When I was a kid, I took field trips to the art museum and the kids program at the symphony. I remember one – in junior high – when we went to see the stalagmites and stalactites in the caverns outside of Pittsburgh.
Today I got to experience a school field trip that I would have loved to have gone on as kid – to see the Guthrie Family. In town for an evening show at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the Guthries (save for Papa Arlo) spent their morning entertaining a Hall-full of elementary students. Over 1500 3rd-5th graders from around Southern California got to experience a performance from the first family of American Folk Music. The show was a part of UCLALive’s admirable educational outreach program, Design For Sharing, which brings in school groups to artistic performances.
While the stage was filled with 13 members (include 4 young kids) of the Guthrie troupe, it was Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion who fronted the show. This made perfect sense since Sarah Lee recently released a delightful album of family music, Go Waggaoloo (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), earlier this year. So, not surprisingly, the program focused on songs from the album, which included originals like “Take Me To Show-And-Tell” and “Don’t I Fit In My Daddy’s Shoes” as well as some rediscovered Woody tunes (“Bright Clear Day” and the title track).
I was curious to see how this folk-based music would go over with these pre-tweens. It’s not the type of music that they probably listened to (few raised their hands when asked if there knew who Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were). However it was a testament to the timelessness, and agelessness, of this music, along with the Guthries’ performances charms (especially Sarah Lee and Johnny’s youngest daughter Sophie) that the kids seemed really into the concert.
Perhaps not surprisingly, what really got to school kids animated was when they got to do hand clap games to accompany “Miss Mary Mack” – that included some initially reluctant boys sitting in front of me. The grade-schoolers even followed along with the hand movements for “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain,” even though it’s a song generally for younger children. The Guthries wrapped up the show, naturally enough, with a rousing rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” a tune most of the kids knew (although maybe not as a Woody Guthrie song).
I wasn’t able to attend the evening show, but I am glad I was able to see this performance, and see how the Guthries are maintaining their family legacy of making music as well as sharing American folk music traditions.