Folk singer Arlo Guthrie is performing at Irvine Barclay Theatre. (Mark E. Johnson, Associated…)
When Arlo Guthrie was a boy, he sat in the backyard with the guitar he'd gotten for his fifth birthday and listened to his father, Woody, teach him "This Land Is Your Land." The verses decrying hunger and espousing equality didn't strike Arlo as political back then.
Today, though, he sings for the dissenting and downtrodden, as his father did for so many years. In 2011, he joined Pete Seeger, his father's old comrade, to serenade Occupy protesters in New York. In 2005, he rode a train from Illinois to Louisiana to perform for Hurricane Katrina victims.
"I have been Woody Guthrie's son for as long as I can remember," he said by email between stops on his "Here Comes the Kid" tour, which hits the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Saturday and Sunday. "Until recently when I became Sarah Lee, Cathy or Annie Guthrie's dad or someone's grandfather. I'm not generally afraid of things like that."
At 65, Guthrie's name graces more than two dozen albums as well as a plaque memorializing the Woodstock festival, where he played in 1969. But on his current tour, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of his father's birth, he's quick to admit he's "The Kid."
On "Here Comes the Kid," which launched last summer, Guthrie is honoring Woody's legacy by performing in the folk singer's iconic style: just his voice, plus a guitar or piano, to carry the show. He slips in some of his own compositions, but mostly, his music takes a back seat to one of the most influential songbooks of the last hundred years.
To borrow a phrase from his father, the tour has been hard traveling at times. Shortly after Guthrie began in Ireland in August, his wife of 43 years, Jackie, died of cancer; he canceled some dates and interrupted the solo tour for a brief Carnegie Hall engagement with his family and Seeger. Now, he's facing the crowds alone again.
Asked which numbers he might perform at upcoming shows, Guthrie declined the question: "While your readers can find the set lists somewhere on the Internet, I hope they won't look them up. I want my audience to come without knowing what it's going to be."
Courtesy of the Internet, here are a few he's played so far: "Pretty Boy Floyd," a ballad about a heroic outlaw; "1913 Massacre," about the slaying of striking miners and their children; "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)," which addresses the racist treatment of immigrants; and, of course, "This Land Is Your Land."
Although Woody Guthrie ranks among the figures who defined American music over the last century, his voice seldom comes on the radio. But judging from the tributes in the last year, the elder Guthrie still resonates with many as an image of his country: Smithsonian Folkways put out a "Woody at 100" box set featuring a book and 57 tracks, while the Grammy Museum has co-sponsored tribute shows in the U.S. and abroad.
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who befriended Woody in the early 1950s and played at his last recording session, said that even though America may have changed in the last seven decades, the issues in the songs haven't.
"We still have a drought," Elliott said. "We don't have dust storms anymore, but we got hurricanes. We got tornadoes. We got people hungry, people out of work. That was the main feature of a lot of Woody's stories and songs, working people that were not getting a decent wage."
When Elliott met the Guthries, Arlo was 3; before long, Woody began showing signs of Huntington's chorea, the hereditary disease that would take his life in 1967. Over the years since, by his admittedly imperfect count, Elliott has joined Arlo onstage dozens of times.
In the Kid, he sees a lot of the Father — the same off-the-wall humor, the gentle sarcasm, the love of telling a yarn.
'Arlo Guthrie: Here Comes the Kid'
Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine
When: 8 p.m. Sat.; 4 p.m. Sun.
Price: $34 to $46; $25 to $39 for patrons 30 and younger
Info: (949) 854-4646
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