So what is a folk singer anyway? It’s not always an easy question to answer. (Ask anyone who’s been to the Newport Folk Festival lately.)
“We’re just links in a long chain,” offered singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie (quoting Pete Seeger) as he reflected on his 50+ year career in music. Guthrie is a particularly strong link in that chain, son of Woody Guthrie and author of the most popular Thanksgiving song ever recorded.
The folk singer from western Massachusetts will be in Rhode Island later this week, appearing Saturday night at the Park Theatre in Cranston in a stop on his Re:Generation tour. The show is a family affair, which has Guthrie performing with two of his children – drummer Abe, and singer-songwriter/guitarist Sara Lee, both professional musicians themselves.
Although he’s been playing professionally for over 50 years, Arlo Guthrie never had the opportunity to play with his dad, a founding father of folk music. Woody Guthrie died in 1967, but stopped performing much earlier due to Huntington’s disease.
“I never had the chance to perform with my father, as he was hospitalized when I was about 8 or 9, maybe earlier. So it was with great enthusiasm that I was able to take my kids out with me starting from when they were very young. My wife Jackie and I toured around the world with the kids in tow. At some point when they were old enough we began playing together on stage.
“The tour we’re on now is a modified continuation of that. Modified meaning it’s not the entire family as we’ve done in the past, but whoever is available, willing and able. The Re:Generation Tour is mostly me with my son, Abe and daughter, Sarah Lee, with our old friend Terry Ala Berry.”
Guthrie’s set varies from show to show; it includes of lot of his own material as well as songs from his father, Bob Dylan, Leadbelly and others. Recent setlists have included Guthrie favorites like “Coming into Los Angeles” and “City of New Orleans, as well as songs like “Deportee” (Woody Guthrie) and “Catch the Wind” (Donovan). And although the calendar Saturday may read Veteran’s Day, with Thanksgiving around the corner, don’t expect to hear his classic “Alice’s Restaurant.”
“Man does not live by length alone… as the saying goes. Alice was long. Too long to continue doing every night of my life, so we’ve toured with the song on every 10-year anniversary. I think it’s popularity was that a lot of people could see themselves in the same boat as I was. Some still do. So it continues. I think there’s the anniversary of the release of the movie ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ coming up in 2019. If I’m still around, I’ll have to dust it off again for that.”
Guthrie, who has played the Newport Folk Festival several times, has seen folk music evolve over the years. He welcomes the new spirit that young artists are bringing to the genre.
“The Newport Festival has moved away from the folk music I knew, hoping to attract the next generation of music enthusiasts. I’ve felt very privileged to have been invited to perform there so many times over the last 50 years.
“The last time I played at the festival was in 2012, and that was the very beginning of a big entire family tour we were doing at the time. Some of my grandkids are working musicians now and out on their own. I’m happy there’s still places where young people can work, learn their craft, and have fun doing it.”
Guthrie is known to bring a blend of humor, activism and general irreverence to his live shows. This is another great opportunity to catch a real music legend. Tickets to the Park Theatre show are available here. In the meantime, check out a few videos of Arlo and his family below.