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The Hum by Bob Doran


photo of Arlo Guthrie


You remember Arlo, don't you? Well, maybe you do. Chances are one of the first things that comes to mind when you hear his name is his famous father, Woody, the folk music icon who wrote "This Land Is Your Land" and so many other great songs. You might not know that Arlo's mom, Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, was a dancer in the Martha Graham Company or that Woody and Marjorie wrote a batch of children's music, "Songs to Grow On," around the time Arlo was born, 1947, in Coney Island, New York City, reportedly "with a guitar in one hand and a harmonica in the other."

Arlo grew up in the midst of the '50s folk boom; Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Leadbelly and Cisco Houston were houseguests, but his dad wasn't around much. Woody left Marjorie to ramble out to California with Ramblin' Jack Elliot when Arlo was little, and when he returned, he was in a slow fade, suffering from Huntington's chorea, the degenerative disease that eventually killed him.

Maybe you remember Arlo from his famous song/story, "The Alice's Restaurant Massacre," a long involved tale that took up one side of Arlo's first album, relating in great detail the aftermath of a Thanksgiving dinner at Alice's place, a converted church in Housatonic, Mass., and the associated arrest that helped keep the peace-loving Arlo out of the Army. Did you know that Ray and Alice Brock were also the shop teacher and librarian at the high school he attended?

Arlo starred as himself in Alice's Restaurant, a film version of his story made by director Arthur Penn that came out in 1969, in between Penn's hits Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man. That same year Arlo played at Woodstock, and his song, "Coming into Los Angeles," ended up in the Woodstock movie and on the soundtrack album, gaining him new notoriety, but not a lot of airplay, since the song's subject matter -- smuggling marijuana -- was a bit too controversial for commercial radio stations. Arlo hit the airwaves big time a few years later with his take on Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," but by then it was the disco era and his record company failed to take advantage of the exposure.

In 1991 Arlo bought Alice's converted church and it became the Guthrie Center, headquarters for Rising Son, the record company he started in the '80s, and once again a church -- an interfaith church, that is -- where among other things you can study Kali Yoga with Arlo and a couple of his gurus. The center's outreach programs include HIV/AIDS services and an annual walk-a-thon to raise awareness and money for a cure for Huntington's chorea.

Arlo spends most of his time on the road, playing concerts like the one coming up Saturday, March 13, at the Van Duzer (which incidentally is sold out). He came west a couple of weeks ago to attend Folk Alliance in San Diego along with the Guthrie family band, including his son Abe and daughter Sara Lee. In a recent note posted at, he mentions running taste tests at the event for some food product under development that will presumably be offered on the Web site, where you can buy a "Hippy Starter Kit" with daisy seeds for making your own daisy chains, along with the expected CDs or T-shirts emblazoned with Arlo's trademark '60s VW bus, like the one he used to haul the trash that got him in trouble. While in reality they're probably on their way here in some 21st century rental, in my imagination the family is motoring their way north right now in an old hippie van, spreading the message of peace and love to all in this land that was made for you and me.

Last Saturday's Arts Alive was a string band smorgasbord with four, yes four, old timey bands playing within a block and a half on Second Street. Huckleberry Flynt, the kids with big hats, were on one corner; I caught Slewfoot String Band for the first time, playing in an alcove near the gazebo -- they were rough and rowdy and darn good. (This Saturday SSB opens for jammin' Vegetable Stew at Sacred Grounds.) Around the corner a fine band called Hunchback Sally played in a doorway; a fan tells me they have only played house parties so far, but they were worthy of any coffeehouse. Slackjaw was the only band with an indoor gig that night. This Saturday they're at Old Town Coffee playing a special Irish old timey show in honor of St. Patrick's Day, which of course doesn't really come until Wednesday.

That said, the Humboldt Folklife Society presents a "St. Patrick's Contra Ceili" Saturday, March 13, at the Arcata Veteran's Hall. You might wonder, what is a ceili? It's a variation on your basic Irish jam session, but with music intended for dancing. It starts with a family potluck with the Selkies showing off their step-dance skills and music by Calleaghn Kinnamon and the Ceili Trio (including Kathe Lyth on harp). Then expect a wide variety of Irish and Celtic dance music from Good Company, the Academy Fiddlers and the Contra Band with Girl George and Matthew Marshall calling.

Humboldt Folklife also holds their a once-a-month bluegrass jam at Muddy Waters Sunday at noon, then on Wednesday, March 17, the real St. Pat's day, it's an Irish session.

Northcoast Prep Academy charter school is throwing something they call "Swing Around the World" Saturday night at the Bayside Grange. The high schoolers are raising cash for a trip to Spain with Mexican food, swing dance lessons by Bruce and Carey Hart, acoustic music by Jim Silva, then dancing to the Delta Nationals, who are not exactly international -- they play good ol' American music, very good for dancing.

At Rumours that night, Deep Groove Society offers a very different style of dance music, the kind with an insistent beat that absolutely makes you dance. Resident DJs Loren, Touch and JSun lay down the grooves; Chico Von Schpoon and Rhett Bice provide computer-generated visuals.

Meanwhile at Mazzotti's, Ponche! plays AfroCuban style music, good for salsa dancing. They are also celebrating the release of a three-song EP, a tightly arranged teaser for a full-length in progress.

Saturday night at Blue Lake Casino, Flowmotion is down from Seattle for a night of percussion-heavy funk/rock/jazz/bluegrass/AfroLatin jams, perfect for your basic hippie trance dance.

Saturday at Muddy Waters, tireless raconteur Jeff DeMark presents Went to Lunch, Never Returned, his autobiographic piece on love and unemployment. (Sorry, no dancing allowed.)

A correction: Last week I mentioned a Eureka Chamber Music series show with the return of the Orpheus Quartet. Sadly, the group will not be performing; their first violinist, Charles-André Linale, died in an auto accident late last year. In their place we have another chamber ensemble with an international array of players, the Avalon String Quartet, performing works by Haydn, Janacek and Beethoven; that's Friday, March 12, as usual at Eureka's Calvary Lutheran Church.

That night at the First Assembly of God Church (also in Eureka) Maestra Carol Jacobson conducts the Eureka Symphony in a program including works by Mozart and Hanson, plus Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" featuring pianist Deborah Clasquin.

They've already started selling tickets for Reggae on the River. Of course, it's not until August, and they're just starting to set the line-up; so far they have Steel Pulse and Neville Livingston, aka Bunny Wailer -- not a bad start.


Bob Doran



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