Arlo Guthrie has, of late, toured celebrating the music of his father — folk music legend Woody Guthrie — and marked the anniversary of his 1967 classic album, “Alice’s Restaurant,” at live shows. Now he’s playing shows without theme or structure on his own and, as on his new tour, with son Abe Guthrie and daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie.
“I tend to get a little more flexible,” Guthrie says. “It’s a kind of show I haven’t done for a few decades, in the sense that I haven’t done some of these (songs) for that long. There’s a set list posted on our website, but I wouldn’t go by that now.”
That said, it’s a good bet Guthrie will perform “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (the song’s full title) and a couple of his dad’s best-known songs, which can still serve the folk protest tradition in the Twitter/Facebook era.
Guthrie and his family will share the bill with singer and songwriter Janis Ian Thursday, July 12, at Britt Pavilion, 350 S. First St., Jacksonville. The show starts at 8 p.m. Caitlin Jemma performs at 6 p.m. in the Britt Performance Garden. Tickets are $248 for premium lawn seating for four, $124 for premium lawn seating for two, $56 for reserved seating, $39 for lawn seating, and $29 for ages 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 800-882-7488.
“Folk music is the original social media, and has always been in that role, although it has many other components also,” Guthrie says. “It’s not the latest, greatest technology, but it has the longest proven track record. If you think of popular music as a part of it, it begins to make sense.”
And “Alice’s Restaurant,” a flat-out funny story, still seems to resonate as an anti-authoritarian anthem a half-century after it was recorded by the teenage Guthrie.
“I’m 100 percent agreeable,” he says. “I think we, especially here in the USA, have a civic obligation to question authority at all times, and more so in times like these. This is, after all, the country of regular people, the average guy. We got rid of the kings and queens a long time ago. This is a country for the everyman and woman. So our leaders need to constantly be reminded that the royal thing doesn’t end well for them.”
Born in 1947, the son of Woody and Marjorie Guthrie, a dancer, Arlo grew up in Brooklyn before graduating high school in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1965. That year, he was arrested for illegally dumping garbage, the incident that inspired the 18-minute “Massacree” and the song that landed a record deal.
In 1969, Guthrie played a late-night set on the first night of Woodstock. His biggest hit was in 1972 with Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” and in 1976 released his most highly regarded album, “Amigo.” He played with his band Shenandoah from the ‘70s through the early ‘90s.
The Old Trinity Church, featured in the 1969 film “Alice’s Restaurant,” in which Guthrie plays himself, continues to have a role in his life. The Stockbridge church is now the headquarters of the Guthrie Center and Foundation, founded in 1991 by the singer and songwriter to honor his parents.
The center, an interfaith church, and foundation, aimed at supporting culture and education in the Stockbridge area, are still going strong.
“I believe we’ve made a positive impact on our local community, but you’d have to ask them to get a real answer to your question,” he says. “At any rate, I don’t believe we’ve had a negative effect. I guess we keep trying, keep hoping, and we keep going. We get a lot of wonderful support from friends and neighbors, and from people across the world. I’m thrilled we’ve been given a chance to show how the values I have are shared by many people.”
Like most folk musicians before him, Guthrie feels an obligation to pass the music and its values on to succeeding generations.
“I went further than that,” he said. “I contributed to producing the next couple of generations personally. My wife did most of the work, but I helped. So I passed on not only the spirit and the songs but the actual living people. And I gotta say, I’m proud of them all.”
(July 9: Story updated to reflect that Sarah Lee Guthrie is Arlo Gutrie's daughter, not granddaughter.)