A seasoned musician, Arlo Guthrie is no stranger to the touring lifestyle. Like his father Woody Guthrie, Arlo is known for his folk music with a conscience. Following his sold-out Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour, Guthrie is currently on his Running Down the Road Tour, performing his greatest tracks from the late ‘60s and ‘70s. In an exclusive email interview with The Hoya, Guthrie discussed the Running Down the Road Tour, his extensive musical catalog and his past work.
Your last album was “Tales of ’69,” released in 2009, and the focus of your new tour is your music from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Why the focus on music from the past?
Folk songs are the original social media. Nowadays people seem to tweet more and sing less. However, there’s no doubt there are many young people writing and recording new songs, because this is their world now. I am, in effect, a part of the past, so I focus on who I am, knowing that the past is the foundation of the future — if that makes any sense.
What about the cultural sentiments of the ’60s and ’70s do you think still resonates today? Do you believe that there is a need for new folk music to reflect new generations and the current political and cultural climate?
There was a recent development in that music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s began to outsell music being created these days. That tells you something not only about the music industry but about the young generation of people learning to express themselves. Music is pretty powerful stuff.
You said recently in an interview with Herald-Mail Media that you’ve “always advocated the questioning of authority.” There’s been a recent rise in criticism of the involvement of performers in political discourse. What do you think is the responsibility of individuals with a public platform, with regards to their personal political views?
There wouldn’t be much late-night humor if some people had their way. If someone is uncomfortable speaking out about what’s going on, they shouldn’t have to do it. Likewise, if someone is uncomfortable not speaking out, we should let ‘em do so. In the long run those with talent will be appreciated, and those without will do something else. There’s no free pass just because someone is an entertainer. Democracy seems to work best when we allow people to express themselves.
You’ve written some books for children, and you’ve explained that came out of a desire to tell stories for “very young people.” Do you think your older music can still resonate with a younger generation? Do you expect many younger people to attend your concerts on this tour?
I expect there will one or two under 25 going to the gigs. More than that is icing on the cake. Personally, I love having new victims.
Performing your older songs, do you ever find that you have any regrets about them? Do you have any albums that you would choose to go back and do differently, and do you think that going back and performing your older music gives you the opportunity, in a way, for revision?
There are recordings of mine I don’t allow in the house. And there are songs of mine I stopped singing a long time ago. There’s also some I’ve kept singing for over 50 years. Given the chance, there’s a lot of recordings I’d do over again — it’s just that there’s better things to do than to go around repeating yourself hoping to make it better.
Your son Abe joins you on stage for this tour, as part of Shenandoah. As a musician, you’re also following in the footsteps of your father — how much do you think your family has influenced your life as a musician?
We’re not advertising or playing up the Shenandoah thing — at least I’m not. Having said that, I love playing with some of my old bandmates after so long a time. We’re like family. Add to this that I love playing with my biological family and it gets even better. We’ve done family tours over the years when all the kids and grandkids get out there on stage. It’s something my father dreamed of doing, and we got to live his dream. For that I’m simply grateful.
What do you want the people who listen to your music, and particularly the music on this tour, to take away from it?
Whatever they can remember.
The next tour is already being scheduled. Beginning later this year we will be doing more of a family show — old school style. We’ll swap some songs and stories together on stage and see what happens. At least, that’s the plan — for now. It’ll be called “Re:Generation” because we don’t know what else to call it.