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Arlo Guthrie On Mountain Stage

Arlo Guthrie performs on Mountain Stage in 2012.
Arlo Guthrie performs on Mountain Stage in 2012.

In the spring of 2021, iconic folk singer Arlo Guthrie and his band, Boys Night Out, were on their way home after touring for nearly a year. They stopped to play a Mountain Stage road show at the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center in Huntington, W.Va., originally built in 1928.

This performance by Guthrie marks a special moment in roots music history. The folk singer's band included his son, Abe, on keyboards and his grandson Krishna on guitar; it was a family affair to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of his father, Woody Guthrie, on July 12, 2012.

Set up on the vaudeville stage, with its weathered wooden slat floor overlooking the theater's Spanish villa, Guthrie dove straight into an intoxicating campfire-session with a blend of songs about witnessing history and being there.

"The first songs my father heard were long before radio, people sat around for countless generations singing the old songs," Guthrie said while introducing "I Hear Her Sing Again," a song Janis Ian wrote by putting music to some of the late Guthrie's hand-written lyrics found after his death. "The first ones he heard was the ones my grandma sang him."

In this one-hour set, Guthrie unwraps each song measuredly through free-flowing stories. His 12-string guitar rang sunny and bright on "Alabama Bound," after recalling his first memory as a child: standing by the knee of blues giant Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter.

Showcasing the Americana roots he adapted from his father and mentor Pete Seeger, the peacenik cowboy played "Highway in the End," a song he wrote as a teenager while staying with Ramblin' Jack Elliott, remembering a rodeo in Malibu and taking his first "trip" to the West Coast: "Sail with me into the unknown void / That has no end / Swept along the open road / That don't seem to begin."

Guthrie's band brushed everything from "St. James Infirmary," to "City of New Orleans," but the folk singer proved he's still armed with a "Machine That Kills Fascists." He sprinkled this flair throughout the set, notably on the dust-covered wokeness of "Pretty Boy Floyd" and anthem "This Land Is Your Land," between stories of finding civil disobedience and learning the song in fifth grade.

A highlight of the show was a layered story about his mentor and folk revival pioneer Pete Seeger, with whom Guthrie often toured, rambled and raged against the machine. He recalls October 2011, when Seeger — 92 at the time — convinced Guthrie and a bunch of New York City concert-goers to march more than 30 blocks and sing songs like "We Shall Overcome" at the Occupy Wall Street movement. Seeger passed away two years later. "It was fun. It sort of felt like it was 40 years ago with everybody speaking their mind," Guthrie says. "There are those who feel like government is best when it is serving those with the most – I am just not one of them."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.