17th APRIL 2019
In July 1969, two historic events took place. On the twenty first of the month American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. “One small step for man”….etc. The second “happening” to quote a hippie buzz word, was the Aquarius Music & Arts Festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s farm at Bethel, Woodstock, New York State between 15th – 18th July 1969. To this teenage music fanatic and babe of the counter culture, there was no doubt which occurence had the greater impact.
The Woodstock festival was unique and the three days of peace, love, music and lots of mud was a career “stimulant” for numerous artists who performed at the festival. One such artist was a fresh faced 21 year old Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary folk and country artist, Woody Guthrie.
To this day Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles” remains my favourite track on the Woodstock album which was originally a three record set. When 50 years later Arlo Guthrie was booked to perform at the City Recital Hall Sydney, it was a chance to shorten my bucket list.
Travelling to events in Sydney can be challenging but being only a half hour bus trip and a two minute walk from the venue, I was obligated to relive my memories of 1969. Arriving in good time, I waited excitedly, enjoying my Young Henry beer as the throng of white and grey haired former hippies shuffled to their seats.
The show was scheduled to start at 7.30 p.m. and as Arlo and his four piece band were tardy coming on stage, I wondered if the 71 year old might have nodded off in the green room.
When the band took the stage, they launched into an up tempo though truncated rendition of The Motor Cycle Song. The sound mix was fine and not too loud for the aged audience but Guthrie’s voice now shares the croakiness of Dylan and at times lyrics were lost between microphone and audience.
Politically and on a social conscience front, the 2019 Arlo Guthrie appears a decaffeinated version of the double shot expresso Guthrie of 1969, who stopped mid song to berate the Woodstock crowd for not joining him in Dylan’s Walking Down The Line. In a week in which an Australian, Julian Assange was arrested for exposing American War Crimes, a passing reference at least by Guthrie, author of the latently anti war anthem Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, might have been expected. This however is a contented Arlo Guthrie, maybe tired of political activism, who clearly enjoys touring and being part of a large musical family.
The opening set continued with Gates of Eden, a very competent homage to Bob Dylan. The influence of Dylan has always been present which is not surprising as Dylan himself was a disciple of Arlo’s father, Woody. The first set lasted a little over 45 minutes which didn’t displease those in the audience, in need of a toilet break. The opening part of the show had been pleasant, without being invigorating and we could comfort ourselves knowing that a number of Guthrie’s better known songs must follow.
We weren’t disappointed as the second set included the Alice’s Restaurant tome, the delightful City of New Orleans and Coming Into Los Angeles. Unlike the now reticent Dylan, Guthrie is more than happy to share his musings with the audience and his recounting of when he first played Woody’s This Land Is Your Land was fascinating.
The band was more than competent – not overbearing but they knew their place and contributed to an enjoyable performance. Arlo Guthrie’s social conscience and rebellious instincts may have been submerged below several layers of contentedness but he can still deliver an enjoyable show.