Arlo Guthrie, Retired From Stage: ‘Gone Fishing’

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Arlo Guthrie in a photo posted on his Facebook page on Oct. 23, 2020

On October 23, 2020, Arlo Guthrie announced that he was retiring from the concert stage effective immediately. The folk legend announced the surprising news in a lengthy post on his Facebook page in which he revealed that he had suffered several mini strokes in recent years.

Guthrie noted that he’s cancelled all of his upcoming concerts and is not accepting offers for new ones. “It’s been a great 50+ years of being a working entertainer,” the then-73-year-old wrote, “but I reached the difficult decision that touring and stage shows are no longer possible.”

Roughly two years later, in October 2022, Guthrie had a change of heart and ultimately gave a handful of concerts in spring 2023.

Here’s the rest of the October 2020 post in which he announced his retirement:

As a folksinger, I never really thought much about getting older. It seemed to me that I could just continue year after year, decade after decade, singing and playing as I had done for most of my life. As the years went by, it got more difficult to keep touring, but I did it, mostly because I’d been doing it my entire life. It was the life I knew and loved.

In 2016 on April 1st, April Fools Day, I got really dizzy in the parking lot of the hotel, and started seeing as though I were looking through a kaleidoscope. That evening the show went on as though nothing had happened. I had no idea I’d just encountered a mini stroke until weeks later, when I was told about it. It didn’t appear to affect my performance, or my state of being. I continued touring for the next 4 years.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day 2019 (of all freaking days) it happened again. This time I was on my way to The Church / The Guthrie Center to help out with our annual Thanksgiving Dinner that we hold every year. I had pulled over to fuel up and realized I couldn’t continue to drive safely, as everything was spinning around, sort of like the old days, but without the help of illegal substances. I was taken to the hospital, and was under evaluation, when I broke out. I had an important gig at Carnegie Hall in New York – The end of an annual series I’d been doing for decades and it was Sold Out. I had to be there. It was imperative.

Related: Our review of Guthrie at his 2018 Thanksgiving concert at Carnegie Hall

The next morning I left the hospital, took the family and headed for New York. And what a show it was! We wrapped up 50 years with a terrific evening with the entire family on stage. I really enjoyed it.

The following day I flew to my home in Sebastian, FL just as I had done for years, this time with the history of Carnegie Hall behind me. My girlfriend, Marti picked me up at the airport, and we settled into the routine of being on the river I loved. Two nights after arriving home, I awoke in the morning and was lurching from sIde to side. I knew something was wrong, and went to keep a doctors appointment we’d previously set up. The doc said “You need to go to the hospital – Now.”

Arlo and Abe Guthrie at Carnegie Hall, November 2018 (Photo by Jeff Tamarkin; used with permission)

So, Marti took me to the hospital nearby in Vero Beach. They kept me there for 3 days, running tests of all kinds, and essentially informed me that I’d suffered a stroke. This time was more serious, as I’d lost some ability to walk, and I wondered if if would be able to play music. I spent about a week in a rehab center to re-learn the basics, like walking. I went home after that, and began a regimen of playing guitar, walking… All the things I would need to continue touring and performing. During the entire time, Marti kept the family and close friends advised as to my progress, and took really great care of me. I needed all the help I could get. And she was there to see it done right.

By the the time our first shows began in 2020, I was at about at 80% and felt like I was improving. Then the pandemic hit. All the shows we had planned for 2020 were at first, postponed, then rescheduled and finally cancelled. My hopes for a gradual recovery onstage came to an abrupt end.

Meanwhile, I’d decided back in 2018 to move from the home in Florida. And just as I’d returned from our last gig in Tennessee, a buyer appeared, and we had a deal on the table to sell The CrabHouse. I wasn’t in any shape to go through the intricacies of selling a guitar pick, let alone a home with 30 years of stuff we’d collected. Marti ended up doing it all. She finalized the deal, and dealt with the stuff that either had to be sold, moved or thrown out. It was quite a lot. But, through garage sales, online markets, movers and friends, she’d pretty much emptied the CrabHouse of everything, and we moved into her place about a mile away.

We were there for a few weeks, before it was safe enough to return to The Farm in Massachusetts. That was in June 2020. Since then we’ve been holed up at The Farm trying to keep out of harms way, and also trying to provide some online entertainment for our friends who were, and continue to be, holed up wherever they are. My band and crew arranged a few short gigs that were filmed at The Church, but when I saw the play-back in the editing room I realized that it was not up to the standards I expected of myself, let alone the expectations that our friends and fans had come to enjoy.

Related: Our 2017 interview with Guthrie on Woody, ‘Alice’ and Seeger

A folksinger’s shelf life may be a lot longer than a dancer or an athlete, but at some point, unless you’re incredibly fortunate or just plain whacko (either one or both) it’s time to hang up the “Gone Fishing” sign. Going from town to town and doing stage shows, remaining on the road is no longer an option.

I don’t remember answering the question on the other side of that piece of paper when I was asked “Kid! Have you rehabilitated yourself?” But, the short answer is now clearly, “No!” In fact, I hope to be a thorn in the side of a new administration pretty soon. Tom Paine once wrote “To argue with a man who has renounced the use … of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead….” In other words, you cannot and should not argue with people who don’t care, or hold the caring of others in contempt. A healthy suspicion of authority, left, right or center has been the hallmark of my career since the beginning, and I will continue to poke fun at cultural, political, or personal absurdities as I see it. I’m actually looking forward to it.

I’m happy, healthy and good to go, even if I’m not going anywhere. I’ve taken back 6-9 months that I used to spend on the road, and enjoying myself with Marti, my family and friends. In short – Gone Fishing.

Guthrie famously performed at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969. His seven-song set began with “Coming Into Los Angeles”

Related: Guthrie returned to the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival for a free concert in celebration of its 50th anniversary

Guthrie, born July 10, 1947, turned 77 in 2024. He earned his sole Top 40 hit with his 1972 cover of Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.”

Watch Guthrie perform the song in 2019

He has often kept a distance from his most famous composition—formally known as “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”—which recounts a visit two years earlier to Great Barrington, Mass., to visit his friend Alice Brock for Thanksgiving dinner and his subsequent arrest for dumping garbage. It tells how his criminal record for littering later prevented him from being drafted into the army.

Although he went for many years without performing it in concert, Guthrie since loosened up and began incorporating it into his setlist again.

Watch him perform it at Live Aid 2005

Guthrie’s recordings are available here.

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8 Comments so far

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  1. 60sKid
    #1 60sKid 23 October, 2020, 21:31

    Our family went to that Carnegie Hall show. Guess it was the last concert for both of us.

    Reply this comment
  2. Kat
    #2 Kat 24 October, 2020, 09:30

    Enjoy your retirement Arlo, thanks for all the musical memories!

    Reply this comment
  3. Billy S
    #3 Billy S 25 October, 2020, 08:26

    Alice’s restaurant is still part of our Thanksgiving tradition. Your concerts were always memorable. We’ll miss you Arlo. Enjoy your retirement.

    Reply this comment
  4. Dynamite Doug
    #4 Dynamite Doug 25 October, 2020, 08:46

    Good luck Arlo. As a working troubadour myself I get how hard it can be to have to quit. In N.J. the rat govenor closed up everywhere we play. Hurt a lot a players. But well come back. Take care and best wishes.

    Reply this comment
  5. Kevino
    #5 Kevino 25 October, 2020, 10:43

    You’ll always be the last of the Brooklyn cowboys to me. PS, I hope you’re not fishing down stream from Dylan:)

    Reply this comment
  6. Batchman
    #6 Batchman 10 July, 2022, 17:22

    Back in the 1970s Arlo was seriously worried about whether he would contract Huntington’s disease like his father and sisters. Though he has certainly had some major health issues, one can be thankful that he managed to escape that particular fate.

    Reply this comment
  7. muddywatersmann
    #7 muddywatersmann 11 July, 2022, 01:50

    Sad news, but Arlo deserves all the rest and full recovery possible…totally unique, certainly beloved by me and many others, the joy and humor and wisdom from him all these years has meant so much to me, and been a great source of inspiration and gratitude…and LOVE! GOD BLESS YOU ARLO, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FATHER…

    Reply this comment
  8. babeypineapple
    #8 babeypineapple 11 July, 2022, 01:51

    I’m so sorry you haven’t been feeling as well as we thought you were. All these years, many of your fans were concerned that you might inherit the illness your dad had, and were relieved that you didn’t. Relax and enjoy life, you deserve it, and keep getting better.

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