VR in the 1930s?!
Woody Guthrie Center's virtual reality Dust Bowl experience is well worth a visit.
On the last Sunday in April, Daniel, Joss and I had a rare Family Afternoon, so we headed downtown to Guthrie Green for the 5th Anniversary Celebration of the Woody Guthrie Center! Guthrie Green has free concerts on Sundays throughout the season, so we will probably be back some future Sunday afternoon.
I was pleasantly surprised (having failed to look up the lineup before heading out) to find Casii Stephan and the Midnight Sun on stage when we arrived. I got to interview her as an intern working for TulsaPeople a couple summers ago, and not only does she have an incredible voice, she was really encouraging to talk with. (Find her video for ‘Ghost Ships’ on YouTube here.) She and her band do some fun covers, too, so Joss had a lot of fun dancing on stage and turning somersaults in the grass, and I had “fun” chasing him up and down the Green and trying to explain why we DON’T touch expensive amplifiers. *insert eye-rolling emoji here*
So it was a fun party outdoors, but in between acts, I figured we should go explore the Woody Guthrie Center, as I hadn’t been before. *insert guilty-face emoji here–one of my favorites* The Woody Guthrie Center is located at 102 E. M.B. Brady St., just across from Guthrie Green.
Visiting the Woody Guthrie Center with Young Kids
First, I would not recommend tackling the Woody Guthrie Center solo with a very young child. There are a lot of electronics–headphones for listening to music at the Music Bar or to learn historical facts about Woody Guthrie’s life–and it’s difficult to have the full “WGC experience” while trying to maintain a “hands off the headphones” policy. Joss did enjoy spending some time at the Music Bar with close supervision, though, but even with Daniel there, I wasn’t able to listen to much.
Dust Bowl VR Experience
But I did call upon his aid for something that no Woody Guthrie Center visitor should miss: the Dust Bowl Virtual Reality Experience. When you walk up the stairs toward the greater part of the museum, the first thing you see is an old porch facade with a couple of wooden chairs–and three VR masks. Having never experienced VR before, I was pretty excited, and it did not disappoint!
You put on your VR mask (I don’t know the technical term for these…) and are transported to a sepia-toned landscape devoid of trees. In the front of your porch is an old truck, wheels half-buried already by dirt. If you turn your face up, you see the top of the porch with a lantern hanging on it; if you turn your head 180 degrees back, you get a glimpse of a half-eaten meal on a kitchen table. (If you tilt your head down, your legs and body are bizarrely missing, so…don’t look down too often) If you turn your head to the right–the oncoming dust storm. The whole experience, which probably lasts no more than ten minutes, is narrated.
At one point, a jack rabbit comes bounding up toward the house. “Aw, cute,” I think. A minute later, the narrator mentions the corpses of jack rabbits left behind by the Dust Bowl storms. “Oh.”
I can’t explain how creepy it is to watch the oncoming dust storm from the VR perspective. I know I must have looked like a fool, cringing away from the right when I was sitting thoroughly dust-free in the middle of a museum. But the wall of dust is thick and menacing–plus, I kept thinking about how loudly I’d scream if a person (or monster, why not?) came howling out of it toward me. When the storm hits, everything goes dark, and you’re surrounded by the storm. Obviously, this is all from the safety of virtual reality, but it still helps bring to life some of what it must have been like to live through the Dust Bowl.
More Photos from the Woody Guthrie Center
Here are a few other scenes from the Woody Guthrie Center:
Interactive digital map
Bob Dylan. Going to have to bring my dad here next time he visits!
There are several instruments on display. As a violinist, Woody Guthrie’s fiddle is my favorite!
Also lots of great portraits of Woody Guthrie and other musicians around the museum.
Beyond the museum experience, the Woody Guthrie Center hosts frequent concerts and other events. Find them on their Events page.
- Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
- First Fridays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Adult: $8
- Youth (5-17): $6
- Under 5: Free
- Military (up to 4 people): $6
- Group discounts and memberships available.