Touring can be a tough way to make a living these days, but for Arlo Guthrie, playing live comes with certain medical benefits that aren’t available in retirement.
“There’s nothing like playing before a live audience,” says the prolific songwriter, activist and storyteller who suffered a series of strokes in 2019 and decided to retire in 2020 as the pandemic shuttered the live music industry. Now, after three years resting at his home in Berkshire County, Mass. with wife Marti Ladd, the couple decided that “I could recuperate better in front of a live audience, rather than just sit at home, and both agreed I should get back out there as part of my rehabilitation.”
Today, Guthrie is sharing the details of his recovery plan, embarking on a four-city storytelling theater tour titled “Arlo Guthrie – What’s Left Of Me – A Conversation With Bob Santelli,” featuring the executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The tour is spread out so that each show is at least one week apart, making travel an easy back and forth trip from his home in western Massachusetts.
“I didn’t really retire from the gigs. I retired from getting to them. I’m retired from seven-hour rides in a tour bus,” Guthrie tells Billboard. The first show in the series will take place at Boston’s Schubert Theater on April 1, followed by The Egg in Albany, NY on April 21; The Pollock Theater at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey on April 28; and The Spruce Peak PAC in Stowe, Vermont on May 27.
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“What’s Left Of Me” was booked by Guthrie and Ladd’s new production company Gut3 Productions. Ladd is the director of set design for the series and has created an intimate setting with a backdrop of Arlo’s heroes and mentors hanging within a living room environment. The couple met 20 years ago in Woodstock and married in December 2021. For “What’s Left of Me,” Guthrie will talk about his life as a touring artist, his memories of his famous father Woody Guthrie and his wildly entertaining tales from the road. Guthrie has performed at Carnegie Hall, the 1967 Newport Folk Festival and the original Woodstock festival in 1969 and has released 32 acclaimed albums over his six-decade career. “What’s Left of Me” also includes rarely seen video footage along with an audience Q&A and snippets of his past performances.
Guthrie says the stroke has affected his ability to perform music and says the series is not a music show with some conversation sprinkled in between songs.
“It’s a conversation between two people with maybe some music included,” he notes. “I would rather have it that way. There may be some young people who have no idea who I am, but who got dragged to these events by overenthusiastic friends or parents, or even grandparents and you’ve got to reeducate people and tell them where you’ve been and who you’ve been and make it as much fun as possible.
That includes telling the story of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” a 18-minute monologue that’s both a celebration of Thanksgiving and a not-so-subtle protest piece against the Vietnam War. The talking, satirical format was unusual when it was released in 1967 and still occasionally befuddles folk music fans.
“In 1967, I was beginning to tell my stories on stage and somebody yelled out, ‘shut up and sing,” he jokes “After ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ came out, I was back in Chicago and I was singing songs and somebody yelled ‘shut up and talk.’”
While Guthrie is still affable and gregarious six decades into his career, he’s also become an outspoken advocate and proponent for folk music and the genre’s legacy. His father Woody is one of the most significant and recognized American folk artists of the last century and Arlo has received multiple awards and accolades for his work in folk music, which he insists is more of a musical movement than a genre.
“The great folk musicians all learned how to play music the same way — on acoustic instruments in their houses. That’s the kind of music that I was brought up with. That’s the kind of music my father played. That’s the kind of music I taught my kids to play. It’s music you can take to any country in the world and sing or play with anyone – even those you may not be able to talkto. You may not even be able to say hello, but you can sit down and play something together. That to me, is really always been at the heart of what folk music is,” Guthrie explains.
“That to me is what folk music is,” he continues. “It’s how you learn music. It’s not the sound of it. It’s not the look of it. You don’t need a fancy hat for it. You don’t need lights or amplification. You don’t need anything besides experience and the will to learn how to play.”
For more on “What’s Left Of Me” and to purchase tickets, visit: www.gut3.me
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