It is from widely separated backgrounds that Joni Mitchell and Arlo Guthrie, Monday night's entertainers at the Mississippi River Festival, derive their widely separated, but somehow similar musical styles.
Joni, her powerful, bell-clear voice tracing faint images in melody, shows in her music and lyrics the philosophers' lament, a sophisticated sort of folk-blues. Joni's approach to the audience is through a high-and-mighty, and therefore mysteriously beautiful linkage of voice and song.
Arlo, who might be characterized as a turned-on Will Rogers, confronts the audience with a more down-to-earth approach to the philosophers' lament; He satirizes situations to the point of making things absurd, requiring a laugh wherever Joni's message requires sobriety. Also, his singing is a nasal wheeze, sometimes downright irritating, but most entertaining when used as an instrument of mocking hyperbole. Whatever his device, he puts an audience instantly at ease, dispelling whatever stuffiness in attitude may exist during the performance. Guthrie's immediate
appeal is also rooted in the speaking of, rather than the singing of, passages in selections. The listener has neither melody nor metaphor to interrupt Arlo's spontaneous flow of thought. Says Showbill magazine, "While Guthrie's singing is more than adequate, it is not his forte. His strength is the "talking blues," in which he presents a theme, (and) adorns it with his often
hilarious narrative ..."
Melody and metaphor, however, are Joni Mitchell's forte; her performance could be justified by her songs alone, rather than by her manner of performance of the songs.
By the presentation in one concert of two great talents so widely diversified in technique as Arlo Guthrie and Joni Mitchell, the audience at the Festival was able to identify the common denominator of the music of both. Few other performers could have been as opposite, and at the same time so complementary.
Of the two performers, Arlo Guthrie more or less ran away with the show from the standpoint of humor, dialogue, and just plain fun with the audience, who loved every minute of Arlo's performance. Joni Mitchell, not to be at all slighted, furnished the serious, the beautiful, the rousing selections, in which music is more a vehicle than a backdrop. Such contrast in musical conception provided a most well-rounded evening for everyone at the concert.
Arlo Guthrie was first to take the stage, accompanied by a bassist, a drummer, and a guitarist. Arlo, 22, son of the immortal Woody Guthrie, has had music in his life since he was born. When he was only three years old, he would dance about and play the harmonica for his famous father. Also, the Guthrie family made it a point to always make up their own songs, even while out driving in the car. In later years, Arlo attended a college in Montana for six weeks before deciding that writing and singing songs was what he wanted to do, so he left school.
Roberta Jean Anderson Mitchell, 26, born in Alberta, Canada, enrolled in the Alberta College of Art in Calgary as a prospective commercial artist. Joni, mastering the ukulele and finding she could earn extra money by singing in coffeehouses, later found that she enjoyed singing even more than painting. After she visited the Mariposi Folk Festival in Ontario, she didn't go back to Alberta, but rather found work in a handful of Toronto coffeehouses. It was in Toronto that she married Chuck Mitchell and moved to Detroit, where she and her husband later separated. From Deroit, Joni went to New York, where she was discovered by Reprise Records.