During the Dust Bowl period of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s, Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) was not able to support his family as a sign painter and a local musician in Pampa, Texas. After hearing all the great things about California, he decided to join the migration westward to supposedly greener California pastures via boxcar and hitchhiking. He left without saying a word with only a note to his wife (Melinda Dillon). Woody discovered the cruel truth of California's fruit-pickers and joined Ozark Blue (Ronny Cox) to fight for the people with their songs. He became a celebrated folk singer on radio with partners Ozark and Memphis Sue (Melinda Dillon) while still fighting for his causes. Meanwhile, he developed a romance with Pauline (Gail Strickland) before getting his family to a middle-class home in California. Woody's refusal to conform to the musical business practice and obsession with the hobo campers' causes would threaten to break up his family and derail his music career which is gaining recognition. At the end, he decides to go to New York to sing for the people. Much of the film is based on Guthrie's attempt to humanize the desperate Okie Dust Bowl refugees in California during the Great Depression.