Arlo Guthrie would probably brush off any mention of his music being a part of the fabric of America as an exaggeration. He would defer to his father Woody’s influence, or that of his friend Pete Seeger. And while I would agree that Pete and Woody’s songs are without a doubt an integral part of our history – think “This Land is Your Land” or “If I Had a Hammer” – I would argue that Arlo and his family are integral as well. Sitting in Carnegie Hall last night (talk about a little slice of history) listening to Arlo tell stories about his Dad and Pete singing union songs in the 30’s and how those songs are relevant again (!) I thought there is no better way for someone Maya’s age to absorb the emotion & depth of history through story and song. Maya was with me 3 years ago when Pete Seeger took the stage at Carnegie with Arlo again after a 15 year absence, which makes the stories Arlo tells about him a little more real, a little more tangible. Arlo told us that he and Pete had been down to Wall Street earlier in the Fall, Pete playing his banjo and leading the crowd in protest through song, just the way he did with Woody in the 1930’s, just the way he did with Arlo in the 60’s & 70’s. Living history.
Arlo’s family carries on the tradition of folk music better than anyone in the country. They keep Woody’s music and spirit alive, and they make new music of their own. Arlo sits on stage surrounded by his kids and grandkids, happy to sing his own songs, his Dad’s songs, Pete’s songs, but equally happy to defer to his kids – to pass the torch and quietly sing back up. Sarah Lee, his youngest, and her husband Johnny Irion have several CD’s of their own, and usually open the show with some of their songs. Arlo’s daughter Cathy teamed up with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy to produce “Folk Uke”, (and their latest “Reincarnation”) which is an album of, as Cathy says, “inappropriate songs”. Our favorite is “S*!t Makes the Flowers Grow”. Abe, Arlo’s oldest, plays with his Dad, produces their CD’s and has put out music of his own with his band “Xavier”. And Annie, who runs Rising Son Records along with sister Cathy, now sings and plays bass with the “G’Babes”.
This is a family that truly enjoys collaborating with each other, and if you are looking for role models (as unlikely as it may seem) you could pretty much take your pick among Arlo’s clan.
If you can make the trip to NYC next Fall, come to Carnegie Hall the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Arlo & family will be there, and so will we.