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Guthrie brings welcome vibe of sweetness

Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts, Cerritos, Cal., March 16, 2019

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Before launching into "This Land is Your Land," Arlo Guthrie recalled how his father taught him this song when he was just eight or nine. His father, however, wasn't just any father, but the father of protest folk music, Woody Guthrie. Then when Arlo's daughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, took the stage midway through the first half of the concert, one was treated to a glimpse at a significant musical family legacy in action.

Arlo Guthrie is calling this tour "Alice's Restaurant Back By Popular Demand" to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film "Alice's Restaurant," and he kicked off the second half of his show with that extended talking blues story/song. During a long concert bookended by another oldie, "The Motorcycle Song" at the beginning, and an encore with "My Peace" (a Woody Guthrie lyric Arlo put to music), this performance covered a lot of musical ground.

The highlight of the evening's first half was clearly Guthrie's cover of Bob Dylan's "Gates of Eden." Although Dylan's lyrical commentary song also dates way back (this one released in 1965), it's description of a society gone far astray, still rings painfully true. Guthrie's version replaces Dylan's vitriolic performance with more of a resigned sadness.

Sarah Lee Guthrie, Arlo's youngest daughter, has been performing as a duo with her husband, Johnny Irion, since 2000. Her set, which included fun and funny children's music and also a reworking for one of her grandfather's lyrics, concluded with a thoughtful rendering of the traditional "A Satisfied Mind."

Guthrie sat down at an electric piano to sing Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans." Although Guthrie isn't technically a country singer, this fantastic song fits nicely into the country train song tradition. Guthrie, whose voice had become a little ragged by this late point in the show, still did the song more justice than Willie Nelson's usual speeded-up take on it in his shows. Nelson just rips through it too fast, whereas Guthrie's version is slower and far more thoughtful.

Much like a recent Cerritos appearance by Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary), Arlo Guthrie's concert hearkened back to a gentler protest era. There was none of the profane anger one finds far too often on social media platforms. When Guthrie sang "All Over The World," it was a song of love and affection for those that speak out against injustice. There was a welcome vibe of sweetness that ran through this concert, which made "Alice's Restaurant" a musical event well worth remembering.