Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Epic 'Alice’s Restaurant Massacree' Turns 50
Hearing Arlo Guthrie's classic 18-minute long spoke-sung folk song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" on multiple radio stations every Turkey Day is as much of a holiday tradition as watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade and avoiding political discussions with family like the plague. Earlier this year, the iconic folksinger hit the road with his supporting band for the Alice's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour which continues to meander across North America through May 2016. This weekend's annual Arlo Guthrie and Family Thanksgiving Concert at Carnegie Hall celebrates the 50th anniversary of the incident that inspired the song.
As the story goes, on Thanksgiving in 1965, the then-18-year-old folksinger helped his friend Alice haul some trash from her home which was a deconsecrated church just around the corner from her restaurant mentioned in the song's title. The dump was closed, so Guthrie and crew decided to dump the trash down a hillside. They wind up getting busted for littering, spending a bit of time in jail, and enjoying several great Thanksgiving dinners throughout the epic (in length and in impact) song. The misdemeanor comes in handy when the folksinger is drafted for the Vietnam War, and subsequently rejected due to his criminal litterbug history. In the song, he concludes the long, strange, and totally true story urging draftees to tell the examining psychiatrist "Shrink, you can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant" while urging listeners to join "Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement" simply by singing along. Let the artist himself tell you the whole story, via YouTube below.
As folk singers and epic storytellers tend to do, the artist has been sharing more stories about the song during the anniversary tour. Albany Times Union reports that at a recent stop he told the audience about the time he and the arresting officer from the song met on set during a filmic adaptation of the song in which they played themselves, and have since been good friends. Another fun fact: the original recording is exactly the same length as the gap on Richard Nixon's subpoenaed tapes, the Times Union reports.
Alice's home, the former Trinity Church, has since become home to the Guthrie Foundation as well as the Guthrie Center while operating as an interfaith chapel. The artist recently told JamBands.com that he got his hands on the building and turned it into a non-profit space by yet another twist of fate: while filming a TV segment about the song outside the church, the owners came out and offered to sell it right there on the spot so they could move to Chicago.
The artist had pretty much retired "Alice's Restaurant" back in the 1980s after dealing with what he called "Ricky Nelson syndrome" in an interview with the Daily Beast. Crowds began to expect to hear the same eighteen minutes and twenty seconds-long story night after night. The artist said that after dropping the song from his tour setlist "And people came to the shows, and I didn't play it, and they demanded their refunds. And I said, "That's OK! Give them the money back!"