Woody Guthrie lived through and sang about some hard times.

There was the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which ravaged farms and a way of life. There was the Great Depression, which threw a generation out of work. There was World War II, when Guthrie tried to use his guitar to fight fascism.

That’s a lot of heavy material to digest, especially for youngsters. And that’s why the performance group known as The Dolly Wagglers is attempting to explain Guthrie’s life and times by using puppets.

“The Hard Times of Woody Guthrie” is a puppet theater performance The Dolly Wagglers came up with a couple of years ago, in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Guthrie’s birthday. Friday they will bring the show to Mayo Street Arts in Portland for an afternoon performance.

The show will feature Guthrie in papier mache puppet form, plus dozens of other puppet characters. Musician Aaron Jonah Lewis will use guitar, banjo and fiddle to play several of Guthrie’s songs or songs he did versions of, including “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,” and “I Ain’t Got No Home.”

“It’s sort of like a musical, because we use his songs the whole way through,” said Lindsay McCaw, the main puppeteer for the show.” But there’s talking and joking too.”

As the Guthrie character and other puppets sing and converse, there will be a hand-cranked, scrolling backdrop of changing scenery. McCaw and Lewis will both sing the songs during the 30-minute show.

McCaw said the show is suitable for children of all ages.

McCaw and her partner in The Dolly Wagglers, Adam Cook, lived in Portland for about a short time a few years ago. They had both been performing puppetry, scrolling picture shows and other sorts of old-fashioned theater arts here, and often collaborated with a local band called Over a Cardboard Sea.

But both moved on to other cities. McCaw is now based in Detroit, while Cook is in New Orleans. They also build puppets and other props for parades and pageants.

“Since we lived in Portland for a while, we really like coming back to do shows there,” said McCaw, speaking from Boston on Monday, where she was preparing to perform in that city’s New Year’s celebration.

Guthrie, born in Oklahoma in 1912, was a folk musician whose songs are strongly associated with the Great Depression and common working folks who struggle through daily life. His best-known song was probably “This Land Is Your Land,” but the body of his work influenced several generations of songwriters, including Bob Dylan Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Billy Bragg. He died in 1967, at the age of 55.

And now his music lives on, in puppet form.

“The show is about explaining his music, and why it’s important, in a way that kids can understand,” said McCaw. 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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