Sarah Lee Guthrie certainly knows a little bit about American folk music. She’s the daughter of singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of American icon Woody Guthrie. And she’s helping to bring a famous song to town next week on a special tour with her father.
That song is “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” one of the most famous storyteller tunes of all time. Recorded in 1967, the Arlo Guthrie penned counter-culture classic is based on a true story of a Thanksgiving Day arrest for illegal dumping. Sarah Lee and Arlo will bring the song and more to the Greenwich Odeum on October 24th.
We spoke with Sarah Lee, who maintains her own career as a singer-songwriter while also touring with her Dad. She offered some insight into the song and the upcoming show, where she’ll be joining her father on stage and opening the show with a solo set.
“About three or four years ago I joined the ‘Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour.’ At the time, my husband (musician Johnny Irion) and I, who I’ve made a lot of music with over the past 15 years, we decided we wanted to do some separate things. (That’s when) my dad asked me to join the tour.
“Dad said he just needed to help with the night, because he was losing his voice and actually cancelling shows because (the song) ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ takes a lot out of his voice. It’s actually easier to sing than it is to speak for 25 minutes especially with all of those different intonations that he uses. He called me and said I know you’re available, would you come out here and help me with the tour. So I spent that year on the road with him opening up the ‘Alice 50’ tour.”
Guthrie noted that there’s tremendous demand for the song. “There was the anniversary of the event that took place that inspired the song (1965), and then there was the 50th anniversary of the song coming out (1967) and now what we’re doing in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the movie,” released in 1969.
The song continues to resonate in a divided nation, where folk music has always responded to people’s need to speak out and be heard.
“Folk music is a generational thing, it’s what we hand down to our kids, and that’s something unique in the music industry so we really kind of play to that. Of course, his (Arlo’s) experience was second generation and I’m third generation – I take that with a lot of honor.”
Sarah has become an integral part of the show, and has been embraced by Arlo’s fans.
“I am always happy that people really like me. To me its just a little more fulfilling of the legacy, there’s a bigger picture that I feel a part of when I’m touring with Dad. I bring that along to my own shows as well, but it’s very obvious with the crowd from one generation to the next. It makes me feel like we’re part of something that’s really meaningful and that’s been affecting American music lovers for over a century now with Woody. You can place my music in line with the continuum, the legacy.”
In 2017, Guthrie protested at the Women’s March on Washington, where she sang her grandfather’s opus, “This Land is Your Land,” … not on a stage, but in the crowd, among the marchers.
“That was a big turning point for me. I came home from that and I decided that since our political climate had changed so drastically, I didn’t want to just go out and play clubs. I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to do anything without purpose. I’ve pretty much dedicated my life to that, the idea that I want to be part of the positive change. That’s what’s fueling my art these days.”
In addition to touring with her dad, Guthrie is working on a new solo album.
“I lost my Mom about six years ago and I’ve been writing a lot of songs about loss. I’ve noticed as I was doing some of these songs on the last tour they were affecting people greatly. I’m in the studio now with Ruthie Miranda of the Mammals, she’s producing me.
“I’m also the founder of this group called ‘The Hoping Machine.’ The name alludes to a quote my grandfather said, “that all a human being is, is a hoping machine.” This was something I started right after the Women’s March to inspire songwriters and artists to get socially involved on the issues and write songs about it. I think it’s continuing the legacy of Woody and Pete. A huge part of me is carrying on Pete’s message that when we unite our voices together we create strength and courage among us.”
Sarah Lee Guthrie will open for Arlo Guthrie and then join him on stage on Wednesday, October 24th at the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich. Details here.