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Native Son comes home: Arlo Guthrie’s historical artifacts on display at exhibit

The “Native Son” exhibit, curated by Arlo's daughter Annie Guthrie, includes artifacts and memorabilia from the Arlo Guthrie Family Archives from Arlo's career, including handwritten lyrics, photographs, correspondence with musicians such as Pete Seeger, and shirts worn on album covers. 

Great Barrington — The exhibit “Arlo Guthrie: Native Son” opened at the Guthrie Center on May 17.

The Guthrie Center, located at 2 Van Deusenville Road, is located in the former St. James Chapel, originally built in 1829 and expanded in 1866 and renamed the Trinity Church. The building is the same church Guthrie sang about in his infamous “Alice’s Restaurant” that his friends Ray and Alice Brock owned.

The Brocks eventually sold the church building after “Alice’s Restaurant” became a hit, and several owners came and went over the years until Guthrie himself purchased the building, eventually founding “The Guthrie Center” in 1991. The building is now home to various programs, including free weekly community lunches and a concert series.

The “Native Son” exhibit, curated by Arlo’s daughter Annie Guthrie, includes artifacts and memorabilia from the Arlo Guthrie Family Archives from Arlo’s career, including handwritten lyrics, photographs, correspondence with musicians such as Pete Seeger, and shirts worn on album covers. “The exhibit is named ‘Native Son’ because it’s one of the lines from the song ‘City of New Orleans’ that—while Arlo didn’t write the song, it’s a song that he is associated with,” Annie told The Berkshire Edge. “It’s what Arlo calls his ‘Closest to a hit.’ Arlo has pretty much embodied the song. He’s performed it for over 50 years starting in 1972 when the album ‘Hobo’s Lullaby’ came out.”

Guthrie recorded 13 albums over the course of his over 57-year musical career during which toured across the world. He retired from touring in 2020, but does sporadically perform concerts.

Annie referred to items in her father’s archive as “just stuff that got piled up.” “There were some important things, and Arlo’s mother [Marjorie Guthrie], saved everything,” Annie said. “We have all of his baby records, school reports, all of his letters home from camp. She kind of started the process, and the family maybe even accidently started suit after she did.”

Annie said that she continues to discover historical artifacts while searching through her father’s collection, and while certain discoveries may not be part of the “Native Son” exhibit, she said that they may be used at another time. “I was going through some files and I found Arlo’s Chicago Seven subpoena, when he was called to be a witness for the trials,” Annie said. “There’s also all of these Freedom of Information Act letters where my father wrote all these letters asking organizations for information on himself. He got back some pretty fun redacted documents. One of them was a report made by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on the song ‘Coming Into Los Angeles.’”

The song, which was released on 1969’s “Running Down the Road” is about bringing drugs over the border from Mexico. “The DEA actually did a study on the song,” Annie explained. “The study ends with the DEA concluding that they did not believe that Arlo Guthrie ‘bring[s] in a couple of keys.’ Reading that was fun for me.”

Annie said that she worked with her father for 25 years. “My job was to put him on the road and make him available to his audience,” Annie said. “That changed in 2020 when he retired. After he retired, I thought, well, it’s still my job to bring Arlo Guthrie to his audience, just not in person. The archives are an opportunity to tell his story.”

A postcard from the Arlo Guthrie Family Archives written by Pete Seeger to Arlo Guthrie in September 2013, right before a concert at Carnegie Hall. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.
Aopy of the lyrics to the song “Prologue” that appeared on the album “Outlasting the Blues” in 1979 with some of Arlo’s handwritten notes. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

The exhibit will also include mementos from Arlo Guthrie’s childhood. “There’s a real personal side of my father that is being shown when you see this exhibit,” Annie said. “To me, music can bring you all kinds of emotions or bring you moments in your life that you’ve experienced and lived through. We have some of the shirts that Arlo wore on some of his various album covers, and lyrics that might remind people of a time in their lives when they were listening to those albums.”

The handwritten lyrics to the song “My Old Friend.” Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.
The shirt Arlo Guthrie wore on the “Outlasting the Blues” album cover. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Annie said that her father’s music has found a way to connect to people over the years, and she hopes that visitors to the exhibit will also find a similar connection. “People have a relationship with my father through his music,” she said. “It’s important to share the stories behind the music.”

The exhibit will be on display at The Guthrie Center until May 2025.

For more information about The Guthrie Center, including when the center is open to the public and its programs, visit its website.


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