Arlo Guthrie on 50 Years of Thanksgiving at Carnegie Hall
Justin Joffe | November 23, 2017
Revolutions move in patterns, cycles, as their name suggests. We look back to the past for reference and grounding in uncertain times, and music holds a special role in that. As 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of many classic records from 1967 — Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, Country Joe & The Fish’s Electric Music for the Mind and Body, The Velvet Underground and Nico, Songs of Leonard Cohen and The Grateful Dead, just to name a few — we’re also reminded that the come-up and come-down to that Summer of Love was rife with disquiet and pointed expression. These classics are timeless because they quite literally stand outside of time; we’re still feeling now what they were feeling then.
1967 also saw 19-year-old Arlo Guthrie, son of the beloved folk troubadour Woody Guthrie, release his debut album, Alice’s Restaurant. It would go on to be another storied classic, with an 18-minute opening track called “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” wherein Guthrie tells a Thanksgiving day story about getting caught dumping trash illegally after the dump is closed for the holiday. The illegal dumping winds up saving Guthrie from Vietnam after he visits the draft office later in the song. “I'm Sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin' here on the Group W bench,” he sings, “Cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug."
The song became an anti-war fable, a talking number in a style championed by countless others in the folk community, along with Grisman and Garcia on Not For Kids Only. Guthrie’s debut went on to spawn a film, and even a cookbook written by the real Alice May Brock herself. The old Trinity Church that features prominently in the Thanksgiving story would later come to be a part of the Guthrie’s continued presence in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Another Thanksgiving tradition was born that year, too, when Guthrie first performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Each year he’d share the stage with the likes of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and members of the Guthrie family, bringing his community together in song. 50 years and 55 performances later, the Guthries return for the Thanksgiving tradition on Saturday as part of their Re:Generation Tour. Arlo will sing his songs alongside his kids Abe, whose accompanied him on keyboards since the ‘80s, and Sarah Lee, who brings a celebrated catalog from her own two-decades long career. Cathy, Annie, and other Guthries will also join in on the family tradition.
“The road continues to beckon and the kids, with kids of their own, are hearing the call of their own thoughts,” says Guthrie. “Onward!”
Relix caught up with Guthrie over email to learn what it feels like to keep the Thanksgiving Carnegie Hall tradition alive, how he sees folk and protest songs in the modern world, and the tastiest dish of Alice May Brock’s that he ever ate.