Honoring folk singer’s legacy When he plays Wednesday in Olympia, folk singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie won’t be singing his best-known song, the 18-minute “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”
While he will play some of the songs he has written in his nearly half-century of performing, Guthrie is focusing on the legacy of his father, singer-songwriter-activist Woody Guthrie.
Wednesday’s concert is part of the last leg of his tour, which launched in July 2012 to celebrate the centennial of the elder Guthrie’s birth.
On Tuesday, while traveling between Redding, Calif., and Portland, Arlo Guthrie answered some questions for The Olympian via email.
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Q: Growing up the son of a music icon, did you know you’d be a musician, too?
A: I always wanted to play music. I always did. However, I didn’t believe I’d do it professionally until I was about 18. Up until that time, I thought I’d just be sitting around playing with friends after work.
Q: How do you want people to remember Woody Guthrie and his legacy?
A: If people remember him, it probably has something to do with what he stood for more than as an entertainer.
Q: How did you choose which of his songs to perform on this tour?
A: I put together a show that includes some songs from his life, as well as my own, in a way that I could remember what I was doing every night.
Q: Do you have a favorite of his songs? Is there one you discovered or fell in love with when you were preparing for this tour?
A: There are a couple of rather unknown gems in the show, but most of his songs are unknown anyway to the vast majority of people. There are a few almost everyone knows, like “This Land Is Your Land.” So if that’s the only one you know, you’ll be surprised by the depth of his less-popular material.
Q: Is there a lesser-known song that people have really been resonating with on this tour?
A: There sure is ...
Q: A lot of Woody Guthrie’s songs are so relevant it seems as though he was writing about current events. Do you think that will ever change?
A: There are parallels between different eras, and the human condition is always worthy of improvement. In that sense, many of his songs ring true today like they did decades ago. There are obviously some that are no longer relevant, and they’ll fade away. But as long as there are people willing to work together to make the world a little better for everyone, many of his songs will continue to be inspirational.
Q: What do you think Woody would have to say about this tour and where you are now?
A: There are a lot of people who ask, “What would (insert name) say?” My father used to say, “Let me be known as the man who told you something you already knew.”
Whatever he may have thought or said, he would remind everyone that it’s more important to know what you’re thinking or saying. Lots of people just think or say things without giving it much thought. You don’t have to look very far to see where that gets you as an individual or a community, a nation or a world.
Q: You haven’t been performing “Alice’s Restaurant” on this tour. Could you make an exception here in Olympia? Do you get that request a lot?
A: There are always exceptions – except in this.
Q: You’re nearing the end of the tour. What’s next?
A: 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of “Alice’s Restaurant” being written. Beginning next January, we begin a year-and-a-half long tour (already scheduled), and I’ll have to re-learn the whole thing once again. I’m looking forward to it! Meanwhile, we’re going to finish up the WG centennial tour in May and take some time during the summer preparing for the Alice 50 Tour.
We’re going to have a few days off in Olympia before the gig, so we’re getting ready for general carousing and/or laundry – whichever comes first.