Awful and Awesome – Mostly Awesome

Arlo Guthrie. “Alice’s Restaurant.” Awesome.

Arlo Guthrie
Arlo Guthrie at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

I was surprised how emotional I got Sunday in that last hour of the festival, when the audience was all singing along to that classic song.

We had planned to go to the New Orleans Jazz Festival Saturday, because the forecast for Sunday was so bad. (I had bought tickets for the final weekend before I checked the weather forecast.) Then it rained like hell all Saturday, so we figured, “Why not?”We went with the original plan

Blues Tent aisles awash
Blues Tent – Aisles awash!

I have never paid that much money to be that uncomfortable. When we arrived the sky opened with a torrential cloudburst, gutters instantly overflowing, lightning crackling and booming. As soon as we were on the festival grounds we took refuge in the Blues Tent – Brother Tryone and the Mindbenders, were  really good blues band – and the aisles down toward the front were a good three inches deep in runoff that had nowhere to run. (Although by the time we saw Arlo in the same venue at the end of the day, it had dried out. We didn’t, but the floor did.)


It never really stopped raining all day, but it never approached that opening deluge. So that’s something I guess.

We were armed with ponchos and umbrellas and a variety of other gear, but it was still pretty miserable And worth every minute.

Neal Young was really good. Arlo was great. Not just “Alice’s Restaurant.” He did “City of New Orleans,” “The Motorcycle Song,” “This Land is Your Land.” Classic Arlo stuff, and classic Arlo stage patter. He just comes across as this neat guy sitting around shooting the breeze and playing a few songs. And there was a delightful sing along at the end, a “new” Woody Guthrie song, “My Peace,” the words written decades ago by the legendary singer/songwriter, the tune written more recently by his equally famous son. I have seen Arlo on stage before, almost 40 years ago in concert with Pete Seeger, but he didn’t do “Alice’s Restaurant” then. He seemed almost unchanged, except for the hair, which is bright white. He apparently now uses the same stylist that used to do Col. Sanders. It was a wonderful and very emotional finish to the day. Loved it loved it loved it.

Neal Young fans in the mud
Neal Young fans in mud …
Youngster in the mud
A youngster in mud

Young was the only performer we saw in the outdoor area – standing in the rain, in a boggy mire. We were standing in the mire, the several thousand diehards there to see him. He and the band, of course, we on a covered stage. The mud was that special squishy,  silty kind of mud that creeps into everything, what my dad used to call “Army mud: Too thin to stand on and too thick to swim in.” It’s the kind of mud that at first feels semi-solid, but if you stand still for a couple of minutes you realize your feet have sunk in. Fortunately, Young and the band kept us moving our bodies, so we were all saved.

What must it be like to know that thousands of fans will do that to see you? His set was a mixed bag, a lot of jams that turned every song into 10 or 15 minutes. But yes, he finished with “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World, which is just one hell of a great song.

Of the acts we saw throughout the day, and that included Ellis Marsalis (the head of the clan, father of Wynton, Banford, Delfeayo … that whole insanely talented family,) the best was Trumpet Mafia. One bass player, one guitar, a keyboardist, a drummer and a conga player, and 12 trumpets. Twelve. A dozen. Wow! What a sound. Powerful! And all of them really terrific players. I have 30 seconds of video I put on Youtube just to give a soupcon of what it was like. Just amazing. Check it out.

So yeah. Tori, Max and I were wet. We were cold. We were exhausted.

We had a great time!

One thought on “Awful and Awesome – Mostly Awesome

  1. Twenty-six years ago, when I was in grad school, I worked backstage security at a local concert venue, and I worked with Arlo twice. Your comment about it being like he’s just a guy hanging around playing songs is exactly right. That is what he’s like. We talked music, and we talked politics, and he turned me on to Zin’s “A People’s History of the United States”, which they were reading together on the bus. He’s a guy.


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