Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour’ stops in Beaver Creek
Was it really 50 Thanksgivings ago that Arlo Guthrie, Alice Brock, her husband Ray and Fasha the dog sat down in the church for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat?
Calendars do not lie, although we all exaggerate from time to time.
Guthrie is in the early days of the 18-month “Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour.” He includes it in his shows every 10 years. This is our year.
“Who would have thunk it,” he said. “I didn’t think I was gonna live long enough to have to learn ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ again.”
If you don’t know what we’re talking about, then listen to “Alice’s Restaurant.” Do it now. We’ll wait.
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Welcome back. You now understand why it’s less an anti-war song and more of an anti-idiocy song.
Like most art, legend and lore has grown around “Alice’s Restaurant.”
Like the time Guthrie was invited to the Carter inaugural where Chip Carter showed him a cabinet of albums left behind by Richard Nixon. One of the only LPs with the plastic wrap removed was Guthrie’s 1967 album “Alice’s Restaurant.”
The length of the title track is exactly the same as the 18 minutes 34 seconds of silence on one of those smoking gun Nixon tapes. Young Mr. Guthrie conjectured that the Nixon administration might have been brought low by Alice, and that Nixon might have refused to let the world hear him sing, or hum, or have anything to do with the anti-war movement.
“That’s basically the story as I remember it … But, time has taken a toll on my memory,” Guthrie said. “At this point in time, half the population doesn’t know who Nixon was, let alone Watergate.”
A Great American storyteller
Guthrie plays the harmonica and a dozen other instruments. He’s a natural born storyteller and stops in the middle of songs to weave in anecdotes.
“I’ve always loved good stories. And I’ve loved telling tall tales. Why people enjoy it is beyond me,” he said. “I haven’t sung ‘Alice’ for years and people still keep coming to the gigs. ‘Alice’ has taken on a life of its own and become attached to Thanksgiving. If I had to guess though, maybe because it’s a story about a little guy against a big world.”
Each show is a special multi-media presentation featuring previously unseen images from the Guthrie archives. More than 75,000 photos have been digitized, and selections will be projected along with Peter Star’s claymation film depicting Arlo’s “Motorcycle Song.”
Alice and art imitate life
“Alice’s Restaurant” is based on real stuff. So is his “Motorcycle Song” — “I don’t want a pickle, I just want to ride my motorcycle” — but we’ll get to that in a minute, or possibly two. It depends on how fast you read.
Guthrie and a friend visited Ray and Alice Brock in the church building where they lived. They were teachers at the high school Guthrie attended, and he knew all kinds of nook-and-cranny places where people got rid of their stuff.
They cleaned up the church and threw their pile of stuff down to join another pile, and it all looked like one big pile. They didn’t think anyone could tell the difference. Local police chief Bill Obanhein could. He confronted them the morning after Thanksgiving.
The back half of the “Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree” soon presented itself.
Guthrie dropped out of school to help change the world, ban the bomb and everything that went with it.
However, that made him eligible to be drafted into the military and fight in Vietnam.
He was drafted and reported to the induction center, where the Army decided he was unfit for military service because of his criminal record … as a litterbug.
He started writing “Alice’s Restaurant” the night Officer Obie called, and kept at it about a year, adding verses as they unfolded in his life.
A little about Arlo
Arlo is the beloved offspring of Woody and Mazia Guthrie: Woody an American folk icon and Mazia a professional dancer.
He grew up surrounded by dancers and musicians: Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman and Lee Hays (The Weavers), Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee — all of whom were significant influences on Arlo’s musical career.
Guthrie gave his first public performance in 1961 at age 13 and quickly became involved in the music that was shaping the world. During the next few years, Arlo inherited his father’s friend Pete Seeger and the two toured together, between demonstrations, beginning in the late ’60s. They continued doing more than a dozen shows together almost every year for the next 40 years.
The last Pete & Arlo show was in November 2012 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
You’ll be happy to know the Old Trinity Church is still around. Arlo bought it in 1991 and renamed it “The Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church.” He runs his nonprofit foundation from the building.
Fans have embraced “Alice’s Restaurant” as part of their annual Thanksgiving tradition, but also view it as one of the more pronounced anti-war rally songs. Every year, Guthrie receives handfuls of letters from Vietnam vets and soldiers currently at war expressing their heartfelt connection to the song.
The ‘Motorcycle song’
About that motorcycle and the song.
Guthrie owns a 2001 Indian (Gilroy), one of the last made in Springfield, Massachusetts, but that’s not what the song is about.
“I wrote the ‘Motorcycle Song’ one day after riding an old Triumph that belonged to a friend of mine,” Guthrie said. “We had a field we would ride around, and on a rugged terrain trail my foot peg caught the root of a tree and sent me flying.”
He was bruised, but he and the bike survived with minimal damage.
“I’m a little more careful these days,” he said.
In 1969, he needed a photo for the cover of his third record, “Running Down The Road.”
“I recorded it on the West Coast, and I asked Michael Nesmith (of the Monkees) if I could borrow his Triumph Bonneville for the photo shoot,” Guthrie said. “So, the cover and other photos from that record were taken on his bike. I don’t think I ever saw him again to say thank you … So, Michael if you’re reading this, thank you!”