Folk legend Arlo Guthrie returns to Vancouver Island MusicFest

Island MusicFest executive producer Doug Cox went to the well one more time for the final headlining act of the 2018 event, as Arlo Guthrie will return to the scene of his 62nd birthday party.

Guthrie played at the 2009 festival, and is looking forward to spending time with friends when he returns to the Comox Valley in July.

“This year there’s some old friends I’m looking to catching up with – Ry Cooder, David Amram, Josh White Jr., are just a few that come to mind,” he said in an interview with The Record. “I’ve known and loved these guys for most of my life. That’s one great reason for coming this year.”

Much like Arlo, whose father, Woody Guthrie, was one of the founding superstars of contemporary folk music, Josh White Jr. also comes from folk stardom. His father, Josh White, was one of the first African American performers of contemporary folk music.

The ageless Amram was also from that era. The 87-year-old multi-instrumentalist has played with everyone from Pete Seeger to Dizzy Gillespie, and will share the stage with Arlo and White, Jr. for a special collaboration at MusicFest.

“The three of them, along with Eliza Gilkyson, are going to do a tribute to Woody Guthrie at our festival, which will be pretty amazing,” said Cox. “Arlo often gets asked to do tributes to his father, but probably not often with people who knew his father.”

Guthrie said the festival ambience is always appealing to him, and gives him a chance to spend time with other musicians he might not otherwise get a chance to socialize with.

“Usually festival performances are somewhat shorter, as there are many other performances within the same time frame… So [I have] the ability to hang out with performers I don’t usually get to be with. I love being backstage meeting younger people, and sharing some time with old friends.”

The family-oriented atmosphere of Vancouver Island MusicFest is a perfect fit for Arlo Guthrie’s philosophy of his music.

“Folk music has always been family-oriented,” he said. “From learning to play it, to appreciating it later in life, there is a thread that connects generations of people. For me, that’s one of the unique joys of doing what we do.”

His current touring band is very much a family affair, with his son, Abe, his daughter, Sarah Lee, “and our buddy Terry Ala Berry.”

He said he will have some spare time this year, to catch not only some of the other acts, but some of the area as well.

“I always try to catch other performers when we’re doing the same gig – It’s really the only time I get to do so,” he said, adding that he will be arriving in the Comox Valley the day before the festival begins, and staying until the day after his performance.

It’s been 51 years since the release of Guthrie’s iconic album, Alice’s Restaurant. When asked about the lasting ability of the title song, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, he was ever-philosophical.

“I’ve been thankful for the enthusiasm with regard to Alice’s Restaurant but there’s always a difference between what’s popular, what’s important, and what’s now. Sometimes they’re all the same, but not often.”

At 70 years old, Arlo Guthrie continues to tour and fans are still discovering his music. While his career is closer to its end than its beginning, Guthrie said he has no concerns of the folk music genre lasting; it’s a style that carries on in perpetuity.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants of the generation that came before me, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson – the list is fairly long. Those are some that I actually knew. There are many others I admired and learned from, like Lord Buckley. However, I never associate folk music as being a genre. For me it was always the way someone learned to feel about music in general – any kind of music, from symphonic to some kid humming a tune. That kind of feeling you discover becomes part of your life, and as long as there’s people, there will be some who discover the treasure and language of music.”

Arlo Guthrie’s main stage performance will be Sunday, July 15.

Weekend passes are available at islandmusicfest.com/

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