Folk legend and spiritual seeker Arlo Guthrie to appear at Quick Center
Arlo Guthrie, a folk musician and activist whose 1967 anthem "Alice's Restaurant" defined the country's counterculture vibe, will perform Saturday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.
Mr. Guthrie's distinctive voice, gift for story-telling and prowess on guitar, piano and harmonica, may be due, in part, to genetics: He is, after all, the son of folk icon Woody Guthrie. But he's a pioneer in his own right, stretching the limits of his musical talents from the Woodstock Festival to Boston's Symphony Hall, while passionately promoting interfaith community service, education, healthcare and other endeavors through two not-for-profit organizations he founded.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Woody Guthrie and Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Company, Arlo Guthrie grew up surrounded by the pure sounds of some of America's musical greats. Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and The Weavers were all family friends and significant influences on Mr. Guthrie's later career choices.
He gave his first public performance at just 13 years old and quickly became involved in the folk music that was shaping the turbulent 1960s. While playing in New York's Greenwich Village - whether at Gerdes Folk City or in Washington Square Park - he honed a distinctive, expressive style that would put him a class above a crowded community of budding singer-songwriters.
Mr. Guthrie's stature soared in 1967 with the release of "Alice's Restaurant," which he debuted at the Newport Folk Festival. The 18.5-minute song includes a witty spoken word account of an absurd Thanksgiving littering incident that left him branded a common criminal unfit to serve in the Vietnam War. The anthem, which ends in a sing-along with the audience, helped foster a new commitment to activism and social consciousness among his generation. The song was so popular it was made into a 1969 film of the same name directed by Arthur Penn and starring Mr. Guthrie.
His other early hits include the Woodstock favorite "Coming in to Los Angeles" and a definitive rendition of Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans."
In recent years, Mr. Guthrie has released new music, but he's also remained true to his roots. In 1997, Rounder Records released a new version of Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land is Your Land," pairing his voice with that of his late father. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award. He also released "32¢," a compilation of Woody Guthrie tunes with special guests including The Dillards and his own children, Abe, Cathy, Annie and Sarah Lee Guthrie. Abe and Sarah Lee Guthrie will be among the musicians backing their dad at his Fairfield University performance.
Mr. Guthrie believes his audience enjoys the combination of new musical challenges and the comfort of nostalgia.
"I think most people think of me as the happy hippie of the 60's, and that's fine," he told The New York Times. "I think we stood up for the right stuff, and many of us still do."
Over the years, Mr. Guthrie has toured extensively in the United States, Canada and Europe, winning fans for both his musicianship and the thoughtful tales and wry anecdotes he folds into his shows. He has also created a program of symphonic arrangements of his own songs and other American classics that he performs with orchestras across the country.
In 1983, Mr. Guthrie launched his own record label, Rising Son Records. The label offers his complete catalogue of more than two dozen albums, including "Alice's Restaurant: The Massacree Revisited," a 30th anniversary re-recording of the original album with an updated version of the title track.
In 1991, Mr. Guthrie found another way to preserve the spirit of the song: He purchased Trinity Church, the Massachusetts setting for "Alice's Restaurant." On the consecrated site, he's created two not-for-profit organizations to honor his father, who died in 1967 of Huntington's Disease. The Guthrie Center is an interfaith church foundation dedicated to a wide range of community services, including HIV/AIDS referral, art and music classes for children recovering from abuse and a lecture series. The Guthrie Foundation addresses issues of our time, such as education, healthcare, the environment and cultural exchange.
"I was raised in a family whose philosophy was to try to make the world better, and if you can't make it better, at least don't make it worse," Mr. Guthrie told the Washington newspaper The Olympian.
Over the years, Mr. Guthrie's earnest interest in religion led him to explore his mother's Jewish roots and study with Buddhists and Franciscan monks, eventually latching onto a Hindu practice of embracing all faiths. Mr. Guthrie, who is licensed to conduct weddings, hopes his two organizations will help others live in harmony by promoting understanding among all faiths and cultures.
"I have three or four major traditions that I'm carrying around inside me," he told The New York Times earlier this year. "And they are all just different views of the same reality."
Tickets for Mr. Guthrie's performance are $30. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-800-ARTS-396 or visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.
Posted on September 6, 2002
Vol. 35, No. 66