“By now, you’ve probably figured out this ain’t ‘The Sound of Music’ and we ain’t the Von Trapp Family Singers,” deadpanned Arlo Guthrie on Saturday night at the Collins Center for the Arts. “But we love families that sing together.”
Indeed, the evening celebrated family unity and patriarch Woody Guthrie, the “Dust Bowl Balladeer” who died of Huntington’s disease in 1967. Every time another pintsized Guthrie skittered across the stage, the three generations of folk singers, united on tour for the first time, sang another Woody ballad. His classic “This Land is Your Land” was a fitting closer, along with the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side.”
Arlo’s youngest daughter, folksinger Sarah Lee Guthrie, opened the show with husband, Johnny Irion. Their mellow voices blended well on “When the Lilacs Are in Bloom” and “Kindness.” She talked about the “bring your own God” church in Massachusetts featured in Arlo’s 18-minute talking-blues classic, “Alice’s Restau-rant,” and credited her Aunt Nora Guthrie for helping set many of Woody’s nearly 3,000 unpublished lyrics to music.
Guthrie family members and friends later took the stage, including son Abe and grandson Krishna. Arlo’s daughter Cathy brought down the house with her four-letter homage to the organic stuff that makes flowers grow, a tune she performs with her band Uke Folk along with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy.
“That’s how to write a folk song,” quipped Arlo after ambling onstage 20 minutes into the show.
Dressed in blue jeans, a black vest, a pale green shirt and boots, the 62-year-old was in a mellow mood, like a proud father and grandfather content to share the family spotlight. Arlo performed Woody’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “My Peace.” He also sang his father’s heartbreaking ballad “Deportees,” which he performed, via tape, at Mary Travers’ Nov. 9 New York memorial service.
Arlo recalled his 1969 Woodstock gig (“I remember getting there —- that was about it.”), before performing “Coming into Los Angeles “ on a 12-string electric guitar. Slated to perform on the festival’s second day, he was shocked to learn he would follow first-day performer Richie Havens.
If the Orono audience was bummed that Arlo never sang “Alice,” they didn’t show it. Instead, they savored such Arlo standards as “City of New Orleans” and yarns about Pete Seeger, who said Woody’s penchant for song stealing was all part of “the folk process.” And Arlo let his family shine on the children’s songs “Every 100 Years” and “Take Me to Show and Tell.”
It’s on to midtown Manhattan this Saturday as The Guthrie Family Rides Again Tour plays Carnegie Hall. It will be a homecoming of sorts since Woody gained fame there in the 1940s, and Arlo, one of eight children, was born in 1947 on Coney Island. Just don’t ask the clan to sing “Edelweiss.”