Artists performing shows and tours in honor of their most beloved material is a common concept in today’s music business. But few of these albums are nearing 50 years old, and even fewer are as enduring as Arlo Guthrie’s album Alice’s Restaurant. The son of folk icon Woody Guthrie, Arlo quickly confirmed that he would continue his family’s tradition of social awareness on his debut album.
The song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” — blanketing the entire first side of its namesake album — recounts a story of Guthrie’s 1965 arrest and his eventual draft during the Vietnam War. On Saturday, Feb. 21, Guthrie will perform at the Alys Stephens Center as part of a tour celebrating his landmark recording. Recently, Guthrie was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time.
Weld: Arlo, many thanks for your time. On this 50th anniversary tour, how does this music stay fresh and relevant to you after all these years? What parallels do you see in the material between the time you released it and modern times?
Arlo Guthrie: Many of the songs we’re doing on this special tour have not been in the set list for quite sometime. After 50 years, there’s a lot of material to choose from and there’s no way to do even a small fraction of it in one night. So, I’ve whittled it down to what is essential and still relevant. Not much changes in half a century, so 50 years ago is still pretty modern as far as things go.
Weld: In addition to performing the Alice’s Restaurant material in concert, how do you choose the remainder of your set list from your vast catalog?
AG: I ask myself, “What do I remember, what do I like, and what can fit in the show?”
Weld: How would you describe your typical audience? Do you find a fair amount of younger listeners – ones that weren’t even born when Alice’s Restaurant was released – attending the shows?
AG: My audience has always been and remains very mixed. I inherited my father’s buddies, I’ve got my peers and their kids who are now coming with their kids. They’re left, right and center and also none of the above. You won’t find a more diverse audience at many other shows, especially in these days of target marketing. I’ve always loved that and I still do. It’s a “Come as you were, are or hope-to-be” crowd.
Weld: I have read that your children are musicians as well. If you will, please talk about adding yet another generation of musicians to your rich family legacy.
AG: All of my kids know how to make music with other people. I didn’t push them into it, they just grew up seeing how much fun it can be. I never expected that they would become professional entertainers, I just hoped they’d enjoy playing with friends as much as I did. But they’ve all decided to play professionally to some degree or other. Not only that, but all of their friends know how to play too. Learning music is like learning a universal language. They can go anywhere, sit down and make friends with anyone just by playing an instrument or not being afraid to sing a song. Maybe that’s the best thing about it.
Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $45.50 – $63.50 and can be purchased at www.alysstephens.org or by calling (205) 975-2787.