Oct. 11--DECATUR -- In the mid-1970s, a young Terry Hall was plugging away as a drummer for a folk band called Shenandoah, not to be confused with the Grammy Award-winning country group of the same name. Playing small gigs to small audiences, they were just another band that had been inspired by the 1960s folk revival, but they had a good sound.
It was good enough to catch the attention of one fan in particular, a long-haired former "hippie" that Hall and his bandmates recognized immediately. The man in the audience was singer Arlo Guthrie, the son of legendary American folk music performer and archivist Woody Guthrie.
"He started coming to a bunch of our gigs; we always saw him but we were hesitant to say hello," Hall recalled. "Eventually, he stayed after the show and asked us to go out on the road with him. After thinking it over for about a second and a half we said 'sure.' "
Hall has been one of Guthrie's main band members ever since, balancing his own solo career in children's music at the same time. Together, they will revisit Millikin University's Kirkland Fine Arts Center tonight, returning to the site of a 2006 performance. Both have grown since the 1970s, particularly Guthrie, who was already an iconic figure of the folk music community by 1975 after the huge success of his debut record, "Alice's Restaurant," in 1967.
"Everyone knew who he was," Hall said. "He was a hero of the folk community to a lot of people because they felt he had brought it to a wider audience. It was a very big deal to us when he asked us to play with him."
Hall, however, has had a distinguished career of his own in addition to his time with Guthrie. He joined a former member of Shenandoah to perform children's music for the first time in 1980 and quickly found himself with another passion. As "Terry A La Berry," he's put out award-winning children's records of original music that occasionally poke fun at his own industry, with titles like "Never Be as Big as Hannah Montana."
"I discovered that I absolutely loved performing for kids," he said. "They're the greatest audience there is because they're totally honest and they'll see through you in a second if you don't believe in what you're doing. I love that."
Playing with Guthrie, though, offers Hall what he calls the best of both worlds. One day he's able to entertain a small group of children at a school or library, and the next he can play in front of a packed hall of thousands at a performing arts center such as Kirkland. He said he's still amazed by his association with Guthrie and by his friend's dedication to music.
"We get to play these beautiful theaters, and I still learn so much from watching Arlo today," he said. "He is still getting better, and I have no logical answer for how he's able to do that. It's a real learning experience going to one of his shows."
Guthrie has put out almost 30 records, but "Alice's Restaurant" remains his biggest hit, a 18-minute-long talking blues piece the singer only rarely performs today. Hall says his friend still appreciates the song but only pulls it out on special occasions and anniversaries to avoid being bound by a perceived duty to perform it at every show.
"He's got so much other music he wants to do, and he doesn't want to limit any shows with any one song," Hall said.
In many ways, Hall said he enjoys music quite a bit more today than he ever did when first approached by a young Arlo Guthrie. Whether he's playing for adults or children today, he's more conscious of how lucky he has been to be an in-demand performer for so long.
"When we were young, we all had thoughts that maybe we'll be rock stars and have our own hits, which is normal," he said. "Now I love being right where I am. I love the travel, the meeting new people. This is what I always wanted my career to lead to."
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