On Sunday I had the opportunity to see Arlo Guthrie in Concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey. I have seen Arlo dozens of times now since the ’80s and he never fails to disappoint. This year is the 53rd anniversary of his famous Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and the 50th anniversary of the album and movie.
For those of you younger people who may not be familiar with Arlo, he is the son of famed social activist and folk songwriter of the thirties and forties, Woody Guthrie. Arlo opened Sunday ‘s concert with an animated cartoon of pickle and fruit characters doing Arlo’s old song “I Don’t Want to be a Pickle, I Just Want to Ride My motorcycle” which is cute and Arlo said he found it in his old archives from many years ago and never released it until recently. After the cartoon was over Arlo came out and said ‘I’m glad that’s over. It’s not that it’s a bad song it’s just embarrassing.”
Arlo is 72 years old now and has four kids, daughters Sara Lee, Kathy, Annie and his son Abe who plays keyboards for him and seven grandchildren. On Sunday Arlo was accompanied by his son Abe and drummer, female vocalist and electric guitar player he has known since the 70’s when they were in Arlo’s band Shenandoah. Arlo did several of his father’s lesser-known songs and told stories in his usual folksy manner. Arlo told how he remembers as a little kid a young Bob Dylan came over his house to meet with his dad. Over the years Bob produced song after song that became hit after hit some of the best songs ever written. One day Bob stopped altogether and people were “pissed off, but I wasn’t, I sympathized with him,” Arlo said, “You can’t keep writing songs day in and day out without a break.”
Arlo explained how he was on tour once and landed in Tucson, Arizona. As he was getting off the plane a reporter came up to him and said, “Arlo Guthrie. Are you aware that Bob Dylan is playing here tonite?”
Arlo said he wasn’t aware to which the reporter said ’Then who is going to see you?”
Arlo replied, “Well if they want to hear Dylan they have to come see me.” That was a reference to Dylan’s scratchy, nasally twangy voice at the time. Arlo then went into Dylan’s haunting, ominous enigmatic song ‘Gates of Eden.”
At one point Arlo brought out his daughter Sara Lee Guthrie to do a few songs. Sara is a delightful performer and her songs are like an old fashioned country style. She even had the audience singing along to one children’s song with her.
After a short fifteen-minute break, Arlo returned for the second half. I thought he first half of the show was rather low keyed. Moreso than I have seen Arlo in the past and like a Sunday afternoon type of concert.
The second half really picked up like the old Arlo with him doing the full Alice’s Restaurant. All Arlo had to do was hit the first few notes and the audience applauded in approval. Arlo said, “It sounds like you’ve heard this song before. I know I have.” Arlo Showed clips from his movie that were in perfect sync with the song about him and his friend dumping a half a ton of garbage over a cliff on Thanksgiving and getting arrested for it. This follows Arlo having to go before the draft board and getting fingerprinted and being rejected.
In the past, Arlo usually only performed this song on Thanksgiving since it is 18 minutes long and many radio stations still play it on Thanksgiving. At the end of the song Arlo said if he’d known it was going to be this popular he would have made it shorter.
I’ve heard Arlo do this numerous times. Sometimes he forgets the words and sometimes entire verses, but this time he did the whole song note for note perfect and word for word perfect.
After that Arlo went into a few more memorable songs like my favorite “City of New Orleans” “Coming Into Los Angeles” and his father’s famous “This Land is Your Land.” Arlo explained that when he was a little kid and went to school he was surprised to hear all the kids were singing it in class and he was the only one who didn’t know all the words. He never realized his father’s songs went any further than the house so he told his father and his father taught him a few cords and some other verses to it.
If you get a chance to see Arlo Guthrie, by all means, check him out. Although he’s from liberal parents and background he doesn’t get political which I like as he wants to appeal to everyone and I don’t think he is a liberal or conservative. His biography lists him as a libertarian. He is always a lot of fun and a good time is had by all.
See Arlo singing City of New Orleans in Chicago somewhere in 2017. That’s his son Abe on keyboards.
Here’s a really terrific tribute to the actual train called City of New Orleans and journey with glimpses of a young Arlo Guthrie singing as the lyrics go with the video.