I first heard Arlo Guthrie forty-one years ago. He was opening for Judy Collins at the venerable Orchestra Hall in Chicago. I have no memory of Judy Collins from that night but will never forget Arlo Guthrie. He sang Alice’s Restaurant and I had just gone to be injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected, and selected by my draft board. He was singing to me. My wife and I have been going to see Arlo ever since and he still sings to me.
This year we saw Arlo at Monroe, Wisconsin. When we took our seats, we greeted our set mates with the customary greeting. We asked them how many years they have been coming to Arlo concerts? Our seat mates almost had us beat. They did trump us by seeing an Arlo concert in England. We then sat back to enjoy the concert.
Arlo had his son Abe with him, as he has for almost twenty-five years. Abe is a very talented keyboard player and during this concert he shows off his talent with several keyboard solos and one on the piano. He also provides a vocal bass harmony on all of Arlo’s songs. For me, the best asset Abe brings is his smiles and evident admiration of his father.
Along with Abe, The Burns Sisters and a three-piece band made up of a guitar, bass guitar, and drum accompanied Arlo. I first heard The Burns Sisters at the LakeSuperior Big Top Chautauqua in Bayfield, Wisconsin. They have been providing harmony and back-up for Arlo on several of his tours.
Arlo started the concert playing piano and singing Riding on the City of New Orleans. He then went into The Motorcycle Song without telling one of his patented soliloquies. However, we were treated to a story before the next song written by Leadbelly.
The treat at an Arlo concert is most of the songs he sings are ones he has learned from the people who wrote them. I have heard the story of him not knowing the lyrics to This Land is Our Land when he was in the fifth grade many times over and still get a chuckle from it. He goes home and tells his father, Woody Guthrie he did not know the lyrics, his father teaches him the lyrics along with the verses we never sang in school. And that is what you get at an Arlo concert the verses you never sang at school.
Along with the old favorites Arlo sang several new songs. One in particular I really liked. It was about hearing your mother’s voice one more time. The lyrics are not on Arlo Net yet but I look forward to reading them and hearing this song at future concerts or seeing it on a new release CD.
Arlo Guthrie is an American icon. He brings the tradition of American folk music to people throughout the world. His songs entertain all generations and his stories are legendary. He brings folk music to life and ensures that it will be around for years to come by nurturing young talent like The Burns Sisters and his son Abe. If you have never been to an Arlo concert I encourage you to start a tradition and join the many thousands of his fans. I promise you one concert will not be enough. You’ll be hooked, like the rest of us.
Arlo once ended his concerts with Goodnight Irene, a Leadbelly song made famous by the Weavers. But now he ends with a hymn, My Peace. The lyrics were recovered from his father’s store of writings and then put it to music by Arlo. It is a beautiful and fitting way to end the concert. “My peace, My Peace is all I’ve got, that I can give to you. My peace, My peace is all I’ve ever had, it’s all I’ve ever knew. I give my peace to green and black, to red and white and blue. My Peace, My Peace, is all I’ve got that I can give to you.”