Photos by Mark J. Smith
The incident happened in 1965, the song came out in ’67 and the movie was made in ’69. Most of us know the story of “Alice’s Restaurant,” and the story remains that it’s without a doubt Arlo Guthrie’s most beloved song; his fans just can’t get enough of the nearly twenty minute epic. Arlo has said that at his concerts you could always bet on a request for “Alice,” but an eighteen minute song is a beast to get through every night, so he stopped playing it except for every tenth anniversary. Here we are at fifty.
Arlo’s daughter, Sarah Lee, opened the show, and it was easy to tell they’re related. Sarah Lee is not only a fantastic singer and songwriter, but boy can she tell a story (…wonder where she acquired that skill). Having met Ramblin’ Jack Elliott myself, I best remember her story about Jack asking if he could tell her a bedtime story. Sarah Lee said, “No Jack, I need to get to sleep. I have school tomorrow.” Jack asked if he could come to her school and tell her class the story. Sarah Lee said, “No Jack.” Jack asked why. “Well,” Sarah Lee told him, “because school is only for six hours.”
After a short break, a big screen lit up with claymation video of a pickle riding a motorcycle singing “The Motorcycle Song.” Mid-song, Arlo strolled on stage singing along. This kicked off a set of well known Guthrie songs and stories, including a great one about arriving at Woodstock and being asked to play a day earlier than expected. This was followed by “Coming Into Los Angeles.” He also told a tale about Steve Goodman singing him the “City of New Orleans” in Chicago, and asking him to give it to Johnny Cash. Cash passed on it and Arlo made it a hit.
Another short break, and Arlo walked on stage and started the main event, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre.” A few words were changed, and there was a timing change here and there, but it’s still that same, fantastic, fifty year old story, backed by his Piedmont style guitar picking he picked up from Mississippi John Hurt, Ramblin’ Jack, Doc Watson and others.
Afterwards, Arlo played a few more of his favorites and really struck a note with a song he wrote for his now departed wife, which he sang while scenes from their life together played on the video screen.
Arlo finished the show with a talk about how there is evil in the world, but we can all fight it using peace. He sang a new song, “My Peace,” while the words scrolled on the video screen. What a fantastic show. See you for the 60th.
– Mark J. Smith