Arlo Guthrie Family
(w/ Woody Guthrie children, grandchildren and great grandchildren)
photo : Annie Leibovitz
We returned from the concert last night around midnight feeling runny, crummy and a little funny (meaning exhilarated). We had just been front stage, in what shade any of us could find, in a treeless field scorched at 9o degrees, and would stand the next four hours enduring beautifully a heart of Americana between two bands: Los Lobos and the Arlo Guthrie Family Reunion band. I had last seen Arlo play (at a small bar) 42 years ago, so there were all sorts of reunions going on.
We had got there after doing a full morning of chores and sweating up, then dunking in the river and heading out in small touring car to a few more errands like first finding a bite to eat, then doing groceries and packing it all away in our large thermos with a bag of ice, and the grocer has been strategically chosen because it allows us a spot to park the car, groceries in the tub under blankets and head off on-foot, each of us with a good apple to chew in hand, and hoof it the two miles into the concert, because you see — we don't have $110 to spend on tickets. There's a brake job to do on the car next week and that's going to cost plenty. So, with any luck, after we walk in and see how the place feels (all outdoors, mucho security, ID bracelets everywhere), we'll see if we can find two people who are leaving early and don't mind parting and gifting us with their ID bracelets. It didn't take long. In fact one fellow went to such lengths to dig down into his backpack and bring forth a fresh free ticket (for Sweetheart) from Yankee Candle. We plan to give a little bow next time we pass Yankee Candle, that strange tourist attraction on the horizon. To the kind man we already bow.
With about fifteen minutes to spare, joyous, criminal, free floating with this sea of field-filled faces and bodies we joined the great human race and got ourselves into place for Los Lobos, to our minds, the mightiest touring band of America. We had last seen them 15 years ago in Lenox, Massachusetts when we had bought tickets for ourselves, our son Carson, Janine Pommy Vega and Jim Koller and we all showed up there as a big family ready for our own reunion and zest. And guess what? — the tickets were never charged to us — so don't tell me something eerie, sweet and nice isn't following us around with this band. Besides, we're here in the first place for Woody Guthrie's 100 birthday celebration (Los Lobos doesn't mention him once) or as Woody might have said, "Whatever it takes."
Los Lobos is finishing up an eastern tour tonight here, though they aren't quite sure where they are, nor does it matter, they start and end in full throttle Mexico~East L.A.,~ the bigger world catch-as-catch-can mixture of classical rock 'n' roll and blues meets traditional conjunto masterpieces. I don't know if that was Cougar Estrada on the drums with them, some of his mighty drum kit was blocking my view, but if it was, his playing and backfill engine literally thrummed under our feet. There were a few jam portions here to backfill our own lives for at least the next year to come. This band stream rolling as free wolves since the early 70s.
That's one segment of the Americana that is occurring right before our eyes — from the Mexico borderlands into East L.A., and my Sweetheart-sneak who has gotten in with me tonight reminds me, with her own L.A., childhood memories, that the weather right now, as the band hits the stage, is very reminiscent of the very best California dry ground breezy lingering humidity solace. It's even in the trees on the edges of our view. No wonder the band is all smiles, except for, of course, Luis Perez.
After Los Lobos, and a short breather (everyone goes to the free water cooler, a very thoughtful contribution by the concert architects) comes what has to be the grandest showcase of American music family tradition since The Carter Family, if you trace the lineage. Arlo Guthrie and his relaxed and top-notch family brood of musicians including his daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and husband Johnny Irion. Just to show you the lineage right there: Arlo is the son of Woody Guthrie, who handed his son a guitar at the age of 5. Even though Arlo, as a youngster, wanted to be a forest ranger and work in a fire lookout tower for the rest of his life (who didn't in the 60s?!), the Oklahoma gene pool genius had other plans for him. It turns out Johnny Irion, who married Arlo's daughter, had a grand-uncle by the name of John Steinbeck. So right there on the stage, strumming, alive as you or me, is a mighty flash of The Grapes of Wrath between Woody and Steinbeck. And it will play out powerfully when all this family begins to play, sing and speak — from Arlo's children and grand children, who are Woody Guthrie's children and grand children and great children, right down to little Sophia and Olivia Irion who sang and talked, trust me, just like small fry Woody's. If you didn't have tears in your eyes at this charmed spectacle, then you did when Arlo Davy Guthrie, as son, broke into Woody's masterpiece "Deportee" (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).
A beautiful night. We all left as one. It will disperse, yes, but it was one.
I found a clip of Arlo Guthrie and most of the same family band playing "Deportees" (not from our concert) from a few years back, with classic Arlo speakeasy and play.