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Backed by family, Arlo Guthrie visits Edmonds

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By Jackson Holtz
Herald Writer
  • Arlo Guthrie performs in August 2009 at George Wein's Newport Folk Festival 50 in Newport, R.I.

    Associated Press

    Arlo Guthrie performs in August 2009 at George Wein's Newport Folk Festival 50 in Newport, R.I.

It's been nearly 50 years since Arlo Guthrie first spun a yarn about Alice and her restaurant.
The 1967 album, "Alice's Restaurant," established famed folk singer Woody Guthrie's son as a prankster, singer-songwriter and tour-de-force.
In the 18-minute monologue, the younger Guthrie used satire, humor and music to oppose the war in Vietnam and the draft and critique the American justice system.
Today, he reserves re-tellings of the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" to once a decade, he said during a recent phone interview. The next time the song, written in 1965, will come around is 2015, on the song's Golden Jubilee.
That means he'll dig deep into his vast collection of songs for tonight's sold-out concert at Edmonds Center for the Arts. He said he plans to play stuff he's been singing for friends, like "St. John's Infirmary" and music by Lead Belly, among some of Arlo's own tunes.
The now iconic folk legend, 64, is touring the country with three generations of Guthries sharing the stage: his son, Abe Guthrie, 42, is on keyboards, and Krishna, 20, Abe's son, plays guitar. Longtime friend, Terry "A La Berry" Hall, is on the drums. Another of Arlo's grandsons, Mo, 17, is working in the wings, learning bass. (The family needed a bass player, Arlo said.) The all-male lineup lead Arlo to call it the "Boy's Night Out" tour.
"Some of the most fun stuff for me is working with kids, my kids or their kids or both," Arlo said.
Breaking into the music business didn't seem assured when Guthrie was a teenager.
"I didn't know if I'd be successful," he said.
He believed he'd have to work a "real job" and play tunes on the side. The success of "Alice's Restaurant" changed that, and Guthrie became part of the fabric of American culture, creating a chapter very much his own.
In the summer of 1969, he famously told an audience at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair, "The New York State Thruway is closed, man."
"I think I was 20," Arlo said. (He was 21.)
His hits include "City of New Orleans," "Coming into Los Angeles" and "The Motorcycle Song," a silly story about a guitar player, a motorcycle and a cliff. Arlo has been rumored to have changed the "Motorcycle Song" story for this year's tour.
"I don't really have a version of them, I just make stuff up," he said. "It depends on where we're going and what we're doing."
He insists that if playing any song leaves him bored or distracted, he removes it from the set list.
"I don't do anything on stage that allows me to become a trained seal, where you're just doing the same thing over and over," he said.
As a singer, entertainer, comedian and philanthropist, Guthrie said he feels obliged to make the people feel as good as possible.
"Everybody is important. Everybody has a part to play and a word to say," he said. "If you allow for that to happen, the world gets a little better everyday."
It's a way of life that Guthrie uses to define himself.
"My only description for me is that there's no throw-away people. That's the creed that I live by, it doesn't matter if I'm singing or not. That's the kind of person that my father and mother wanted me to be," the folk singer said. "The end obligation is to make people feel good about who they are."
Arlo Guthrie will play at 7:30 tonight at Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. NE, Edmonds.
Tickets are sold out, but you can call 425-275-9595 to see if last-minute seats open up.
Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;
Story tags » MusicRock MusicEdmonds

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