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)

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Your family has lots of shows in the archives – what about this particular show captured your attention?

There were songs on it that I had forgotten completely about. There's some stuff on there that since that time has morphed into their own tales. And at that time, though, they were still in their infancy.

So it's the early incarnations of some of your songs?

Exactly. For example there's this story of Moses that came out of that. There's another version of "Alice's Restaurant" that came out of that. There were other things that were still in the infant stage at the time that this was recorded. It's just a little piece of family history that frankly I don't know if anybody would be interested in, but for us, it was funny.

I heard you had to call an old girlfriend about the image you wanted to use on the cover. That's pretty impressive!

Because her handwriting was on the slide, I knew who had taken it. She had taken it with my camera. It wasn't that we needed the permission. Just to identify when and where. . .

So I called up my old girlfriend, and she remembers the day she took the photo. So I said, "Well, you don't happen to remember a gig that I was doing somewhere back in those days?" I said I was playing with Bob Arkin. Bob Arkin is the brother of Alan Arkin, and he was my bass player. There were very, very few shows that we did, just the two of us. And she said, "Oh yeah, I remember that." And I said, "You're kidding!" She said, "No." And I described a little bit of the concert. And she said, "Oh, that was the day you were playing in Long Island, and the Grateful Dead were backstage in the dressing room." My god, not only was she good with the pictures, but she remembered the gig!

You seem so comfortable on stage while you're unspooling stories and anecdotes in the middle of songs – are a lot of these planned or just off the top of your head?

Well that's sort of like asking a magician if you've done this trick before (chuckling). I can't really talk about it without having to kill you. At some point everything is off the cuff. But if it really works, or it's really funny and it's something worth keeping, you try to remember that stuff. And if it's awful, you try to forget it as soon as possible.

I think that's what makes a good political speech, for example. With some of the old guys, for example, you're wrapped in the palm of their hand, and they know how to talk to you because they've been doing it for so long. So if you do anything long enough you can't help but get better and better at it. And I've just been around long enough. And even if you don't intend to, you can't really avoid getting better at it.


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