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Two For One, Guthrie and Dylan

Boys and girls, men and women, step right up. I have a special offer just for you.

If you’re a fan of Woody Guthrie, or maybe Bob Dylan, I have a two for one offer you’re not going to want to miss.

Two story brick building with mural of Woody Guthrie on side and words, This Land is Your Land.
Outside the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. **

That’s right, not one, but two, and it’s available any day and every day, right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Woody Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, so it’s not going to surprise anyone the museum built in his honor, the Woody Guthrie Center, is located an hour north in downtown Tulsa.

What might come as a surprise is the museum honoring Bob Dylan, born a 12-hour drive north of Tulsa, all the way up in Duluth, Minnesota, is right next door to the Woody Guthrie Center. The two brick former industrial buildings are literally attached.

No one seems to know exactly why Dylan chose to have his archives on display in Tulsa, but there does seem to be a general consensus on the subject.

Dylan was a tremendous fan of Guthrie, he was his hero. He played Guthrie’s songs constantly while a teenager growing up in Hibbing, Minnesota. As an adult, Dylan met Guthrie late in his life, visiting him in New Jersey when he was dying of Huntington’s disease.

Large black and white photo of Dylan and girlfriend Rotolo walking in New York City.
Entrance to Bob Dylan Center features this larger-than-life photo of early Sixties Dylan and girlfriend Suze Rotolo. **

Dylan had also visited Tulsa’s Guthrie Center and liked what he saw, and the idea of having his center in the same block as Guthrie’s had to appeal to him.

When an offer came from Tulsa oilman and billionaire George Kaiser to buy his collection of memorabilia, he accepted. The selling price is estimated to have been somewhere between $15-million to $20-million.

That was a bargain. Dylan is hardly strapped for cash so this wasn’t about money. His scribbled lyrics to Like a Rolling Stone alone sold for $2 million at a New York auction and the guitar he played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when he went electric, sold for nearly $1 million in 2013.

It’s not hard to imagine what his entire archives might have gone for at auction.

I happened to be in Tulsa just three weeks after the Bob Dylan Center opened, and jumped at the chance to visit both the Dylan and Guthrie Centers.

By the way, I’ve been down to Tulsa twice in the last couple of years and love it. Everyone hears about Oklahoma City but, in my humble opinion, Tulsa is the place to be.

Woody Guthrie Center

The Guthrie Center opened in 2013. The person I spoke with there, almost apologetically, talked about it not being as modern as the Dylan.

Classic six-string guitar in glass display case.
May Bell, Woody Guthrie's guitar, found in a Seattle thrift store. **

The Dylan certainly has more bells and whistles. A lot has changed in museum design over the last decade. But the Guthrie holds its own. It’s not some stodgy museum with nothing but artwork hanging on the walls.

I mean, they’ve even added a virtual reality experience. Guthrie lived through, and wrote many songs about, the devastating dust bowl period of the 1930s when drought and winds caused the largest migration of people in American history.

Sit down on the old wooden chairs on the front porch of a dilapidated farmhouse, pop the vr headset over your eyes and you’re instantly transported back to that period of time with images so real you almost feel the heat enveloping you and dust whipping against your skin.

Large room with circular, lighted, pedestal in center. Above is a circle of classic guitars, light illuminating from holes in center.
Pedestal in center of special room with Guthrie's hand written lyrics to This Land is Your Land. **

Of course, the center is filled with items from Guthrie’s life and career. Though he played many guitars over the years, not many are still in existence. One of the few on display was actually found in a Seattle thrift store.

My personal favorite piece is the scribbled page of handwritten lyrics for This Land is Your Land. (It’s a facsimile, they’re not going to put the real one out there to fade away.)

In addition to his songs, Guthrie was a prolific artist, sketching and drawing pieces throughout his life. The center is filled with his work, including one he created, using a nail or punch of some kind, in a brass shell casing while he was in the Merchant Marine. The image is of Moonbeam McSwine, a character in the popular Li’l Abner comics.

Large, brass, shell casing with image of comics character punched in.
Brass shell casing Guthrie decorated with Li'l Abner's Moonbeam McSwine. **

The center also maintains a special space for rotating exhibits. On display when I happened through was one devoted to the Boss himself, Bruce Sprinsteen Live!

It included all things Springsteen from his early days to present with live performance footage, instruments, stage costumes and even the calliope from his Magic Tour.

The current exhibits include one about Phil Ochs and the 1960s Peace Movements, and another, John Mellencamp and Woody Guthrie.

Bob Dylan Center

Once you pass the Dylan Center ticket counter and merchandise store, and enter into the museum itself, you know you’re not in a traditional museum, you’re in for an experience.

Room with video images on wall and simulated sheets of paper suspended on wiring to look like flying through air.
Video images are projected onto all the walls and even the flying sheets of paper in first room of Dylan Center. **

Back at that ticket counter, you’re issued headphones and an audio device about the size of a standard cellphone. As you walk the center and encounter each of its many displays, just hold the device near the display and the narration magically comes through your headphones.

It’s a bit of an eerie feeling, with every visitor in their own little world. Remove the headphones and the place is as quiet as a library, with everyone enveloped in their own, self-curated, experience via the headphones.

Museum visitor standing in middle of display room wearing headphones.
Visitors to the Dylan Center curate their own, personal, tours with audio devices. **

Want to learn more about this display? Listen in on the device. Don’t care about that one? Skip the audio and move onto the next.

Upon entering the first room of the museum, you are surrounded by video images from Dylan’s life. Sheets and sheets of music spring out of a typewriter on a nearby stand and fly through the room, suspended on wires.

Next up is the main exhibit hall, filled with memorabilia. Photos and promotional posters fill the walls, and touch display screens provide even more videos and information.

Museum display, room looks like an actual recording studio with simulated control panel and window looking into studio, with projected video images.
Dylan Center's Studio Experience gives visitors a sense of sitting in on a recording session. **

Further in, check out the Perspectives Jukebox Experience where you can punch in tunes from a special playlist curated by none other than Elvis Costello himself. The list includes Dylan’s hits as well as ones from Chuck Berry, The Animals, Joan Baez, The Staples Singers and more.

Just around the corner is The Church Studio Experience where visitors get the feeling of standing inside a real recording booth to experience one of Dylan’s sessions.

But, we’re not done. Not even close. This space is 29,000 square feet so there’s a whole lot going on.

Long hallway of lighted shadow-style boxes filled with items.
Lighted boxes on second floor are constantly changed out with Dylan memorabilia. **

Venture up the stairway to the second floor and you’ll find an ever-changing gallery of Dylan memorabilia. A long wall filled with shadow box-like display cases they are constantly switching pieces in and out of.

This is also where, like with the Guthrie Center, you’ll find the special exhibit area. The next one coming up is They Gave The Walls A Talking: The Extraordinary Story of The Pogues and Shane MacGowan.

As a photographer, I geeked out about the one on display when I happened through, Jerry Schatzberg: 25th and Park. Schatzberg created some of the most iconic portrait photographs of the 1960s.

Photo taken through window looking into a library-like study room.
Permission-only artifacts room in the Woody Guthrie Center. **

Feeling a little sluggish from all that exploring? Head back down the stairs and straight ahead you’ll find a small nook where you can sit for a spell, browse the many books shelved there about Dylan, Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol and many, many more.

One more thing, both centers have special archival libraries for people researching Dylan, Guthrie or music in general. You can look through the glass windows into the rooms, but you need special permission to enter.


**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address,, or a link back to this page.


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