Folk music was my music of the sixties and early seventies. Folk singers were featured at the “coffee houses” I frequented at the time (sort of like the all-ages shows today), and the music I really listened to was performed by Phil Ochs, the young Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Arlo Guthrie. This was the music that made me think… the music that made me teach myself guitar. I never got any good on the guitar, but discovered last night that I still have a strong connection to the music.
Arlo Guthrie performed last night at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. It wasn’t a concert in the conventional sense. It was as if Arlo’s family and friends stopped by the Guthrie house to sing a few songs, and they happened to have fifteen guitars, a piano, mandolin, and ukulele laying around. Included were Arlo’s three daughters and a husband or two, his son, a close friend who happened to live in Wilmington, and about six grandchildren (the youngest of which was 2 ½). Each one was given some opportunity to participate in the show.
Arlo was as irreverent as he ever was, and a number of classics were performed. There was no “Alice’s Restaurant”, but it was great to hear “City of New Orleans” and “Coming into Los Angeles” done live. What was of greatest interest to me were some brand new old songs he played. The Woody Guthrie archive contains about 3000 songs that were written by Woody but never set to music and never performed. One purpose of the current Guthrie Family tour is to write the music for these songs and expose them to the world at large. So I was sitting there listening to words that were written over 70 years ago, and it struck me that their message is just as relevant today as they were when Woody was prodded by some injustice to write them down. There are still organizations (both public and private) that will do you wrong, the disadvantaged are still getting the short end of the stick, the environment is still in decline, and disasters create more homeless and hungry.
There are still many things that need to be righteously protested. We still need folk songs. Arlo and me ain’t that old.