Arlo Guthrie was born with music in his blood, and probably a guitar in his hand. As the son of Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie is a pedigreed expert in working his audience. And, in his show at Campbell Hall last Wednesday, he did just that.
Performing music culled from his 40 years worth of song writing, Guthrie mixed his classics tunes with everything from Hawaiian instrumental music and ragtime songs played on the piano.
Despite his status as a living legend, Guthrie was keen not to take himself too seriously. After one song, he even told the audience “you’re probably thinking what the hell kinda song was that.”
Highlights of the night included “Darkest Hour,” “City of New Orleans” and “St. James Infirmary,” a song made famous by both Janis Joplin and Louis Armstrong.
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” Guthrie’s most celebrated tune, also garnered a great audience reaction. It tells the true story of Guthrie’s rejection from draft conscription during the Vietnam War. Famously, Guthrie was declared unfit to “join the army, burn women, kids houses and villages”, after being arrested for littering.
Whilst the folk singer dabbled in piano playing, his guitar skills were immense throughout. Name-dropping was frequent: jibing Bob Dylan, and praising his father’s genius between songs. At one point, Guthrie even coerced the audience into singing “This Land Is Your Land.”
Refusing to veer from his political roots, “When a Soldier Makes it Home” was played immediately after “Alice’s Restaurant.” Guthrie didn’t let his audience forget for a second that war is still a pressing issue.
In keeping with this theme, Guthrie recounted a scenario where he ended up playing “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree’ to war veterans. Quoting Marilyn Monroe, Guthrie decided to take the gig, saying “Ever notice that ‘what the hell’ is always the right decision?”
In fact, storytelling is by far Guthrie’s best talent. Although Guthrie devotees were left hanging on to every word, those in the audience less acquainted with the folk singer may have found him long-winded. Nevertheless, Guthrie managed to keep a sit down audience on its toes for more than two hours.
Current issues like airport security checks became the butt of jokes, while other issues like the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina were pushed forward.
In parts of the show, pretentious idealism seemed to get the better of Guthrie. Peace and love isn’t always the solution to problems. It is only an ideal. To the aging hippie audience, this hardly mattered. They lapped up the nostalgia as though it were the summer of ’69.