“I really can’t remember a whole lot about Woodstock,” Arlo Guthrie said right before launching into a long detailed and hilarious account of the legendary music festival, one of several long tales from someone who has got to be one of the best storytellers in America.
Guthrie was giving a free concert at Castle Clinton (Renee was at this one too as she had been at Richie Havens the week before and Woodstock 40 years ago).
In-between songs familiar and new, Guthrie explained how he had put his whole band — and assorted musical instruments and everybody’s girlfriends and relatives — into a checkered cab (I’m assuming here that he owned it, rather than that he flagged one down) and drove upstate, only to be stopped by the state police, saying the road to Woodstock was cut off because of the huge crowd gathering, and the band would have to travel by helicopter. “I was excited. I was about 19. We took off and you could see people wherever you looked.” There were two state troopers in the chopper with the band, a big trooper and a little trooper.
“The big trooper said ‘There’s a lot of hippies down there.’ The little trooper said ‘Yep.’
“The big trooper said ‘I bet they’re doing a whole lot of illegal stuff.’ The little trooper said ‘Yep.’
“‘Well, I’m not going down there, are you?’
“That’s when I realized,” Guthrie said, “we were going to have a really great time.”
When he was about to play at Woodstock, “there were more people than I knew I’d ever see in my entire life.”
There were many more anecdotes.
His earliest memory was, at age 2, of the songwriter Leadbelly, composer of some of America’s greatest songs, such as “Good Night, Irene.”
He told the story of his mother having visited China and hearing the Chinese singing “This land is your land.”
“My husband wrote that song,” she said excitedly.
But when she told her son, he could not understand why the Chinese would sing a song with lyrics like “This land is my land, this land is your land, from California to the New York Island…”
“Oh, Arlo,” his mother replied.
Then he had a revelation. “It didn’t mean it has to go the short way,” from California east to New York; it could go from California west and around the globe to New York. Then it would make sense that the whole world was singing that song. “Except America.”

Culture Arlo Guthrie on Woodstock, his earliest memory, his father Woody Guthrie’s most...