Barry McGuire with John York Return to The Guthrie Center
Last week I traveled to Great Barrington, Massachusetts for Barry McGuire’s Trippin’ the 60’s. It was a great time being at the real Alice’s Restaurant now called, The Guthrie Center. It’s a place where the past meets the present head on without a sense of nostalgia as much urgency to remember and appreciate each moment. I could’ve read the walls for hours with pictures, painting, posters and song lyrics. Everything from the article reporting the trash problem back in the 60’s, to photos of Sarah Lee and Johnny Irion. I was most moved by the photos of Marjorie, Arlo’s Mom, and early photos of Woody. There was a rare photo of 50’s Woody Guthrie standing with his guitar in Washington Square looking like the first hippie with wild curly hair and beard.
In the middle of it all was Barry McGuire and John York. Barry, who met Jackie and Arlo Guthrie even before they were married, during the 60’s at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, was like a walking testament to the power of youth and passion. Performing with the energy of a man half his age(he’s 75) he sang sang everything from the expected Dylan, Byrds and Mamas and Papas to the lesser knowns songs like Fred Neil’s “The Dolphin Song,”, he managed to pull everyone into his world and stories of folk music history. John York lent the best kind of support for Barry’s considerable vocal talents with intricate lead guitar work and fine vocal harmonies, sometimes trading off on lead vocals or supporting Barry as pulled his blues harmonica out for a jam. One of the marks of this show is the space given for John to take off on some extended solo breaks during songs like, “If I Were A Carpenter that leave the audience (and sometimes Barry) mesmerized. The venue is beautifully set up for intimate acoustics shows with cabaret style tables and comfortable seating still leaving plenty of room for dancing if you choose to as some did to the closing medly of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and “Dancin’ in the Streets.” Some in the audience stood after Barry sang his familiar classic, “Eve of Destruction.” It’s his performing skill and the spiritual connection to the song that makes it seem new and urgent every time he sings it. But,this song, like the artist, remains relevant today.
With this show and the venue, the connection to both past and present meet in an entertaining and dynamic way which goes way beyond an ‘oldies’ event. Below I have reposted the article from last week for any who missed it.
Barry McGuire is a legacy. He’s a walking work of folk art, a Christ-like Buddah inside a restless Irish-American soul and a body & spirit that defies his 75 years on the planet He’s been shaped by a lifetime of hard times, good times, sucesses and failures, come backs and paybacks, spiritual break throughs and creative inspiration. He’s gone unnoticed much of the time, but he’s always out there spinning his tales and songs for people who want to hear. Known for his gravely voice on the huge folk hit by The New Cristy Minstrels, “Green, Green” and then, his solo success with the epic protest song that managed to make even Dylan a bit envious,”Eve of Destruction,” Barry’s probably the best folk singer you never heard. Why? Long story. In 1971 he became one of the first figures of the counter culture to embrace a spiritual experience with Jesus. Had the figure been Buddha or Krishna, he most likely would’ve been accepted, even embraced. But, the counter-cuture discarded him even though he was a major figure in the folk-rock movement with the success of “Eve” and his part in helping to establish The Mamas and the Papas introducing them to Lou Adler. Jesus just wasn’t hip yet. But, Barry followed his heart rather than the trends.
However, during the Jesus years, no one knew quite what to do with Barry. He released some fine gospel-rock albums. But, he was often exploited and used in ways that don’t spell out the love of Christ espoused by the flock or the folk. On his 70’s recordings, it seemed he was trying to be heard over the storm. I saw Barry live several times during this period and hearing him solo, just him and his 12-string guitar, was the true experience of hearing a gifted storytelling troubadour. He was never a preacher. He just communicated great stories & songs and his voice engaged and could rock your world with the soul and sheer devotion of his commitment to a Christ not often represented in the world of evangelicals and fundementalists: One of absolute and total unconditional love. This was the same McGuire who was known for his parties in Laurel Canyon in the late 60’s. It was the same McGurie who frequented the Troubadour hanging out with Hoyt Axton and even drinking with Arlo Guthrie. But, during the late 70’s he was clear-eyed and a crystal cosmic spiritual folk singer who could take a song like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and turn it into a spiritually transforming experience perhaps even beyond the writer’s intent. The problem is this was hard to capture on record. When he let go of the gospel curcuit, he found a strong, new voice in telling his memories and capturing and interpreting the songs, some of which are familiar, like “Creeque Alley,” or “California Dreamin'” and some off the beaten path to allow the audience to discover overlooked artists like Fred Neil and Tim Hardin.
I caught up with Barry almost four years ago as he was beginning his current, “Trippin’ the 60’s” show at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena, California. I wrote a review of the show and then worked with him booking the show around the southland. Trippin’ the 60’s was and still is a phenomonal journey through some of the finest musical moments of the 60’s. Barry was there. He was both a witness and a creator. When we sat down to talk, I found, he hadn’t lost the Jesus he loved and spoke of so much in the 70’s, but he had come to embody him in a subtle and authentic way; through his love for the people who come to see him, the people whose stories he told during the show and his ability to be simply present in the moment; be it to the song, the story or the person.
At the time, in 2007, Barry was looking for someone to replace Terry Talbot, who had grown road weary over the years of touring. We had already booked several shows in Southern California with Terry Talbot on the bill. Here’s where a bit of magic happened. I had just started writing articles for the L.A. based FolkWorks. I had done an interview with John York. John was in The Byrds in 1968 during the Easy Rider period. He is a prolific performer and artist. He toured with The Mamas and the Papas, Gene Clark, Hoyt Axton, Rick Danko and Richard Manual. Like many of the artists of the era, he was looking for an outlet, for more gigs, but with the economy and all of the changes in the music business, he wasn’t getting much work. So, like finding two dangling power cords with sparks all alive and hot; I introduced John to Barry. No gigs were cancelled. Instead, for the last three years, John York has toured the world with Barry McGuire, including Europe, Australia and North America, bringing the songs and stories Barry tells so well to audiences of all ages. It’s a perfect folk-rock fit. The dynamic John has brought to the music has allowed Barry the space to nurture his own Voice and to explore the songs as they both discover new meanings and dimensions to the familiar and the undiscovered gems they perform during this show.
Meanwhile, John York, has been able to develop his own solo show, “The Byrds and Beyond,” highlighting many of the songs from his years in the Byrds and other influences. John is a fine musician, a skilled vocalist who brings his own charisma to the stage. It’s been a pleasure to witness the musical output that has come out from him in the last few years. His solo songwriting has a tinge of Gene Clark influence alongside his own deeply felt love for both lyric and melody. He is the example of what could be described as an apostle of music. Certainly he is a minister in that he sees and hears music as a way to be of service to others. This is not something he speaks of with any kind of ‘holy’ attitude, but a simple stark reality of his own life within the world of music he loves and shares through performance, recordings and his daily life.
Barry and John are returning to The Guthrie Center this Friday night, July 29th at 8:00 pm