When you’re the son of a famous father, it’s all but inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between you and your dad. And when your name is Guthrie — as in Woody Guthrie, the iconic folk singer — certain expectations inevitably follow.
Arlo Guthrie has built a formidable career filled with classic albums, but the turmoil that’s gripping the nation inevitably prompts questions about what his pops would do.
“There’s been a rekindling of interest in the spirit of the earlier times, and songs are like mile markers," Guthrie says. "I’ve always included some in the shows, but now there’s a little more emphasis.”
Arlo demurs when it’s suggested that America's newly inaugurated president might be the cause of all the anxiety. “My concerns, and my father’s concerns, were usually less about who a particular president is and more about who we are as a people and a nation,” he insists. “Presidents come and go, but the people are always here. There’s only one president, but there are hundreds of millions of us... I try to reinforce the better nature of who we are and where we want to go. And it comes down to what my dad always said, that everyone counts.”
Woody died when Arlo, who will turn 70 this summer and currently calls Sebastian home, was only 20 years old. Consequently, his memories of his father during the relatively brief amount of time they spent together are hazy. “I can hardly remember last year, let alone 60-plus years ago,” he says. “But the spirit of the man remains, and I’ve gotten to know him better as time went on. My own kids had to endure the same issues, as I was out on the road a lot when they were growing up."
Barely two years after his father’s premature passing as a result of Huntington’s disease, Arlo found himself center stage at Woodstock, extracting himself from his father's shadow and emerging as a beloved troubadour who was instantly embraced by the same '60s generation drawn to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, and Judy Collins. But though he’s ready to reprise his earlier catalog — sans the sidelong “Alice’s Restaurant,” which he celebrated during last year’s tour by marking its half-century anniversary — he insists nostalgia isn’t a sentiment to which he’s generally drawn.
“There’s nothing anyone can do about the past, and the future is generally unreliable,” he says. “So I don’t find myself feeling nostalgic very often or feeling overly anxious about what might or might not happen. To the best of my ability, I remain focused on the present... Nothing will change unless you change now. Becoming present in the moment... That’s where the real magic is. Everything else seems to me to be illusion.”
Arlo Guthrie’s Running Down the Road Tour
8 p.m. Sunday, February 4, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; parkerplayhouse.com. Tickets cost $37 to $47 via ticketmaster.com.