4/16/2009

Arlo Guthrie: Minstrel for the Ages

On the evening of April 2, 2009, my wife and I had the great pleasure of attending an engaging performance by Arlo Guthrie, making an appearance in the unusual setting of the Main Sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Oregon. Over the course of several hours, Arlo Guthrie easily proved that forty years of touring and performing have not diminished either his talent or his charm.

In 1967, Arlo Guthrie was only twenty years old when he released "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," the humorous song that brought his first taste of fame. It was a long piece of folk music, partly sung and partly spoken, that told of his experience in avoiding the draft during the war in Vietnam. The song later was made into a film, Alice's Restaurant (directed by Arthur Penn), in which Arlo appeared as himself. Since then he has stuck to a steady pace as a performer, releasing albums and making appearances at venues around the world.

Although Arlo Guthrie now has white hair and wears eyeglasses with thick lenses, his voice and his personality are the same as they were when he first became known in the late 1960s. In between bright renderings of his well-known songs, including "Darkest Hour," "Coming into Los Angeles," "The Motorcycle Song," and "City of New Orleans," he kept his audience in Portland entertained with a stream of stories that displayed both his youthful outlook and his mischievous wit. He also recounted fond memories of his late father, Woody Guthrie, the renowned songwriter whose most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land," was featured at the end of the evening.

Throughout the concert, Arlo Guthrie and his guitar received strong support from the members of his longtime band, which included his son, Abe, on keyboards. At a time when most purveyors of current music struggle to exceed common standards of inferiority, Arlo Guthrie stands out as a minstrel for the ages, using his considerable abilities to maintain a living tradition of tuneful storytelling.