LISTEN: Guthrie Gone Fishing

LISTEN: Guthrie Gone Fishing

Icon retires from touring after 50-plus years


“I know there’s probably just a few people there that heard about the show and said, ‘I thought that guy was dead!’ Well, I’m only mostly dead.”

Arlo Guthrie threw out this joke before even saying hello on a phone call in September. His show at the Walton Arts Center, originally scheduled for March 20, was still listed as postponed due to the pandemic, but it would officially change to canceled in the coming days. Though he wouldn’t be visiting Fayetteville in 2020, we were on a call to discuss his recently released single and how he’s been weathering the turbulent year.

Guthrie’s tour “Alice’s Restaurant Back By Popular Demand” was originally slated to stop at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville March 20 as part of the Land O’Lakes Concert Series. The show was rescheduled for Oct. 4 in response to the pandemic, but ultimately canceled as the venue closed its doors to large performances through the end of the year.
(Courtesy Photo/Dennis Andersen Photography)

Guthrie didn’t share any of this information at the time, but in light of the Facebook post that appeared on his account last week, his joke now seems a little less funny.

On Oct. 23, Guthrie, 73, announced his permanent retirement from touring with a lengthy post titled “Gone Fishing” on his Facebook account. Though he promised during our September chat that he was looking to 2021 for a return to Fayetteville, Guthrie’s announcement reveals “that touring and stage shows are no longer possible” due to several small, and another not so small, strokes he has suffered since 2016.

He writes: “A folksinger’s shelf life may be a lot longer than a dancer or an athlete, but at some point, unless you’re incredibly fortunate or just plain wacko (either one or both) it’s time to hang up the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign. Going from town to town and doing stage shows, remaining on the road, is no longer an option.”

A flood of comments (some 31,000) thank the troubadour and son of fellow folk icon, the late Woody Guthrie, for the lifetime of musical gifts he’s given to his fans, as well as sharing fond memories of his performances. Well, here’s my reminiscence on the funny, poignant half hour I spent on the phone with a legend. Guthrie candidly discussed the rot of divisiveness the country is facing; how he never worried about playing what would be most popular; and the single he released this summer with pianist Jim Wilson, a cover of the Stephen Collins Foster classic “Hard Times Come Again No More” — Guthrie’s first release of newly recorded material in a decade.

Though he’s “happy, healthy and good to go, even if I’m not going anywhere,” he’s still got some words, and certainly some music, that may help those of us not yet relaxing on that fishing boat.

On performing in Fayetteville:

We’ve always found that once you get out of the great big cities, there’s a wonderful audience out there of regular people. And our audiences have always been made up of people on the right, people on the left, people in between, people that aren’t anywhere; we’ve always had a really great mix of political, cultural, age. You don’t see that very often anymore. It’s very rare to see people who are willing to all show up, and they’re all vastly different — they wouldn’t necessarily be seen talking to each other outside the venue but inside, they’re all singing together. I love that!

On the role of folk music:

It’s probably less popular now than it ever has been. Times change, tastes in music change, there’s generational change and there’s cultural change and all this other stuff, and all of the political changes are part of that. The world morphs often to the future that’s generally unknown. And you have to have faith — not in everybody, but in most people. So I have that, and the music is reflective of that, and the “Hard Times” video is in sympathy with that.

I mean, people are going through difficult times — it really doesn’t matter what party you belong to; it really doesn’t matter how much money you got or don’t got. These are difficult times and how do you address that was the burning question for me. Because I’m a person who — aside from being suspicious of authority, which has been my hallmark, my bread and butter — there is a degree of compassion that the music can bring. You know, it’s not for everybody. But for those who enjoy it and take some pleasure in it, take some comfort in it, it’s great.

On the decision to record “Hard Times Come Again No More”:

I wish I could tell ya. I really don’t know. I just woke up one morning, and the song was in my mind. And it was a song I was familiar with, a number of people have recorded it over the years, and I thought, “Really?! me?” But when these things come to you, you have a choice of going with it or letting it pass.

And his favorite part of the tune:

The song, overall, has a quality to it that it’s not finger-pointing. It’s not saying somebody’s to blame; although I may feel that way personally, this song does not include any of that. It’s a song that takes into account the struggles that people are going through in difficult times. And it was Jim’s idea to add to it a final verse that would be more hopeful. So we put together a verse that was not in the original Stephen Foster song. That’s become my favorite part because it’s not only a song of doom and gloom, which is what people are feeling in the moment, but it adds a note of hope. And I think we need that, too.

On the evolution of protest music:

Folk singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie followed in the tradition of his legendary father, the late Woody Guthrie, becoming known for his songs of protest and his storytelling. Citing health setbacks, Guthrie is parking the tour bus permanently and has hung up the “Gone Fishing” sign.
(Courtesy Photo/Eric Brown)

I remember being 18 and 19 and 20, and it seemed like nobody over 30 understood what we were talking about. And now I’m in my 70s, and there’s nobody under 30 who knows what I’m talking about! (Laughs.)

It’s the way the world changes, and it is morphing and it evolves, and I’m very hopeful. I mean, aspirations that young people have, I think are worth siding with. I think it’s worth supporting. They have a different sense of what’s important — whether it’s climate change or social justice or cultural issues, whatever they are. They’re talking about the world the way they want to see it for themselves when they get older. And I think that’s important to listen to, and it resonates. Even if I don’t get it all, I don’t have to. I’d rather stand with them and be a little bit out of touch than to stand with people who are totally out of touch with what I think those aspirations are.

On making it through 2020:

I’m a person that hopes, that is optimistic, that the suffering that we all have to endure will not prevail. We will get out of this. We will reach beyond the pandemic. We will reach beyond the political and cultural wars. And we will enter into a different age. That’s going to happen no matter who the president is, no matter what the story is, no matter what divides our country, we will overcome it.

And some people get suckered into thinking we won’t; I’m not one of them. I don’t buy it. We will come out ahead. It’s just a matter of how many people have to suffer in the meantime, and the less people that have to suffer in the meantime, the better, as far as I’m concerned.


Go Online

Arlo Guthrie

Visit to hear or purchase Arlo Guthrie and Jim Wilson’s release “Hard Times Come Again No More.”



Categories: Music