The last time I saw Arlo Guthrie perform live was at a concert with my mother in the early 1990s. He shared the stage with Pete Seeger at Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota's campus. His hair is a little shorter now, but still shockingly white, not unusual for a guy who's about to turn 62 this summer.
I was fortunate to snag primo seats, in the middle of the second row, to catch Arlo Guthrie last night live at the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento. While my husband snatches up season's tickets to Mondavi, I subscribe to the Crest's email updates. This means that I typically get word of an upcoming show before anybody else and can immediately go online to buy tickets before the rest of the public.
My husband dragged me to the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts last week to see a show that consisted of musicians playing mostly instrumentals while the audience viewed a series of portrait photographs. It was called the Disfarmer Project, named for photographer Mike Disfarmer. The photos were of people who lived in Arkansas during the Depression through World War II. The performance was almost 2 hours long. I can't say I was overly energized and would have considered taking a nap, but with my eyes closed I wouldn't have been able to see the photographs, so I kept my eyes open. But the bottom line is I can spend about an hour looking at somebody else's photo album, and then I begin to lose interest. Imagine if somebody invited you over to their home for dinner and afterward showed you a two-hour long video of just music and photos. I think you'd eventually tire out, too.
But Arlo Guthrie was nothing like the Disfarmer Project. The show was invigorating. He was born July 10, 1947 in Coney Island, New York. Like most people of a certain age, some of us can't exactly remember our age at times. Arlo talked about going to Woodstock in 1967, and said he was 19. I was 15 at the time, and he's 5 years older than me, so he must have been 20. Pot will do that to you. But you know what Robin Williams says: if you can remember the '60s, you weren't really there.
Arlo's Lost World Tour included new music as well as older songs. He credited Leadbelly, Hoyt Axton and Steve Goodman, among other musicians, for the influence each had on his life and performed some of their songs as well. Of course, everybody knows that "City of New Orleans" was written by Steve Goodman, and it's probably the song he's most remembered for except the song, thank goodness, that he didn't sing (Alice's Restaurant).
He brought his son Abe to play keyboards. Directly behind Abe were three unidentified women. I asked my husband if the back-up singers could be Arlo's daughters, but he disagreed. Well, the middle one looked just like Abe, and the one on the left had Abe's hair. I'm going with my belief that they were indeed Arlo's daughters. A web search shows they were probably Cathy, Annie and Sarah Lee.
The rest of the band consisted of a lead guitarist, bass player and drummer.
Most of the audience at the Crest were fans over the age of 60. But when you figure Arlo has enjoyed a 40-some year career, that makes sense. Although I'm almost 57, I felt like I was quite possibly the youngest person there, except for the two little kids whose parents kept them up past their bedtime.
Watching Arlo perform was like being part of the great American folk culture, reliving the last four decades. His dad, Woody Guthrie, far as I'm concerned, is the greatest American folk hero there ever was. I never get tired of singing along to This Land is Your Land. And when the show ended, I was sorry to see Arlo leave the stage.
The Crest Theatre is a fabulous concert venue. Small and intimate so no matter where you sit, you're likely to have a good seat. It was built as a vaudeville theater in 1912, remodeled in 1946 and restored again to the tune of a million bucks in 1995. Here are a couple photos of the Crest Theatre in Sacramento:
Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub
The Short Sale Savior, by Elizabeth Weintraub, coming in June 2009.