What: "Hard Travelin' with Woody Guthrie" centennial celebration
When: Friday, Aug. 31, 6 p.m.
Where: IBEW Local 175 Hall, 3922 Volunteer Drive
How much: Free, but donations are accepted for the Chattanooga Community Kitchen
For more information: Call 423-894-3557
Nearly a month to the day before American protest singer Woody Guthrie was born, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 175 was formed in Chattanooga. Both Guthrie and IBEW Local 175 celebrate centennials this year, and the two will be together in spirit on Labor Day weekend.
The "voice of the American workman" will be celebrated at the IBEW's Union Hall on Volunteer Drive with a special performance of Randy Noojin's one-man show, "Hard Travelin' with Woody Guthrie."
The professional actor's solo performance is set in a 1940s union hall at a fictional fundraiser. Noojin delivers what The Huffington Post calls a "straightforward, no-nonsense portrayal of singer, songwriter and activist Woody Guthrie," complete with storytelling, passionate moments and, of course, singing.
Local 175 President Dwight Wilhoit said celebrating Guthrie's 100th birthday at the union's centennial event underscores the continued need and role the organization plays in giving workers a voice.
"He was a voice for the people who didn't have a voice. We feel the same way with organized labor," Wilhoit said.
Although much has changed in the past 10 decades and "smokestack industries" have been replaced with more service-oriented roles for the area's electrical workers, Wilhoit said the Local 175 is still very active and relevant for its 3,100 members.
"I like to think today is our heyday. We are larger now than we have ever been before. We take in 70 apprentices a year. That is from 700 that apply, so it is obvious that people still want to get in our organization," he said.
Wilhoit is currently a six-term president, presiding over the group since 1995. He jokingly says he joined "back when electricity was just a theory," beginning his first apprenticeship in 1974. Wilhoit followed his uncle, who joined the union after he returned from WWII.
Being associated with a 100-year-old entity is a big source of pride for Wilhoit and the members, he said.
"It's a mark that very few achieve. It gives you a sense that you are involved in something and belong to something that is important and that truly matters," he said.
Some of that long history is on view at the IBEW in Chattanooga and will be available for the public to see during the centennial open house and solo performance on Friday, Aug. 31. The event is free, but donations will be accepted to benefit the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, officials said.