While in school in Athens, Georgia, my girlfriend (now wife) and I caught Arlo Guthrie at the 40 Watt Club. Nearly 20 years later, I can still remember Guthrie telling this incredible story about playing a folk show in Germany with Pete Seeger just after the Berlin Wall had come down. The small festival had been overwhelmed with East and West Germans celebrating through song, and after several show-closing sing-along hours, Guthrie was all out of “folk” songs with which to lead the crowd.
As he tells it, the “Alice’s Restaurant” songsmith looked nervously over at the folk-icon Seeger, sheepishly started strumming a tune, and began to sing…”Wise men say….only fools rush in…” The crowd knew all the words, Seeger joined in to lead some verses, and Folk Elvis brought down the re-unified German house.
Guthrie’s point was, “Hey, most anything can be a folk song if we listen and participate together.” Check out this Frank Turner and Billy Bragg clip to see that definition in action: free music, collective singing, laughter, and if you stick around long enough, asking what it all can mean to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen.