It was 50 years ago this past Thanksgiving that folksinger Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody Guthrie came out with his 18 minute saga called “Alice’s Restaurant” which told the story of him and his friend visiting their friend Alice who lived in the bell tower of an old church. Beings they took the pews out they accumulated a half a ton of garbage so Arlo and his friend decided to help them out and threw it over a nearby cliff. They were arrested the next morning. The story goes on to tell about Arlo’s experience with the local police and eventually the draft board.
I’ve seen Arlo numerous times over the last 30 years and he never fails to disappoint. I love hearing his stories about being on the road, his wry sense of humor and his catchy and melodious songs.
On Sunday’s concert in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. Arlo appeared for the 50th anniversary of the song. This was his only N.J. appearance. Opening for Arlo was his daughter Sara Lee Guthrie who is also an accomplished folksinger and appears with her husband Johnny Irion. Sara opened with Donovan’s song “Catch the Wind” and went into a few other songs she wrote herself and told stories like her dad does. She told the story of how she was a little girl and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot who was friends with her dad and grandfather came over and stayed for a few weeks. One night he asked her if she wanted to hear a bedtime story and she said “NOOOO.” He asked her if she wanted him to come to her school and tell the whole school a story to which she again replied, “Nooo.” When he asked her why not she said, “‘School is only six hours.”She then said to the audience, “They didn’t call him Ramblin ’Jack because of his travels.” 😀
Several years ago I had a chance to speak with Sara Lee for a few minutes. I told her she was just like her dad with the ways she tells stories and she replied, “A little too much I think. 😀
Finally Arlo came out. His set opened with a film that he found that was 40 years old of an animated short of him doing ‘”I don’t Want to be a Pickle.” The film had cartoon pickles as characters in it with him doing the song to the characters.
Arlo came out with his band consisting of two guitars, drums and his son Abe on keyboards. He opened with a few songs then broke into “Alice’s Restaurant.” All he had to do was play the first few notes and the audience burst out in cheers and applause. Arlo said, “It sounds like you’ve heard this song before. I know I have.” 😀
As Arlo did the song, he showed clips from the movie he did about Alice’s Restaurant that were in sync exactly with the song as he sang it. The song goes for 18 minutes and Arlo said afterwards that if he knew it was going to be this popular he would have shortened it.”After about a half hour break he came back and did my favorite song ”City of New Orleans” about the train of the same name and a few more songs. Arlo mentioned that the Officer Obie in the movie was the real Officer Obie in the song as was the judge in the movie. He said Obie and he became good friends after the movie up until when he died a few years ago.
Arlo told about when he was 18 years old he went out west to sing with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and his mother arranged for him to stay with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. It was there that he met what was soon to be his wife. Arlo was married 43 years to her and she was gorgeous too. She was always with Arlo and filmed all his concerts and posted them. Soon after their 43rd anniversary she became ill and passed away in 2012. Arlo did a tribute to her singing “Hiway in the Wind” while showing pictures of him and her through the years. There was not a dry eye in the house including mine.
Arlo closed the show which was about two hours with his whole family and grandkids on stage singing his father’s song “This Land is Your Land” and ended with “My Peace.”
If you get a chance to see Arlo if he comes to a hall near you then check him out. It will be well worth your time.
I’m including a link from a few years ago of Arlo singing Alice’s Restaurant if you care to see it. It’s a good quality video.