Panhandle Spirit: Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center

This photo shows Woody Guthrie's first band, "The Corn Cob Trio". (ABC7Amarillo David Bradley)

The legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma, but he moved to Pampa when he was 17 back in 1929, and lived there for eight years. That experience helped shape his future, and it inspired a group of locals to create the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

Even if you have Google Maps, it’s easy to drive past it.

Tucked inside the old Harris Drugs store, you notice the center’s signs at a second glance. A plaque near the front door tells a brief story of Woody’s Pampa connection. Inside, the walls are covered with pictures and articles, as well as glass cases filled with memorabilia.

Michael Sinks, who serves on the Center’s Board of Directors, said even the building itself helped mold his musical future.

“He found an old busted up guitar in the back room. He asked Shorty Harris, the owner, if he could play around with it, and he said, ‘If you can play it, you can have it.’ So, his Uncle Jeb started teaching him to chord a little bit, and they started playing here in the evenings for the customers,” Sinks said.

Before long, Woody was writing songs. He formed his first band, “The Corn Cob Trio”, with one of his best friends, and then “The Junior Chamber of Commerce Band”, but he could find a stage almost anywhere.

“Woody rode around in the back of a bread truck, and when the would stop to deliver bread, Woody would jump out and play songs that he’d written. He got on a radio show here, right from the get-go, he was a character,” said Sinks.

But the center isn’t just about the past. It’s about music, and the power it has to bring people together. And they celebrate that every Friday night, with free jam sessions, led by a house band, and occasionally, some guest performers.

Carolyn Selby has been part of the core group of musicians for several years.

“We play a lot of old-time music, and not too much modern. Now we have some young people that have started to come, and they do a little more modern, and we’re learning, or we’re trying to learn anyway,” Selby said.

The Friday night show starts at 6:30 and lasts a couple of hours, as the singers take turns going around the circle. Sinks says sometimes they break the routine to play requests from the crowd, most of whom have been coming here on Friday nights for as long as they can remember, keeping that musical Panhandle Spirit alive.

“Common music for the common man. We’re just friends and neighbors, getting together, playing a little music. We’re not pros, but we have a lot of fun.”

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