The Arlo Guthrie Concert Massacre (with apologies to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’)

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This is a blog called Arlo Guthrie’s Concert at the Palladium and it’s about Arlo Guthrie and the concert. But Arlo Guthrie’s concert is not the name of the concert. That’s just the name of the blog and that’s why I call this blog Arlo Guthrie’s Concert at the Palladium.

Now it all started 33 summers ago—33 summers ago on a summer night when I went up to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to hear Arlo when he was doing a concert there at the Valley Forge Music Fair. Arlo doesn’t live in Valley Forge and neither did I.  He just performed a concert there and I was just a guy who wanted to go see Arlo Guthrie. Along with me came my friend Lou who, to avoid confusion, we called The Greek. And on the way, in Philadelphia, we picked up a young woman I had met weeks ago at the Jersey shore and with whom I was interested in pursuing a romantic relationship.

We got up there and we found the Arlo Guthrie concert and it was a good concert—a great concert—and we decided to stay the night at the young lady’s home but in the middle of the night her father didn’t like what he was hearing and threw us out so, with tears in our eyes (well, in mine) we drove off into the darkness back home to the Jersey shore where the sun came up as we drove over the George Redding Bridge.

Living at the shore and working all summer you don’t get a lot of days off but you do meet a lot of people and the next summer, on my one day off, I took another trip to see Arlo Guthrie play at the Valley Forge Music Fair. This time, planning to meet another young lady who I had met at the shore who I was less interested in pursuing a relationship with (but who was more interested in pursuing a relationship with me). We had a terrific time at the Arlo concert followed by mixed messages and awkwardness that lasted months.

The next year, I got up the nerve to ask yet another young lady who I had fumbled a date with years earlier. It was another great Arlo show but, intimidated by the massive one-year age difference between me and the older woman, I failed to ask her out again.

Four, maybe five, other times I’ve seen Arlo Guthrie in concert—including a lovely concert with my lovely wife (who, for the record, isn’t one of those three young ladies). But seeing seven or eight Arlo Guthrie concerts doesn't mean I'm one of those fans with 27 different 8-by-10 color glossy pictures with a paragraph on the back explaining what each one was.

I’m just a guy who has happily punctuated his life with Arlo Guthrie concerts.

What I came to tell you about.

They got a building up in Carmel. It’s called the Palladium. I went up there to see Arlo in concert and I walked in, sat down, and said hello to a man and his wife who had moved their seats because a fellow next to them had been talking to himself too loudly. Arguing even. I thought it was a good idea that they did move their seats and promised I’d keep my self-conversations to a minimum.

And then he said “Kid, have you ever seen an Arlo Guthrie concert?”

And I proceeded to tell him about the eight or nine other concerts but not about the young ladies and the Greek and the irate dad.

And then Arlo Guthrie and his drummer Terry a La Berry (who I remembered from the first time I saw Arlo) and Arlo’s son, keyboardist Abe Guthrie, bounded on stage and proceeded to play a set of primarily Woody Guthrie tunes including “1913 Massacre” and “Do Re Mi” and “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “Oklahoma Hills.”

Arlo seemed tentative at first like something about the birthday cake colors of the hall or the relatively sparse crowd was making him uncomfortable. But then he found his groove and the stories got more casual and comfortable and the smiles of his musical partners seemed more sincere and by the time “The Motorcycle Song” was sung and intermission came everyone seemed happy there.

In the lobby at intermission there were Woodstock wannabees and twentysomething outsiders and hippy seniors. Hippy seniors right there in the lobby next to me. And I realized that I had no business really calling myself a true Arlo Guthrie fan because I hadn’t bought an Arlo Guthrie recording since the 1980s—except “Baby’s Storytime,” a collection of kid stories that my eldest daughter spent a section of her toddler-hood going to bed to every night. (Her favorite was “The Little Red Hen.”)

The second act kicked off with a funny story about a recent airport security incident, leading in to Arlo’s semi-hit “Coming Into Los Angeles.” Songs by folk pioneers Lead Belly and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott were mixed in with a poem Arlo wrote for his grandkids about a moose at the window and a pairing of children’s songs written by both Woody and Arlo. (It was at that point where I was hoping to get an even stronger taste of the Guthrie musical legacy, expecting Arlo to let his son take over a song. Alas, it was not to be.).

“City of New Orleans” made it into the mix, of course. Along with a song I’d never heard him do in concert, “Highway in the Wind,” about the first time he saw his wife—who died of cancer last year after 43 years of marriage. Which may account, justifiable, for why the energy was a little lower than the past Arlo concerts I’ve seen. Or why it was only at the end, with “Peace,” a relatively unknown song by his father, that he invited the audience to sing along with him.

Then again, maybe it was something else. I don’t know.

I’m just glad Arlo’s still touring. Glad I can anticipate more chances to see him over the next I-don’t-know-how-many years. Glad that he’s keeping his father’s songs alive and glad that he still seems to love making music and that he’s got friends and family around him to make it with.

And that’s the Arlo Guthrie Concert at the Palladium blog. All you got to do to join is see him next time he comes around.

With feeling.

So we’ll wait for him to come around again…

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