Arlo Guthrie - Longs Park - 080617-11.jpg

Folk music legend Arlo Guthrie plays Sunday at Long's Park.

“I love that we’re building community, even if it’s just for an evening at a time.”

That’s Brad Zuke, music director of the Long’s Park Amphitheatre Summer Music Series, explaining to me what motivates him. The 55th season of the free outdoor concerts wraps up at the end of this month.

Zuke said he sees audiences “standing shoulder to shoulder and sharing an evening of good music. ... We put on concerts, but the reason is to bring diverse people together.”

He’s especially delighted that so many children are out there on the lawn, having fun with their families.

“I imagine someday in 10 or 20 years some of these children are going to think back and remember that they saw Arlo and Sarah Lee Guthrie at the park, or The Districts, or Angelique Kidjo,” he said.

I’ve been thinking about what a treasure the Long’s Park series is, after experiencing what has to be one of its all-time highlights — that Aug. 6 Arlo and Sarah Lee show.

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people were there. My guess is, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you were one of them.

It was incredible, wasn’t it?

Arlo knows a thing or two about building community. He had us in the palm of his hand the whole evening, singing songs and weaving stories as if he were spending an evening on the back porch and had just happened to invite 12,000 good friends.

Some were new to his music, but many of us are familiar with Arlo from his early days, particularly “Alice’s Restaurant” and his appearance at Woodstock. Today he’s 70, his hair a silvery mane, but in many minds, I suspect, he’s still that fresh-faced kid who exulted, “New York State Thruway’s closed, man!”

So I was impressed at the way he used nostalgia as a jumping-off point into something deeper and more meaningful: namely, tradition.

Too often, fans want artists to turn into tribute bands, covering their younger selves. Arlo has been prickly over the years about people wanting him to sing “Alice’s Restaurant” at Every, Single, Show. As he told us that night, in the years when he refused to sing it, people would still turn up expectant. If they complained, he’d refund their money.

I was determined not to mind if “Alice” didn’t show up at Long’s Park. But Arlo, honoring the song’s 50th anniversary, gave us the full “Massacree,” embellished with a few tactful updates to reflect 2017 sensibilities.

He sang “Coming into Los Angeles,” prefaced with his tale of coming into Woodstock by helicopter, and “City of New Orleans,” similarly prefaced with a wry story about meeting its composer, Steve Goodman.

We got a bunch of other great stuff, too. (Arlo mentioned his children appointed themselves as consultants on his set lists.) A couple of Bob Dylan covers. An instrumental inspired by Hawaiian slack key guitar. A Leadbelly tune.

Most poignantly and evocatively, Arlo sang some songs by his father, Woody Guthrie. He sang “Deportee,” which protests the use of that dismissive term to dehumanize the immigrant workers killed in a 1948 plane crash, and “This Land Is Your Land.”

Oh, and there was the opening set by Arlo’s daughter, Sarah Lee.

In short, Arlo gently, unostentatiously, entertainingly, situated his family, himself and his songs (including “Alice” — remember Alice?) firmly in the rich, ongoing tradition of American folk music.

Which sounds pretentious, or maybe even a touch conceited, but it was anything but. Arlo couldn’t have been more down-to-earth. “These are pretty good songs,” he seemed to be saying. “I like ’em. Have a listen, you might like ’em, too.”

His final song was a reverent one, “My Peace.” Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics, an eight-line benediction that seems pretty clearly modeled on John 14:27. (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”) Arlo set them to a simple, graceful melody.

Sarah Lee joined him on stage. Father and daughter sang the two short verses. Then at Arlo’s prompting, the audience joined in:

My peace my peace is all I’ve got that I can give to you

My peace is all I ever had. That’s all I ever knew

I give my peace to green and black and red and white and blue

My peace my peace is all I’ve got that I can give to you

My peace, my peace is all I’ve got and all I’ve ever known

My peace is worth a thousand times more than anything I own

I pass my peace around and about ’cross hands of every hue;

I guess my peace is just about all I’ve got to give to you.

Above the stage, the moon shone. The night was still. Our voices rose in unison in the darkness.

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