He boasts a career that stretches back to Woodstock and is part of a musical lineage that has inspired the likes of Bob Dylan. It’s the stuff that legends are made of.
Arlo Guthrie burst onto the music scene in 1967 with what would prove to be his biggest hit, Alice’s Restaurant, a talking blues song that’s original version stretched for 18-and-a-half minutes, unheard of in an era of three-minute jingles.
He would go on to take the stage at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, performing the song Coming into Los Angeles from his album Running Down the Road. Guthrie is now bringing the Running Down the Road tour to the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium.
While the April 28 performance at UVic will far removed from the farmer’s field in upstate New York where more than 400,000 gathered for Woodstock, Guthrie says the essence of the show remains the same.
“I’d have to say that for me, performances haven’t changed all that much. In essence, some musicians get on a stage and play music -– nothing much changed there,” said Guthrie, who doesn’t think there will ever be another concert like Woodstock. “But maybe something even better will come along.”
However, Guthrie doesn’t measure his performances by the size of the crowd.
“The thing that really stands out for me is the people and places we’ve seen,” said the 69-year-old.
Guthrie said his band, which includes his son Abe Guthrie on keyboards, spends about nine months of the year on the road – with only a fraction of that time actually spent on stage performing.
“So what really stands out from those few days worth of performing are the disasters – the time the rigging fell on the band, or the rain pouring onto the stage in a gale while we were playing, or the time no one showed up … stuff like that. There were some great nights for sure too. And we remember those as well.”
With a career spanning more than half a century, Guthrie strives to keep his shows fresh.
“I keep the old songs in rotation so they never become rote. If I’m singing a song onstage and wondering what’s for dinner, I take it out of the setlist,” he said, adding Alice’s Restaurant is only performed on tours every 10 years. “We just finished the 50th anniversary tour last year, so it won’t be back on the setlist until 2025.”
His father Woody Guthrie has been an inspiration to performers the world over – including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen – whose legacy includes hundreds of folk standards, children’s songs and political anthems, most notably This Land is Your Land.
“My dad’s music is still part of the learning curve for many young musicians, especially those who want to contribute some positive change in the world.”
Guthrie says he enjoys performing more today than he did when he started, and can’t point to a moment that stands out as a highlight of his career.
“I don’t know when the last show I ever do will happen, but I think it’ll be important (at least to me),” he said.
“What makes a show great and memorable is the folks who come to see and hear it, as well as the ones onstage.”
Tickets for the April 28 show cost $55 to $75 and are available at tickets.uvic.ca, and Guthrie says he’ll do his part to make it a memorable one – before summoning a sentiment that his father would likely have shared.
“I’m just hoping there’ll be no problems at the border – coming or going. These days ya never know. When crazy people worm their way into political power, odd things happen.”