November 13, 2008

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Songs of protest, songs of power
Arlo Guthrie at the Capitol Center for the Arts

By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

Folk singer Arlo Guthrie has never had a slew of chart-topping songs, but that suits him just fine.

“I’m really glad that I don’t have a lot of hits,” he said. “Willie Nelson, a friend of mine, has to do a medley of some 18 songs right off the top of his show so that he can get on with the stuff that he’s doing now.”

Guthrie will perform at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord on Friday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m., as part of his “The Lost World” tour, though Guthrie doesn’t think of it as a tour in the traditional sense.

“We don’t do tours anymore,” he said. “We do life.”

Growing up in a famous folk household (he is the eldest son of folk legend Woody Guthrie), Arlo Guthrie was surrounded by a veritable Who’s Who of ’60s icons, including Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Ronnie Gilbert, and began performing at age of 13. The beginnings of his musical career coincided with the “folk boom” happening in cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. He soon made the rounds of such notable venues as Gerdes Folk City, The Gaslight, and The Bitter End, playing with artists like Bill Monroe and Doc Watson.

Guthrie became known for crafting socially conscious songs that, he will admit, tend toward the wordy.

“Sometimes I wish that I didn’t have to use so many words to say so little,” he said.

Guthrie’s most famous work, the 1967 song “Alice’s Restaurant,” is an 18-minute talking blues song that he has been known to spin into a 45-minute story in concert. The song, a bitingly satirical protest against the Vietnam War, was the perfect fit for the ’60s era of social consciousness and activism. Guthrie also went on to star in the film version of the song, directed by Arthur Penn.

“A lot of people think ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ was an anti-war song,” Guthrie said. “It’s not. It’s an anti-idiot song, It was pretty soon after the song came out on record that I knew people were going to want to be hearing it all the time.”

Though he’s explored other interests, including acting and writing, Guthrie has never strayed far from his musical roots. He appeared on the album This Land is Your Land, alongside the voice of his father; it went on to win several awards and garnered a 1997 Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album for Children.

He’s continued to perform with orchestras as well, including the Boston Pops, resulting in an appearance on Evening at Pops on PBS and a 2001 A&E special Fourth of July show with the ensemble. In July 2007, on Guthrie’s 60th birthday, he released the live album In Times Like This, recorded with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. In September of this year, he performed at the 23rd Farm Aid Concert, along with The Pretenders, Kenny Chesney, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews.

In 1991, Guthrie purchased the Old Trinity Church in Great Barrington, Mass., that served as part of the inspiration for “Alice’s Restaurant” and turned it into The Guthrie Center, a not-for-profit interfaith church foundation that is “dedicated to providing a wide range of local and international services,” according to its Web site. Guthrie explained that he wanted to create a place open to everyone, no matter what their beliefs are.

“There are a lot of crazy people in the world, and we spend billions of dollars a week, or whatever the figure is, on places where they can hang out,” Guthrie said. “That’s OK for them, but what about the rest of the people, the regular people who just want to have a place where they can go?”

Though the country is currently experiencing some of the same issues that plagued Guthrie’s generation, Guthrie is unfailing in his positive outlook on life.

“Share the love,” he said. “The rest will take care of itself.”


Arlo Guthrie
When: Friday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 South Main St., Concord.
Tickets: $35 to $45, call 225-1111 or visit www.ccanh.com.