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SLU to host concert of protest songs to salute folk icon Woody Guthrie

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CANTON — The times, they are a-changin’ — but for more than a century, protest music has played a constant role in American politics.

That is why John M. Collins, chairman of St. Lawrence University’s department of global studies, has a group of freshman students performing protest songs at Woodystock, a concert Thursday evening on campus that also will raise funds for Canton schools.

“The concert is the final performance following a semester’s worth of work in a class on protest music,” Mr. Collins said. “The students in the class do scholarly research on protest music while also creating their own original music using a do-it-yourself approach — no previous musical experience required.”

The event is named after American folk singer Woody Guthrie, who would have turned 100 this year, Mr. Collins said.

“Woody is one of the greatest songwriters in American history and arguably one of its greatest lyric poets as well,” he said. “Guthrie spent much of his life working to support the struggles of ordinary people, especially workers. He did this while maintaining a deep love of his country and its highest ideals.”

In keeping with the spirit of activism, donations are being accepted at the event to benefit Canton Central School District, Mr. Collins said.

“We wanted to do a benefit concert, and we thought it was important to look locally,” he said. “Given the budget cuts facing smaller school districts right now, the students in the class decided that they wanted to help out schools in the Canton area.”

Mr. Collins said the class was still trying to figure out how to get any money raised to the schools.

Five different bands will perform at the event, representing a range of genres and issues. Michael J. Godwin, who will perform with his band, Bi Bi Piper, said despite its roots in the past, protest music is still relevant today.

“I think that it just raises awareness about the specific cause that you’d be protesting,” he said. “The side effect is that it brings people together and allows them to participate and come together and share an idea that they thought was interesting.”

Mr. Collins said protest music has a growing role as mass protest movements gain popularity and participation around the globe, citing the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the Middle East’s Arab Spring demonstrations as examples.

“As long as there is injustice in the world, there is a need for protest music,” he said. “History tells us that music and other forms of culture can play a key role in social movements of all kinds. It can help educate the public, rally supporters, humanize abstract issues, boost morale and give ordinary people a voice.”

The concert will conclude with a singalong of Guthrie’s most well-known tune, “This Land Is Your Land.”

The event takes place at 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Java Barn at St. Lawrence University. Admission to the event is free, but voluntary donations to benefit Canton Central School will be accepted.

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