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For this singer, folk music is ‘the original social media’

Arlo Guthrie
Arlo Guthrie Courtesy of the artist

Arlo Guthrie has, of late, toured celebrating the music of his father, folk music legend Woody Guthrie and marked the anniversary of his 1967 classic album, “Alice’s Restaurant,” in shows.

Now he’s playing shows that don’t have that kind of theme and structure – both on his own and, as on his current tour, with son Abe Guthrie and daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie.

In his words, “I tend to get a little more flexible.”

“It’s a kind of show I haven’t done for a few decades, in the sense that I haven’t done some of these (songs) for that long,” he said. “There’s a set list posted on our website, but I wouldn’t go by that now.”

That said, it’s a good bet that Guthrie will do “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (the song’s full title) and a couple of his dad’s best known songs in his shows – songs that can still serve the folk protest tradition in the Twitter/Facebook era.

“Folk music is the original social media, and has always been in that role, although it has many other components also,” Guthrie said. “It’s not the latest greatest technology, but it has the longest proven track record. If you think of popular music as a part of it, it begins to make sense.”

And “Alice’s Restaurant,” a flat-out funny story, still seems to resonate as an anti-authoritarian anthem a half-century after it was recorded by the teenage Guthrie.

“I think we, especially here in the USA, have a civic obligation to question authority at all times, and more so in times like these," Guthrie said. "This is, after all, the country of regular people, the average guy. We got rid of the kings and queens a long time ago. This is a country for the everyman (and woman). So our leaders need to constantly be reminded that the royal thing doesn’t end well for them.”

Born in 1947, the son of Woody and dancer Marjorie Guthrie, Arlo grew up in Brooklyn. He graduated high school in Stockbridge, Mass., in 1965, the same year he was arrested for illegally dumping garbage, the incident that inspired the 18-minute “massacree.”

The song landed him a record deal.

In 1969, Guthrie played a late-night set on the first night of Woodstock. He had his biggest hit in 1972 with Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” and in 1976 released his most highly regarded album, “Amigo.”

He played with his band Shenandoah from the ‘70s through the early ‘90s.

The Old Trinity Church, featured in “Alice’s Restaurant” (the song and in the 1969 movie version in which Guthrie plays himself), continues to have a role in his life. The Stockbridge church is now the headquarters of the Guthrie Center and Foundation, founded by Guthrie in 1991 to honor his parents.

The center, an interfaith church and foundation, support culture and education in the Stockbridge area.

“I believe we’ve made a positive impact on our local community, but you’d have to ask them to get a real answer to your question,” he said. “I guess we keep trying, keep hoping, and we keep going. We get a lot of wonderful support from friends and neighbors, and from people across the world. I’m thrilled we’ve been given a chance to show that the values I have are shared by many people.”

Like most folk musicians before him, Guthrie feels an obligation to pass the music and its values on to succeeding generations.

“I went further than that,” he joked. “I contributed to producing the next couple of generations personally. My wife did most of the work, but I helped. So I passed on not only the spirit and the songs but the actual living people. And I gotta say, I’m proud of them all.”

Arlo Guthrie with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Abe Guthrie

When: 7:30 p.m. April 15

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento

Tickets: $69-$39

Info: 916-476-3356; crestsacramento.com

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