Guthrie boards ‘the City of New Orleans’ for Benefit Train Tour
By Bruce Lish
“After the hurricane, nothing was running. The planes were down, the roads were out, it was the one form of transportation that was still available, that could get close, and Congress wanted to cut its funding! It just don’t make any sense,” said folk and rock legend Arlo Guthrie, talking about trains and hurricanes. You could almost hear him throw in the word, ‘man!’ at the end, as his voice climbed just a little and he reminded me of the first time I heard “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” or “The Motor-cycle [pronounced ‘sickle’]Song” as a boy.
In the mid-1960s, Arlo Guthrie, son of folk legend Woodie Guthrie, was one of the voices of a generation in rebellion. His presence and his words and music at the original Woodstock festival and beyond are now also the stuff of legend …“The New York Thruway is closed, man!” … “A lot of freaks!” … “Comin’ in to Los Angeleez, bringing in a couple of keys, don’t touch my bags won’t you please, Mr. Customs Man…”
Like some of his early peers, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has had a productive and varied career since the days when crazy young folkies first began experimenting with electric guitars and drums. Visiting five continents in the last four decades as a performer — often times with his son Abe on keyboards — performing his music with symphony orchestras, starting his own record label, stints in acting, writing and publishing, fundraising to combat life-threatening diseases, and founding an educational/cultural/interfaith center in the old Trinity Church where, forty years ago, Alice of the now-famous “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” once lived: Arlo Guthrie has been living a blessed life as a professional musician.
Through it all, he is still an activist at heart with the belief that he and his fellow musicians can change the world. His most recent crusade is help music venues devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“They [the people at Amtrak]are very excited,” said Guthrie in a recent phone conversation with The Marquee. “They were under siege from Congress to cut subsidies and funding. Amtrak was basically fighting for survival. It seemed like a perfect win-win thing,” he said, talking about plans for ‘Christmas on The City of New Orleans with Arlo Guthrie and Friends,’ a benefit train tour. Planning to depart Chicago on Dec. 5 on Amtrak’s “The City of New Orleans” and arriving in or near the ravaged Delta city on Dec. 17, Arlo and friends will be collecting and delivering a wide variety of music related gear to small clubs and music venues in New Orleans and throughout the Hurricane Katrina disaster area. The goal, to help them get back up and operating as quickly as possible. “I am determined to help restore all those little places and bring the music back as soon as possible,” he said.
As times continue to change, the nearly-timeless 1967 holiday hippy ballad “Alice’s Restaurant” comes and goes from Guthrie’s repertoire. The song itself, however, has changed very little. “We didn’t have to do anything,” said Guthrie, “these are the same things we were doing 40 years ago … Sometime after the war in Vietnam and the draft ended, we stopped playing it,” he continued. “Carter [President Jimmy] brought it back for a little while, and then we brought it back again in the early ‘90s, and in ’95.” ‘Alice’ is back again in 2005, he said, “because the times are so freakin’ similar! Once again, we’re back in a country politically divided, almost down the middle like in the Sixties, with an unpopular war overseas, and with controversy over the environment.” Guthrie noted that the impact of a song like “Alice’s Restaurant,” still vital today yet ground-breaking 40 years ago, resonates in comedians like Jon Stewart and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” which simply were not mass media options back in the day. He sees this type of political satire breaking through into the mainstream as positive evidence that the efforts of his generation may not have been in vain.
Thanksgiving 2005 marks the 40th anniversary of the actual events that took place in Stockbridge, Mass., that became the saga about the restaurant where “you can get anything you want,” about Officer Opie and the pile of garbage and the 8 x 10 color glossy photos with the circles and arrows and the paragraphs on the back of each one. In celebration of this milestone, Arlo has been touring with son Abe on keys and Gordon Titcomb on strings, along with modern old-timey band The Mammals.
In recent years, Guthrie has cut back a bit on studio work and album releases to devote more time to other interests, while still playing nearly 120 shows a year. Fortunately, a fairly recent live performance was released this past summer on Guthrie’s Rising Son Records. Live in Sydney, a new double disc recorded in Australia in June of 2004, features endearing versions of some of his long-time favorites, along with a some new originals that have also been well received.
Arlo Guthrie :: 40th Anniversary Alice’s Restaurant Massacree :: Boulder Theater :: Nov. 10
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Bob Dylan
• Woodie Guthrie
• Joan Baez