PITTSFIELD — Folk singer Arlo Guthrie, whose anti-war epic, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” put Berkshire County on a new musical map in 1967, said Friday that he no longer will tour, ending a half-century of live performances.
The news came Friday not in a tweet, but in a highly personal, 1,100-word post to Guthrie’s Facebook page in which he discloses that he has suffered strokes that affect his ability to perform.
“As a folksinger, I never really thought much about getting older,” he writes in the post. “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.”
But, Guthrie says he suffered a minor stroke in 2016 and another a year ago. While he recovered from the first enough to continue to travel and perform, the one that hit Thanksgiving Day in 2019 led him to decide to halt touring. (“Of all freaking days,” he says of the timing; his “Alice’s Restaurant” saga takes place at the same time of year.)
“It’s been a great 50+ years of being a working entertainer, but I reached the difficult decision that touring and stage shows are no longer possible,” he writes in the post, titled “Gone Fishin.”
“I’ve cancelled the upcoming shows, and am not accepting offers for new ones. That’s the short version.”
After the 2019 incident, he recovered enough to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as part of a yearly series. The event was sold out, he said.
“I had to be there. It was imperative,” the post says.
For now, that performance might have been his last live concert while on tour, he indicates.
The first medical setback, and other factors, led him in 2018 to sell his longtime home in Sebastian, Fla. After returning to the Berkshires last June, Guthrie said, he worked with his band to prepare material for gigs that were filmed at the artist’s home in the town of Washington, in Berkshire County. That footage, though, only fueled his thinking about closing out his performing career.
“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,” Guthrie writes. “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,” he writes.
As for the strokes, he says the first hit him while on tour on April Fool’s Day in 2016. He said he grew dizzy and his vision resembled the view through a kaleidoscope.
“That evening the show went on as though nothing had happened,” his post says. “I had no idea I’d just encountered a mini stroke until weeks later.”
The next one, on Thanksgiving Day last year, was more significant, he suggests.
“I was on my way to The Church / The Guthrie Center to help out with our annual Thanksgiving Dinner that we hold every year,” he writes. “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.”
He was hospitalized. But, he had to get to that Carnegie Hall show.
“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.”
Guthrie said that while he is through with performing live, he plans to remain engaged politically.
“I will continue to poke fun at cultural, political, or personal absurdities as I see it. I’m actually looking forward to it,” he writes. “I’m happy, healthy and good to go, even if I’m not going anywhere.”