Woody Guthrie Home Restoration Project In Trouble Over Financial Dispute
A dispute over the finances and control of a planned rebuild of folk legend Woody Guthrie's boyhood home in Oklahoma could put the project in jeopardy.
The spat, an ironic turn considering Guthrie's songs that railed against greed, began after two Gibson guitars crafted with wood salvaged from the iconic singer's home in Okemah failed to sell last month on eBay.
Profits from Gibson's donated guitars were to go toward reconstruction of the 1860s-era property, called London House, using piles of lumber rescued from the site when the dilapidated structure was torn down in the late 1970s.
The builders had grand plans for the property: Restoration of the home from its sandstone foundation on up, then construction of a museum to house all things Woody.
They also envisioned picnic areas, gardens and RV parking to accommodate the throngs of tourists and musicians who flock to town of 3,000, about 75 miles east of Oklahoma City, each July for the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.
It would all cost around $600,000. The home was to be finished in time for this year's festival.
The contractor, Dan Riedemann, and the man he hired last year to raise funds for the undertaking, Johnny Buschardt, banked on the guitars to sell fast so they could start building in the spring.
Riedemann and Buschardt hoped each guitar would fetch around six figures and only offered on eBay the first two of the eight made. Buschardt hoped the other six would be snapped up by museums or A-list musicians eager to own a piece of Woody history.
When neither guitar sold, the finger-pointing began. Riedemann accused Buschardt of not doing enough to publicize the sale. Buschardt accused Riedemann of being greedy.
Both men insisted they were still attached to the project in interviews this week with The Associated Press.
"When the guitars didn't sell and the money wasn't there, that's when we started going from strained to downright acrimonious," Buschardt said. "We're hoping Dan comes to his senses."
Buschardt said he was still working with Gibson to auction off the guitars - with the first guitar planned to go on the block in September.
A representative from Gibson, who said in an email that he hadn't heard of the dispute, did not respond as of Thursday to questions about who has rights to the guitars.
Riedemann disputed Buschardt's comments and said Buschardt was booted from the project because he "screwed up auctioning off the guitars."
"Johnny has nothing to do with this thing," Riedemann said. "When Johnny talks, I don't think he realizes people are going to hold him to his word. His reality is different."
News of the dispute has upset Guthrie's granddaughter, Annie Hays Guthrie, who had praised the plan to rebuild Woody's boyhood home.
"It's unfortunate," Hays Guthrie said. "Maybe we're not ready for the house right now."
But she said that won't stop her or the thousands of other Woody fans from coming to the festival to honor a man revered as one of the best songwriters in American history.