Arlo Guthrie has been riding Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train for a tour with family and friends to raise money for the restoration of music in New Orleans. In the photo below Guthrie opens the tour on December 5 in Chicago.
Barry Mazor had the excellent idea of joining Guthrie to write about the trip. On Wednesday the Wall Street Journal published Mazor’s warm account of the trip in an article headed “Along the southbound odyssey.” Mazor writes:
We were, in fact, aboard the train last Friday as it pulled out of Kankakee. This stretch of The City of New Orleans’s celebrated southbound odyssey through the musical heart of America takes place at night now, and it’s a double-decker Amtrak Superliner with sleeping cars, not a morning run on the old Illinois Central — but you can still see those graveyards of rusted automobiles out there on your right, just as the late Steve Goodman, author of the song about the train Arlo Guthrie would make a hit, noted back in 1971.
Mazor quotes Guthrie on the genesis of the tour:
Arlo placed the idea for the tour in context as we sat and talked just before the entourage’s performance at the Canopy Club in Champaign, Ill., Saturday afternoon.
“We saw this disaster unfold in New Orleans, on a level that probably hadn’t been seen since the Dust Bowl era, …and I wanted to do something that would actually help, not just get caught up in the bureaucracy of support. Then I noticed a little scroll coming across the TV screen that noted that Amtrak was resuming service of The City of New Orleans to New Orleans — and I had an idea.
“Maybe we could ride the train down from Chicago and target some help for the kind of musician that my father was — playing for tips, playing for beer, in the little clubs, the bars, the street corners. If we can get some instruments into their hands, get the soundboards back into the clubs, microphones into churches and schools and the other places where the music is learned, give the city its voice — we’d also get more people back into the city to listen to music.”
Long a train enthusiast and active supporter of railway transportation, Mr. Guthrie was able to turn not only to the MusicCare organization as a conduit for funneling donations of cash and equipment to musicians in need, but to Amtrak for logistical support. The City of New Orleans service, necessarily cut off as the closing levy floodgates blocked the tracks just before the flood, was restored in full by early October. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari reports that ridership on the train was just 3% less than a year ago by November. A diesel locomotive had provided emergency power for the only working correctional facility in the city — at the train station.
Mazor managed to work up a wonderful article about Guthrie’s trip without the surrounding Katrina-related politics that are calculated to make you gnash your teeth. No such luck in this morning’s Washinton Post story on Guthrie’s tour: “Storied train used as vehicle for giving.” Ignore the grating appearance of Cyril Neville in the Post’s story and note the power of a song to touch people around the world:
Local fans braved the cold to greet the group at the cozy wood-paneled Kankakee train station the night before a recent show. The town of 27,500 about 60 miles from Chicago is not known for much, except recently for being the home of indicted former Illinois governor George Ryan. But the “City of New Orleans” song gave it international recognition. “The train pulls out at Kankakee . . .”
“When I was in the Marine Corps, people all over the world had heard of Kankakee because of the song,” said Doug Suppes, a Kankakee native and music promoter. “The city loves it.”
The tour ends tonight as Guthrie reaches New Orleans for a sold-out show at Tipitina’s.