I had the distinct and unique pleasure last night to accompany Mr. Green and his dad to an Arlo Guthrie concert. To be honest, I dared not admit my deep ignorance of folk music in general or the Guthrie family legacy in particular to my dates given their 6 months of anticipation. I don't know why, but as soon as Mr. Green mentioned the concert to me in October I knew I wanted to be there. And I'm so glad that just 6 weeks into 'catching up' with Mr. Green I said yes to a concert that was 6 months away. For that yes I got a lesson in melody, history and being human.
According to Arlo, when he was a kid folk music was just his dad (the legendary Woody Guthrie, whose iconic song "This Land is Your Land" I thought was Canadian until I was at least 30 and even when I heard the other version I thought "the damn Americans would steal and wreck something that so beautifully tells the story of Canada") and Woody's friends sitting around singing sea shanties, working songs, and other assorted folk songs from around the country. What set these men apart was that they were the first ones to begin recording those ancient tunes. Apparently, they weren't necessarily songwriters, though of course there are notable exceptions. In Arlo's words, folk music now mostly seems to be "songs in the key of me." What a line. As an opening statement and commentary on modern life, in general, that'll make you sit up and listen.
|I know the picture is fuzzy. Pretend it's the blue haze of Woodstock.|
One highlight of the evening for me was the keyboardist, who we eventually learned is Arlo's son Abe. I don't think I've ever seen such a consistent scene of joy as Abe Guthrie making music. His face was both serene and excited - I've dubbed it "resting bliss face" and hope it catches on like the more usual version has.
At one point in the evening, I was reminded why I watch and re-watch The Waltons - for the peace. For the reassurance that what has always mattered - kindness, honesty, truth - still matters. It all felt so homey and familiar despite my not knowing most of the songs. I suppose that's the point of folk music - to wrap you in a warm, soft blanket while teaching you again to be human. It was poignant and political. Subversive and holy. I cried to "When a Soldier Makes it Home" and sang with gusto to the encore, the CANADIAN VERSION of "This and is Your Land."
There was so much great music and story that I wish I could recreate it all. I can't, of course. There was plenty of Bob Dylan, both stories and songs. A fleeting reference to Johnn Cash and the "Train Song Genre" before playing "City of New Orleans." "Mr. Tambourine Man," after a memorial tribute to the man who inspired the song and passed away a week ago.
I can't say Arlo Guthrie's voice would be my normal preference - I like my big over-singers - but that magical blend of melody, history and humanity. Oh, I wish you were there. If you ever get the chance for one of Arlo Guthrie's musical life lessons, seize it. Seize it and smile.