It’s A Family Affair with Arlo Guthrie

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In nature, some paths travel a straight line while others twist and turn. Sometimes, those roads converge to reach the same destination. In the Guthrie family, musical lineage is one of those lines traceable through the generations.

“There seems to be a thread running through the generations of this family that links us musically. It’s not defined by any particular genre,” says Guthrie. “Sometimes, it’s humor or pathos that seeps into the family identity and emerges as individual expression. As for me, I especially love that we enjoy making music together.”

Arlo Guthrie retraces the path through his catalog of hits from the 60’s and 70’s on the “Running Down the Road” tour alongside members of his former touring band, Shenandoah.  Among those bandmates is his son, Abe, with whom he’s shared the stage since he joined the fold in 1985. Guthrie and Shenandoah perform Feb. 2 at the Florida Theatre (www.floridatehatre.com).

“Well, not everyone survived from the old days, but of those that have and are still able it’s really special to be back together and perform as a band. Our music has become part of the soundtrack for many old timers,” says Guthrie. “What’s exciting is to see some younger people coming. Whether they come with friends or family, it’s a joy to have such variety in our audiences. In an era when everything is so target marketed, you don’t generally see multi-generational events as much as we used to.”

As a prominent figure in the 60’s, Guthrie was always drawn to nature.  Based on a bizarre and hilarious sequence of real life events, the beloved 18-minuite monologue Alice’s Restaurant Massacre changed the trajectory of Guthrie’s life.  He went to college to study forestry but ‘it just didn’t work out for me’.

Arlo Guthrie

“I’m happiest when questioning authority, as I’ve always been. Musicians are no less responsible than others in terms of their duties as citizens of a nation or representatives of this world.”

Guthrie celebrated the 50th anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant in 2016 with a special performance of the story about the litter citation that left a black mark on his record and blocked his enlistment in the US Army. Since the story occurred over Thanksgiving, it has become a holiday anthem for Guthrie’s fans. The song was first performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967 and while it receives annual airplay, Guthrie has a self-imposed rule that only allows for a live performance once every decade.

“We did it for the 50th Anniversary tour that ended last May,” he says. “Now I have another 20 minutes onstage to do other songs and I’m loving it.”

A natural-born storyteller and accomplished musician playing the piano, 6-string and 12-string guitars and harmonica, Guthrie’s live shows offer a diverse selection of old and new, original and traditional songs as varied as his audiences. In addition to Alice’s Restaurant, Guthrie is known for his only Top 40 hit “City of New Orleans” and his song “Massachusetts” that was named the official folk song of his home state.

Guthrie grew up surrounded by renowned folk musicians including his father, Pete Seeger and Leadbelly. Since his first public performance at the age of 13, Guthrie poured himself into music with a message. Like his father, he is known for singing songs of protest against social injustice.

“My political viewpoints haven’t changed in over 50 years. I’m happiest when questioning authority, as I’ve always been. Musicians are no less responsible than others in terms of their duties as citizens of a nation or representatives of this world. There’s no free pass just because someone is an entertainer. Naturally that means you can’t please everyone. Those who try end up having stood for nothing,” says Guthrie. “Having said that, there’s an entertainer for everyone. If you don’t like me, you’ll like someone else. That limits the popularity of everyone to a reasonable extent. At this age and at this time, I’m very comfortable being me. And that means standing up for what’s right regardless of who is in the audience, who is in the White House or who is on the street.”

If he were to write new material based on the current political climate, Guthrie says that song would be a road map with all the tools needed for people to see the bigger picture. “Man-made rivers flow in straight lines. Natural rivers twist left and right. They both end up in the sea. Knowing that, it’s easy to see the difference between what is natural and what is unnatural. The twists and turns of humanity are like a great river going one way then the other. I see current political change as a natural phenomenon, and therefore I’m comfortable with it,” he says. “The turns we make as a civilization can cause great anxiety when you’re only focused on a small part of a larger picture. We can get through it all with humor, grace, gratitude and selfless service. And that’s what I’d be writing about these days [but] I’d try to keep it shorter than 18 minutes.”

About Liza Mitchell

april, 2022

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