Arlo Guthrie: The ‘Alice’s Restaurant Back by Popular Demand Tour’

It was Woody Guthrie’s dream to have enough kids to form a family band that would travel the country. Guthrie’s son Arlo has fulfilled at least part of the dream with his Alice’s Restaurant tour, featuring his daughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie. The tour will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the film Alice’s Restaurant, starring Guthrie and directed by Arthur Penn.

Guthrie, a songwriter, storyteller, social commentator, actor and activist, grew up in a musical household. Dad, of course, was the iconic folk singer Woody Guthrie and mom was Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a dancer with Martha Graham. The Guthrie home in New York had frequent visits from Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Brownie McGhee and the younger Guthrie drew from all these artists as he set his own style. He collaborated with Seeger many times over some 40 years; their last show together was at Carnegie Hall in November, 2013, a few months before Seeger died.

The saga of Alice’s Restaurant, the song that became the anthem for anti-stupid, began as a friendly gesture when Guthrie, 15, was arrested for littering. He was deemed unfit for the army and he wrote a song about it when he was 19. It quickly became an anti-establishment anthem.

For Guthrie, the joy with which people greeted the 50th anniversary tour was a surprise. “I didn’t think I was gonna to live long enough to have to learn Alice’s Restaurant again,” he said. “It was a quirky kind of thing to begin with. Nobody writes an 18-minute monologue expecting fame and fortune. The initial success of the song really took me by surprise more than anyone else. The fact that I have contended with it for five decades, either by having to learn it again or by not doing it, has been an interesting balancing act. I’m surely looking forward to it again being a centerpiece of my live repertoire.”

In July 2017, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original release of Guthrie’s debut album, Rhino Records re-released the full mono version of the song on 180 gram vinyl. In March 2018, the national recording Registry at the Library of Congress inducted Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, as it is properly known, into a registry honoring the recording for its cultural, historic and aesthetic importance on the American soundscape.

That’s all true. It’s also true that “you can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant…”