Did you know Arlo Guthrie played Newport? Chances are, probably not. There was
such a deafening hullabaloo surrounding Bob Dylan's appearance this year -- and
for good reason -- that the din almost completely overshadowed Guthrie's
headlining gig on the following day.
It's too bad. Because if I had to put the two sets head to head and pick a
winner, I'd have a pretty tough time. While Dylan's possessed a gratifying
intensity and reasonably good relevance and familiarity, it thoroughly lacked
contact, communication, and warmth. Guthrie's set, on the other hand, possessed
all of those things without the intensity. In fact, today Guthrie is all the
things Dylan is not and has never been: sincere, funny, self-deprecating, and
Like Dylan, Guthrie came of age in the folk clubs of Greenwich Village, just a
couple of years later. Onstage, he joked about the time he was warned by a
booking agent that he was playing the same night in the same city as Bob and
there was a huge likelihood no one would show at gig. "Shoot, I could beat Bob
at his own game," he told a reporter after hearing the news. "I've got all
kinds of Dylan tunes I can play," he lied. That night the line was around the
block for his show, and he rushed backstage to polish up on his Dylan.
The fact is, Guthrie has eaten Dylan's dust time and again. How many people
know that Guthrie's classic "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" was performed in
Newport in 1967? But hey, you can't really compare the effects of someone
changing the face of pop music with someone who sang a shaggy dog story about
the draft, no matter how good the tale was.
But let's compare the effect that each one had on the festival. Before his
set, Bob had backstage almost entirely evacuated. Even the other performers
had to stay put once Bob was about to hit the stage. It was nothing
short of a paralyzed atmosphere, a Secret Service-like state of alert in
sleepy little Newport. The Pope could have been in town the way security
battened a forcefield around the guy. Hell, only Al Gore got close. Conclude
what you will about that.
On the other hand, Guthrie and his son Abe pulled into the Fort in their
own beat-up van, must've been 20 years old. Arlo, in all his gray-haired glory,
was seen rubbing elbows backstage with lots of folks. At one point he was
jabbering with John Gorka, Dar Williams, and up-and-comer Alice Peacock, more
than likely sharing a humorous experience of some kind or other. The mood
Sunday backstage was nice and laid-back, the way a folk festival should be.
Folk music has always been about a sense of community, about inclusion, about
the elimination of prides and prejudices.
When Guthrie took the stage Sunday evening, with the sun setting calmly over
the harbor, the peace was palpable. While Bob wailed away the previous night,
unsympathetic to the conditions or the situation or the significance of playing
the Newport Folk Festival 37 years after altering the course of pop music, Arlo
virtually did the job for him. He told stories about his songs -- especially
"The Motorcycle Song" in which he said, "Do you believe I made a career out of
singing a song that stupid? What could I have been thinking?" He reminisced
with hilarity about himself, his style, his life, his career. Like Dylan, he
didn't cave in to nostalgia -- meaning he didn't pull out "Alice" for another
go-'round, but he did play the tune's opening chords, inciting instant
applause. "Now, that could be any song of mine!" he scolded. Then he moved on.
When he closed the set with a cover of his dad's "This Land Is Your Land," it
was the high point of the festival, the kind of moment you could have pictured
back in 1965, when folk music was by and for the people.
Dylan didn't once consider "the people" in 2002, in the same way he assaulted
them with guitars 37 years ago. In fact, since 1965, Bob has distanced himself
more and more from "the people" with each passing year. Guthrie considered
those same "people" for his entire set, front to back. Perhaps it's time he
emerged from Bob's shadow, just this once, and be recognized for it.
WANDERING EYE. Word has it that the rock-bustin' boys of
Donnybrook are prepared to unleash a hailstorm of new songs on a
slightly more suspecting public when they hit Lupo's on Friday night. Though
they haven't signed on with a label, they're getting awfully close. Still, this
new disc, consisting of a bunch of their patented crunching adventures -- I
haven't heard it yet, is it obvious? -- will be a handy tool when it comes time
for them to strut their tail feathers in front of a new batch of label
executives. The show will also include high-decibel delivery guys shed,
Melee, and Rip Wickit. Bring the plugs.
Barn Burning is playing at White Electric Coffee on Friday (the 9th),
with Jedediah Parish and the Mother Tongues. Parish also does time in the
Boss-tone outfit Gravel Pit. On Saturday (the 10th), M-80 will be
performing an evening of Operation Ivy songs at the Met Cafe just for the hell
of it. It's all ages, admission is $7, and the music starts at 9:30 p.m. sharp.
Opening will be Glenn's Army and the Shakes.
In related, M-80 news, the band has nearly finished their new CD. They've been
taking some time off to record and the focus is paying off. With new drummer
Brian Bacon and new singer guitarist Jonny Safford (also with the Colonel and
his Lucky Diamonds), the band is tighter than ever. CD will be out this fall.
Baylies Band is busy this weekend. On Friday, they'll do an improv set
with hardcore bands Throwback, Big Bolt Deluxe, Mass
Liberation, and Hemlock at the Safari. The show is free. On
Saturday, they'll open at the Green Room, playing with all-girl noise
Sawzall and the inspired Olneyville Sound System. Selections
most likely will be from the band's new disc Suicide Notes From the Underground (March Is Wasted). On a related note, Eric Baylies
of Baylies Band will be organizing a series of (hopefully) monthly shows around
town billed as "Improv In Prov." He's looking for bands to do improv-only sets,
which could be very cool. Anyone interested can call him at (508) 992-4952.
There's an Eyesores show on Saturday, and you know how much fun Mr.
Redfearn and company can be. It'll be the band's only summer appearance. The
Naysayer, featuring members of Retsin, as well as other special guests, will be
on hand. If you wanna know the time and place, e-mail email@example.com
and ask nicely. Maybe you can buy Alec a 33rd birthday drink, which seems like
a lot of drinks to me.
E-mail me with all of your music news at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Issue Date: August 9 - 15, 2002