Jackson Press Conference
Arlo ridin' the rails
Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisIn the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie has called upon his artist friends for a benefit concert tour inspired by his smash single "City of New Orleans." Rather than traveling by bus or plane, he and his entourage hopped aboard Amtrak's train of the same name visiting multiple cities along the way, culminating with an all star jam in New Orleans. ConcertLivewire's Andy Argyrakis jumped on for the finale leg, which included a plethora of concerts, public appearances, community outreach and hang out time. Here's an all access pass into life with the "Arlo Guthrie & Friends: Ridin' on The City of New Orleans Tour," including an up close and personal look at Guthrie and performing pals Abe Guthrie, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack, Xavier, Jack Irons, Mickey Rafael, Willie Nelson and many more!
Chicago's Union Station was my point of departure late Wednesday evening for an overnight Amtrak ride on The City of New Orleans. In just a few short hours, I'd be meeting up with the "Arlo Guthrie & Friends Tour," so lots of rest was in order. From the moment we arrived in Memphis, TN shortly after 6 a.m., the hustle and bustle began, starting with the loading of luggage, instruments and the actual musicians. It was a bittersweet situation as those who'd been on the tour up until that point gave their goodbyes and ones like myself were introduced to everyone and was welcomed aboard. Though I was a newbie on the tour, the group made me and a handful of other recent additions feel right at home. A half hour of handshakes and hugs ensured, along with a break down of what previously happened, plus hints of what was to come.
After getting settled, tour publicist Cash Edwards announced all the artists, tour personal and media would be meeting for breakfast in the train's dining car for a private meal. As we walked up a flight of stairs and through several cars to the eating area, our thirty person line of long haired artists, guitars, flash bulbs and video cameras created quite a spectacle. Train patrons had been previously notified of our stay via an announcement, but they soon turned from casual spectators to sincere well wishers and occasional autograph seekers. When we finally made it to the eatery, I grabbed a seat by members of the roots rock group Xavier and the Guthrie family nanny named Jill. Cash, Arlo and members of his immediate family relaxed a row behind us to the left and I had the distinct pleasure of sitting directly across the aisle from legendary tunesmith Rambin' Jack. First up, the guys from Xavier gave me a crash course about the tour's daily operations, advising me to expect lots of random scheduling shifts and last minute add on activities. Having been on the road many times myself, I was certainly used to that type of constant switching, though I allowed the suggestions to sink in and be applied to this specific situation.
I also got acquainted with Ramblin' Jack (known to have influenced everyone from Dylan to the Dead to the Stones) who had joined the tour the night before. We both formed an instant bond over our rookie status in this situation, but were determined to dive right onto the same page with the others. Over French toast and ham, we chatted about Chicago (he loves the Old Town School of Folk Music) his link to Arlo (he frequently performed on the road with the immortal Woody Guthrie) and his frequency as a train traveler even prior to this trip ("because some airlines don't let you bring your guitar aboard"). It was an enlightening experience indeed that paved the way for interaction with several of the other artists.
A case in point came moments after the meal when I headed into the tour's train car where several band and crew members spontaneously broke into a jam session. Once one guitar came out of its case, many others followed and soon the lengthy stretch of Memphis wildlife turned into a 60s/70s time warp. Arlo's guitarist and frequent session man Gordon Titcomb (Paul Simon, Shawn Colvin) seemed to lead the pack as he strummed a banjo and randomly called out songs. One moment it was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Teach Your Children," then it was Orleans' "Dance With Me" and soon King Harvest's "Dancing In the Moonlight" (along with many more). As had been the developing trend, the amount of spectators swelled and pretty soon everyday passengers were mingling with some of folk's finest.
Though the free form playing went on for quite some time, it was forced to dissipate come a stop in Jackson, Mississippi. When the train came to a halt, all the musicians and media hopped out of our car and onto the station's walkway for a press conference. From the moment of exit, we were mobbed with a sea of local reporters and faithful Arlo fans clamoring to get a piece of the action before it was time to pull out again. But even in the short amount of time, Arlo and company obliged addressing as many questions as possible, along with autographing a guitar for charity. The locals sure were supportive of the cause, and even though they were miles away from the upcoming gigs in New Orleans, the press was more than happy to promote the details.
However the runaway highlight came in Hammond, Louisiana when travelers were treated to a mini-concert including John Flynn, Gordon Titcomb, Johnny Irion, The Burn Sisters and the Guthries. The collaborative spirit of the somewhat spontaneous event could be felt in the air with almost everyone singing along in the extremely intimate confines. The Burn Sisters, backed by many of their friends, dusted off the African American spiritual standard "Children Go Where I Send Them," belting out the lyrics of religious unity loud and proud. Of course the obligatory "City of New Orleans" with the all star cast turned into the most overt sing-a-long session, which proved to be extremely poignant given the presentation's location.
With all that excitement the time seemed to melt away, and before anyone even realized it, we were in New Orleans. Like the Jackson exit process, this de-training experience was complete chaos as media and faithful followers jumped out of the woodwork to extend greetings. Hardly a step could be taken with a television camera or signature seeker entering Arlo's eye sight, though he took the time to address everyone and pose for pictures. Once all the luggage was sorted out and the group was gathered, we all boarded Arlo's two tour buses. He and the family went into a shiny red speed demon, while the rest of us piled into a vintage 1970s road warrior. Each had a charm of its own and were given a police escort to the quaint Château Sonesta hotel for the road weary to deservedly retire for the evening.
Day 2 - Arlo Guthrie & Friends: Ridin' on
The City of New Orleans Tour
Day 3 - Arlo Guthrie & Friends: Ridin' on
The City of New Orleans Tour
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