Arlo Guthrie on ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, Woodstock and his Life Since
As the son of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that the musical apple wouldn’t fall far from the tree.
After all, growing up in a household headed by a veritable legend of the folk music genre, seemingly Arlo Guthrie’s genetic makeup was preordained.
“Short answer – I guess so,” he says.
“Long answer – I don’t know, but it feels right.
I always wanted to play music, even as a little kid; I just never imagined I’d make a living doing it.
I wanted to be a forest ranger and play music with friends when I got home from work.
That all changed after the Newport Folk Festival in 1967.
I was 20 years old; a kid.
But, I became the “me” I am today – and never looked back.
1967 was a landmark year for Arlo Guthrie.
It was then he released his anti-war; counter-culture narrative ‘Alice’s Restaurant Massacree’ which became an anthem for a generation.
Based on an actual series of events after Guthrie was arrested for littering, the song’s denouement becomes evident within its entire eighteen minutes and thirty seconds.
Being the inception of underground FM radio at the time, ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ quickly found a home – despite its length.
“Most radio stations were AM in those days, with FM on the horizon,” he recalls.
“Most of the FM stations were related to colleges and universities and had a less controlled playlist so ‘Alice’ was more likely to be heard in that format.
This was before tape or discs which meant that a lot of DJs played ‘Alice’ from the album and got a bathroom break.
Eventually radio did request a shorter version so we created a 45 single called “Alice’s Rock & Roll Restaurant.”
It wasn’t very good and I thought it was stupid.
But, I enjoyed making it anyway. No one remembers it – Thankfully”.
If every public figure has their defining moments, an artist can certainly be measured by their musical resumes.
None come bigger than Woodstock, billed as “3 Days of Peace and Music’.
Arlo Guthrie was among the featured headliners.
“Most all history is created in hindsight, after something happened,” he says of the 1969 landmark rock festival in Upstate New York.
“And most of all that was some horrific event: wars, illnesses, crashes, catastrophes and the like.
Rarely do you realize you are in the middle of a historic event and even more rare is when that event is a party.
How many fun events are historic even today?
Woodstock was one of them – rare indeed.”
Still performing, lo these many years, the 70 year old currently runs ‘The Guthrie Foundation in honour of his parents; coincidentally housed in the actual Trinity Church in Massachusetts that provided the inspiration for his classic ‘Alice’s Restaurant’.
“I was doing one of those “What Ever Happened to Him?” TV shows in the early 1990s, and we were filming a part of at the old church,” recalls Guthrie.
“I hadn’t been there in decades.
As we walked around outside the building the owners said “That’s Arlo Guthrie! Let’s get him to buy it!” I knew it had changed hands a few times.
They wanted to sell the church so I got together with hundreds of friends (the beginning of the internet making it possible, and put a down-payment on the old building.
We formed two separate – but related foundations and operated them both out of the church.
The Guthrie Center is the spiritual (religious) foundation, making us an actual church (appropriate for those in the neighborhood who used it that way) and The Guthrie Foundation is the educational foundation, making it possible to do the community work I wanted to do.
We’ve been there for over 20 years and I love what we’ve been able to accomplish”.
To find out more visit www.guthriecenter.org
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