Arlo Guthrie told me a few years ago that his four children had spent a chunk of their childhoods riding on the tour bus with him, experiencing life on the road and onstage firsthand.
“We had these big plush guitar cases,” he said. “We’d take the guitars out, put the kids in the cases, do the show, then take the kids out, put the guitars in and go to the next place.”
When I spoke with Arlo’s daughter Annie recently about The Guthrie Family Rides Again tour coming to the American Theatre for two shows on February 25th and 26th, we talked about those days on the bus.
“Oh yeh!” she exclaimed. “The last time we did something that was anywhere close to what we’re doing now—and it was just being on the road, not necessarily playing with our dad, but we were all there—was back in the summer of ’84.
“Back then the schools would send us with work and we had tutors, and we’d come home and go back to our normal public schools. I remember opening the social studies book and being like ‘I was just there.’ It was a lot of fun to be able to do that.”
Twenty six years later, Arlo is bringing the whole clan to play some music with him: His 39-year old son Abe; daughters Cathy (37), Annie (33) and Sarah Lee (30), whose husband Johnny Irion joins on guitar. And all of the kids’ kids are part of the troupe this time around.
“There are thirteen performers,” Annie said. “I’m playing the autoharp on this tour. I’ve been playing guitar for over twenty years, but my dad looked at me and said, ‘we’ve got a lot of guitar players.’ I play bass as well, but my fifteen-year-old son is playing bass on this tour. So I was the one who got to choose a different instrument.
“My son is learning the songs as we go. He learned ‘Comin’ into LA’ onstage at soundcheck one day, and that night I noticed that he was playing all the bass parts. It was at that moment that I went, ‘Oh my God, he’s really good!’ I was so proud of him.
“I guess it must be close to what my dad thinks about us sometimes.”
As the daughter of Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, had she sensed the importance of the family she’d been born into.
“When we were kids,” she said, “everybody was singing ‘This Land is Your Land’ in school. We went to a nice small-town public school and we sat in the classroom like everybody else and learned about my grandfather. I was fortunate that they didn’t make a big deal about who we were as kids, [but] just from being on the road with our dad and seeing the personal reaction to the music let us know.”
Their mother Jackie shies away from the spotlight.
“We call her ‘media mom,’” Annie said. “She has always had a camera in our faces. She does play a little—she was the first person to get me to play guitar. I was playing piano when I was about eleven; she said ‘why don’t you play guitar?’ And she handed me a guitar and taught me my first three chords.
“There are very few musicians out there who are my dad’s age who have the same wife. It’s really great for all of us. He never pushed us into music; it was something we all came into ourselves at different times.”
Annie and her sister Cathy have been running Arlo’s label, Rising Son Records, since 1996, when she was just nineteen. All four of the Guthrie children are well versed in the business side of music. But when they hit the stage at the American Theatre, the music itself will be all that matters:
“My dad talks about how this was Woody’s dream—to have a musical family that played music together, songs that people could sing along to or relate to. It’s so much fun to be out there with everybody. You know we’ve learned to live with each other on a 45-foot tour bus. But we are such a close family because of the way our parents raised us.
“I watched my dad say this in an interview: He said he taught us how to sing with him when we were growing up so that we would learn how to listen to each other. He said that you can’t play together as musicians if you can’t listen to each other. And it’s the same thing with the grandkids now.
“Every year I sit down with my dad and say, ‘OK, what’s our next tour gonna be?’ And we try to come up with something that fits the times. For this tour, with the economy as it is, we said it’s time for the Guthrie family to get out there. Woody was part of the depression and helped people get through that—we’ve got all the songs from that era.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever do it again, with all of us, but it’s definitely something that needed to happen now.”
The Guthrie Family Rides Again
copyright © 2010 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
February 25 – 7:30 pm
February 26 – 8:00 pm