images-1A recount of seeing Arlo Guthrie’s performance at the Phillips Center in Gainesville, Florida on March 18, 2009.

By Greg Allard

Friday night I went to the Arlo Guthrie concert at the Phillips Center in Gainesville. Although, I almost didn’t go.

Deciding Whether to Go

Originally, I asked my daughter Radha and wife Glani if they wanted to go with me. Both said yes, but I was skeptical they would end up coming along because all of our lives are very busy in our household. I called the box office and when I heard there were many tickets left, I decided I would take my chances the night of the show. Often I have got into concerts for next to nothing by waiting until the last minute and hanging out. I didn’t want to be stuck with tickets because they had backed out on me for one reason or another.

When Glani found out an old friend was visiting from out of town, I suspected she probably wouldn’t go to the concert with me. I asked her a couple of days before and she confirmed that she decided not to see Arlo after all. Glani has been to many concerts with me and we always have a good time. I was disappointed but I understood. “Anyway,” I thought. “At least Radha will go.” I asked Radha again and she reiterated that she did indeed want to go. “How many times do I have to tell you Dad?” she said.

On the morning of the show, however, she started to waver—I could hear the hesitancy in her voice as if she was realizing that this was the day she actually had to really do it. But then later that day, she seemed intent on going and I was happy. I don’t like to go to movies or concerts or out to eat alone. I don’t think many people do. It’s always much better when you have someone to share the experience with, but not always necessarily better for a music journalist.

In the final hour, Radha indeed backed out, as I had first feared. For a few minutes I felt stood up. I even thought about not going. Then I concluded I was being foolish and decided to go anyway. Radha understandably wanted to go out with her friends instead of being stuck with her father. Besides, she had some passing interest to see Arlo Guthrie but not enough to invest a whole teenage evening to him. But I did really want to see Arlo. I had never seen him before and considering he’s 62, who knows how long he’s going to go on touring. And he’s the frggin’ son of Woody Guthrie, for crying out loud.  He knew Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy, and he’s a great storyteller. I couldn’t pass it up.

Getting In

When I got there, I walked around the parking lot a bit to see if there were any scalpers with “Buying” and “Selling” signs. No one was in sight. I had pretty much surmised that the show was too small for “ticket service people,” as they liked to be called, to bother with it, anyway.  I sat down just outside the door when I heard a man approach a lady and ask her if she wanted a free ticket. “No, I already have one,” she said.  I immediately got up and made myself noticeable to the man. He looked at me and asked if I wanted it.  “Yes,” I said.  “Thank you.” And he was gone.  It was an orchestra seat only eight rows from the stage. I looked up at the crescent moon with the planet Venus in visible conjunction.  It was beautiful and I had a free ticket in my hand.  I was glad I had come.

My seat was next to the guy who gave me the ticket. At intermission, he told me someone from his work had given them to him at the last minute and he couldn’t find anyone to go with him. His told me his name was Eli Santana and that he was from the Dominican Republic. I said I had meant a lot of Dominicans while I was living in the Puerto Rico. It turned out that we both had lived there at the same time in 1989 and 1990. As Steven wright once said, it’s a small world but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

I also saw my International Relations and Geology professors there. I chatted with Greg Mead, my Geology teacher, who is also a folk musician and he introduced me to his wife.  They were very quite cordial and we chatted for about five minutes or so in the lobby, sharing our knowledge of music.

imagesSeeing the Show

I arrived a song or two late.  When I finally got in, the first song I heard was an old New Orleans blues song called “Gambler’s Blues.”  The chorus of the song rang out “Don’t want no corn, peas or black molasses.”

The concert itself was quite enjoyable. Arlo performed his numbers well but I found his ability to spin a yarn even more interesting. The band was five-piece, including Arlo on rhythm guitar. He also had three lovely-sounding sisters from Ithica, New York on harmonies called the Burns sisters.

Quite the Storyteller

Arlo was humorous. Before the “Motorcicle Song” he explained that sometimes when he sees creative inspiration coming from the corner of his eye, he gets a paper and pen and readies himself.  On one occasion, he wrote down the line “I don’t want a pickle, I just want to ride on my motorcicle,” and thought, what a stupid line. He ended up finishing the song, it became a hit and now he’s been forced to sing it for the last 40 years.  “Why didn’t the inspiration to write this song go to someone else?” he said.  “Where is Dylan when you need him?”

images-3He talked about Woodstock and said he and his band had to be brought in on a helicopter because the traffic was impassible. When he looked down he saw an incredible sea of people, a sight that has never been equaled again in his lifetime. He recalled sitting between two cops, one fat and one skinny, and hearing them converse.  “Look at all those people down there,” said the fat cop.  “I bet you a lot of them are hippies.” “Yup,” said the skinny cop.  “I bet you a lot of them are doing illegal things,” said the fat cop.  “Yup,” said the skinny cop.  “Well, I’m not going to do anything about it,” said the fat cop.  “Neither am I,” said the skinny cop.  It was at that point, said Arlo, that he realized they were going to have a really good time.

Arlo’s voice was a bit gravely but still strong. The band was decent and the backing vocals by the Burns sisters were great.  I didn’t know many of Arlo’s songs, save and except the standards like “Coming into Los Angeles,” “City of New Orleans,” and “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” a 18-plus minute song that he didn’t get around to singing.

images-2“Some [songs] we’re not going to get to tonight,” Arlo said. “ALICE”S RESTAURANT!” a man blurted out.  “That’s one of them,” Arlo said.  That disappointed me a little but by that time I was tired and not sure if I was up for the whole duration of that song anyway.  I can understand the monotony he must feel singing an 18-minute song ten months of the year, daily, for four decades.

That being said, I grew up listening to that song and watching the movie. So, in my well-slept retrospect, I really wish he had performed that song, although like I said before, I don’t blame him.

images-4Arlo also sung several of his father Woody’s songs, which were really the highlight of the evening for me.  Woody was the biggest single influence on Bob Dylan’s career and obviously Arlo’s as well.  He said that his father was a writing maniac who would go over someone’s house and write on everything he could find.  People are still sending some of his original lyrics back to the family. Arlo said that his father wrote over 3,500 songs, many that are still being recorded today.

About a minute into Woody’s famous “This Land is Your Land” song, Arlo stopped and commented on the audience’s clapping along.  “Your clapping along is nice but it’s really messing me up,” he said.

I’m glad I went, after all– even if it was all by myself.

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