Arlo Guthrie celebrating the music of Woody Guthrie for 2 nights at The Ark
After her death, he postponed the first several shows on his Here Comes the Kid tour that was slated to commence in mid-month, but then hit the road and began the tour about a week later than scheduled. Certainly, he must have been tempted to cancel the tour altogether, and most folks probably would indeed take a few weeks off work after such a loss.
But when you’re a Guthrie, music and family have always been deeply connected, even inseparable: In addition to being the son of the iconic Woody Guthrie—probably the most important figure in the last 100 years of American folk music—Arlo also has several other family members who are singers / musicians, and who often join him on tour—like his daughter Sarah Lee and son Abe, and Sarah Lee’s husband, Johnny Irion.
And for much of this year, Arlo and his progeny—and other family members—were out there singing Woody’s timeless songs, because this year marked the 100th anniversary of Woody’s birth. So, in addition to doing a family tour—with the show mostly dedicated to Woody’s songs, but also including songs written by other members of the Guthrie crew—they also performed at several Woody centennial shows as the main attraction.
So, getting back on the road again, singing and playing Woody’s songs, his own songs, and songs written by his family, is likely a great comfort after suffering such a profound loss.
The day after his wife’s death, Guthrie wrote movingly, poignantly and poetically about Jackie, their marriage, and her passing. On his Facebook page, he wrote: “There are loves, and there are LOVES. Ours was and will continue to be what it has always been—a very great love .that we shared from the moment we met, a recognition—‘It's YOU!’ And we would always return to it year after year, decade after decade, and I believe, life after lifetime.
“I can hear the household awakening now as I ramble through my thoughts and feelings. I am needed elsewhere. So a new day begins, another chapter in the book of our love. It seems to me already written although I can't remember what happens next. All I know is, I've read it before and it ends well.
“Our wonderful guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati always reminded us to stay in the moment—no thought of the past or future. The moment is all we really have, the rest is fiction. Jackie and I lived that teaching as best we could and I will continue to be present and accounted for.”As the inheritor of such a potentially daunting legacy, and the guardian of perhaps the most important body of work in the history of American folk music, Guthrie has always been present and accounted for. Woody cast such a long shadow on folk music that it’s hard to find a folk singer who hasn’t performed a handful of his songs.
But, as Woody’s son, Arlo has always, obviously, been the primary keeper of that flame, a role he performed with elan and great good grace for much of this year, at all of those Woody tribute shows.
Guthrie and his sister Nora Guthrie worked closely with officials at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles to plan “Woody at 100,” a series of all-star concerts, album releases, conferences and various other tributes. In March, Arlo played in Woody’s home state as part of a centennial celebration in Tulsa, where the Woody Guthrie Archives are being relocated.
“My dad wrote of a dream he and my mom shared of having a lot of kids and traveling around the country doing shows,” Guthrie told the Chicago Sun Times this past summer. “They never got to realize it, but with these tours we are living Woody’s dream. People try to pigeonhole him with a political agenda and, while that is true, the family part of it also was dear to his heart.”
For the Guthrie kids, becoming musicians “was the path of least resistance,” Guthrie said, only half-jokingly. “There’s no pressure to be professional, but there is an expectation that music will be a part of life and to have fun with it.”
And for Guthrie, folk music has always something that's best enjoyed live, in person. He hasn't released a studio album of new, original songs since 1996. But after 40-plus years, Guthrie continues to tour extensively, get on stage and affably share his music—and his deadpan-hilarious stories—with live audiences.
And he likes to document those experiences: Guthrie has released several live albums in recent years - “Live at Jazz Fest 2011,” recorded at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival; “Every 100 Years - Live auf der Wartburg,” recorded in Eisenach, Germany with the vocal group Wenzel; and "In Times Like These," a live document of his 2006 performance with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. He even dug into his archives and excavated “Tales of '69”—a tape of a vintage 1969 show.
And the current Here Comes The Kid tour was designed to keep taking Woody’s music to the people.
“It's interesting to me in that my father wasn't some great musician—he used his basic understanding of music to convey his thoughts,” Guthrie told The Oklahoman newspaper this summer.
“I like the idea of seeing Woody’s philosophy and insight move down through the generations,” he added. “A lot of my dad’s songs are familiar to anyone over 50, but I’m also seeing interest from people in their 20s and 30s. That’s proof that the songs still ring true.”