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Reviving Woodstock

Political songwriters explore protest song-making at a fitting venue

Singer-songwriter Bill Valenti

The Woody Guthrie Center will soon host “The Art of the Protest Song,” a program centered on music with a message in mind. Presenting the program is musician Bill Valenti, a political singer, songwriter, and satirist from Bend, Oregon. The event will also feature performances by Farrel Droke and local singer-songwriters Adrienne Gilley and Cody Brewer.

Valenti has hosted the songwriting event all over the country, 19 times since its inception in 2014. He conceived the program just after performing for an event in tandem with the Occupy Wall Street movement. The program is “meant to inspire,” Valenti said, to revive the Woodstock spirit, albeit in smaller venues. The protest aspect of these songs separates the program from the typical casual folk event, and this is a rare chance to hear many protest songs performed live.

“Superstars like Bruce Springsteen can still get away with protest songs at large shows,” Valenti said, “but otherwise it’s rare to hear them live at all.”

The structure of the show has a bit to do with one of Valenti’s priorities. He calls it “edu-tainment.” Each of the artists plays one classic protest song, explains its context and meaning, and then follows it up with an original, often related song. Valenti’s intention is to give the audience not just an idea of how protest songs have changed with the times, but also how some remain timeless.   

Valenti will cover Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” with a modern twist, updating the song with a final verse. There will, of course, be at least one Woody Guthrie cover, but the songs won’t be the only elements honoring the Dust Bowl troubadour at the event. Valenti will bring a guitar that Guthrie’s granddaughter played after hearing a protest song he’d written as a tribute to Guthrie years ago.

“There’s a bit of Guthrie DNA in that instrument,” he said.

Since he wrote his first song a decade ago—when he was 60 years old—he’s built a reputation as a ‘60s-style topical songwriter. And satire is his favorite political tactic.

“Satire is the most effective form of protest song, because it always gets the best audience reaction,” he said. “Before I was writing music, I was writing letters to editors about the absurdities in the news. My music is a continuation of that.”

“The Art of The Protest Song” is scheduled for February 11, 2 p.m. at the Woody Guthrie Center Theater. Program admittance is included with tickets to the Center. Visit woodyguthriecenter.org for more information.

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