seven Julys in Okemah: Memories of WoodyFest


Joel Rafael, Ellis Paul and Monica Taylor will headline the opening night concert of the 27th Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. 

The Wednesday night concert – scheduled for 7pm CT on July 10 - will be a retrospective of 27 years of WoodyFest from three performers who are considered festival “legacy” artists.

The word retrospective implies looking to the past, with contemplation; looking or directed backward. But the three artists tasked with this presentation are performers whose characters individually and collectively reflect a constant looking forward. 

Looking forward is how they ended up still being in this town of Okemah every July. They have structured their year-long schedules to attend WoodyFest, as a holiday of sorts; one in which they will be cared for, but not employed; where their humility is tested, and their hearts are opened.

Ellis Paul, Joel Rafael and Monica Taylor bring the essence of knowing WoodyFest from the beginning. Experiences and memories are embedded in their songs. Every time they walk across the stage and look out into the beautiful Crystal Theatre, they innately know both the sense of awe they felt at the first festival and the sense of gratitude that 27 years later they are still standing here, on a stage sanctified by the artists who have graced it and imbued their sense of justice for all. There’s history here. And yes, they are part of it.

Rather than prepared monologues, the three will share 27 years of WoodyFest in songs and stories. Their music will cause retrospection and introspection. You will hear old songs as well as new songs in seasoned performances by these veteran artists.

Ellis Paul has participated in all but one WoodyFest. He is a singular storyteller, with his eye trained on the future, despite his sense of history. More than 20 years ago Nora Guthrie invited Ellis to put music to lyrics by Woody Guthrie. The result is “God’s Promise” released in 2002 on Speed of Trees.

Joel Rafael has been part of WoodyFest since the beginning. He is an authentic folk singer with songs that reflect his vision of our world. Joel has released two albums of Woody Guthrie songs: Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie released in 2003. The album includes “Dance A Little Longer” which is a co-write with words by Guthrie and music by Rafael. Two years later he released Woodyboye: Songs of Woody Guthrie and Tales Worth Telling, Vol. 2, an album that includes four previously unpublished Guthrie lyrics.

Monica Taylor, also known as the Cimarron Songbird, is a 25-year WoodyFest veteran artist, a Red Dirt Sister, and friend to all. In the early years of WoodyFest she performed in the duo group The Farm Couple. At this year’s Gypsy Cafe Music Festival held in May 2024, she was the recipient of the Red Dirt Relief Fund Restless Spirit Award.

Be prepared to hear songs written by Woody...written about Woody... inspired by Woody... and more.

Tickets for the July 10 concert can be purchased at