Arlo Guthrie Reminisces About Woodstock

The folk musician talks about his new album – a lost recording of a solo concert held days before the legendary music festival

Arlo Guthrie is marking the 40th anniversary of Woodstock by releasing a lost tape from a show just prior to the iconic festival. (Henry Diltz / Corbis)

Listen to Coming Into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie.

"You can call me Arlo," said the good-natured voice at the other end of the line. Arlo Guthrie, most famous for his extended-version 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant," has carried on the legacy of his prolific folk/protest-singer father Woody Guthrie well. Arlo played at Woodstock 40 years ago, and to mark that anniversary, he's releasing a lost tape of an August 1, 1969, Long Island, New York, show recorded just prior to that iconic festival. And the family tradition continues, as he'll be heading out this fall on the Guthrie Family Rides Again tour with his children and grandchildren in tow.

So it's 40 years after Woodstock – is everything just a pleasant haze, or can you remember the type of stories you'd tell up on stage in the middle of a song?

Yeah, I remember a lot of it. It's fun pretending I don't, because then I get to make stuff up (laughing). But you know, I actually have a good memory. A few weeks ago sitting down with Michael Lang (the co-creator of Woodstock), just by coincidence we were talking about the old days. It's fun when you get together with other people who were there, because you get a bigger picture than just your own memory.

We actually played a number of the anniversaries over the years at the original site. I wasn't part of the Woodstock II event. But me, Richie Havens, Melanie (Anne Safka-Schekeryk) and some other people over the years have gone back to the original site on occasional anniversaries. There'd be some plywood on the ground, and somebody would bring some speakers or something, and we'd do a free event for a few thousand people that would show up. So I've had a long relationship with the original event that continues as time goes by.

Did you get a chance to intermingle with any of the crowd during your short time there?

Oh, sure. I got there the first day and I was under the impression that I was gonna play the second day. . . We got there, they ferried us in by helicopter. So I was just goofing off the first day, not thinking I had to do a performance. I was out behind stage walking around for hours, and I went out into the crowd just to be a part of it. Just to get a sense and a feel on a rainy, muddy level, you know what I mean? It was a visceral recording, as it were. I wanted to remember it.

One of the things that was interesting to me was that everybody at the time knew that we were in a history-making mode. It was plainly evident from the size of the crowd and the overwhelming factors like weather, roads and food that we were in the middle of a disaster. And we knew that it was historic in proportion. Nothing like this had ever happened before, planned or by surprise. When you realize that most historic events are written in hindsight – you don't realize you're in a historic event at the time – so it was special to be in a historic event and know that it was just that.

I hear you're releasing a new album of a live 1969 Long Island show that took place just prior to Woodstock – a cosmic coincidence, perhaps?

It's one of those synergistic moments in time when we were cleaning out our archives and we had all of those magnetic tape sources. Some are two-inch, some are one-inch, some quarter-inch, reel-to-reel -- everything. At this point, the tape is beginning to deteriorate, so we thought we should transfer it to a media that doesn't dissolve. And we happened to find this hour-long concert just by accident. It wasn't even in a box marked correctly. It was marked something else. And when my kids heard it when it came back on the disc, they said, "Hey Pop, we gotta put this out!" I was hesitant - it's not the best thing we've ever done – but it was kinda funny to hear it, and so we're releasing it.


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