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 comes to The Wilma in Missoula May 3 and the Emerson Cultural Center in Bozeman May 4.
Guthrie, a songwriter, storyteller, social commentator, actor and activist, grew up in a musical household. His dad, of course, was the iconic singer/writer/philosopher/artist Woody Guthrie, and mom was Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a dancer with the Martha Graham Company and founder of the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease.
The Guthrie home in Coney Island, NY, had frequent visits from Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Brownie McGhee and the younger Guthrie drew from all these artists as he forged 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.
In 1965 a teenaged Guthrie performed a “friendly gesture” that proved to be fateful. He was arrested for littering, leading him to be deemed “not moral enough to join the army.” Guthrie attained international attention at age 19 by recounting these true events on the album, “Alice’s Restaurant,” released in 1967.
The “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” an 18-minute and 20-second partially sung monologue, opposed the war and the backward reasoning of authority. It become an anti-establishment anthem and was made into a movie in 1969 by the esteemed director Arthur Penn, in which Arlo played himself.
That same year also brought Guthrie to the rock festival of the ages – Woodstock. His appearance showcased the young songwriter’s chart-topping “Coming Into Los Angeles,” which was included on the multi-platinum Woodstock soundtrack and movie.
Making Music After Alice
But his career didn’t end there. He began the 1970s with a number of albums for Warner Brothers, which helped set the standard for the singer-songwriter genre burgeoning at the time. Perhaps the best known is Hobo’s Lullaby (1972), which included his chart-topping version of Steve Goodman’s “The City of New Orleans.” Another critically acclaimed album that charted on Billboard was Amigo (1976), which includes “Massachusetts,” honored in 1981 as the official State Folk Song.
Guthrie left the major record label system in 1983 and established Rising Son Records, one of the first indie labels in existence. To date the label has released more than 20 titles of Guthrie’s, both new material and re-mastered versions of his classic records. Releases include the Grammy nominated Woody’s 20 Grow Big Songs (1991); In Times Like These (2007), recorded with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra; and in 2016: Arlo Guthrie: The First 50 Years (Exceptin’ Alice) and the two-CD Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary, which coincided with the anniversary tour. An anniversary show was also broadcast nationwide on PBS on Thanksgiving 2015.
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.
For Guthrie, the joy with which people greeted the 50th anniversary tour was a surprise. “I didn’t think I was gonna 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.”
That’s all true. It’s also true that “you can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant …”
Arlo Guthrie tour
Missoula: 8 p.m. May 3 at The Wilma; tickets are $44.50-$54.50. Call (800) 514-3849 or visit logjampresents.com.
Bozeman: 8 p.m. May 4 at the Emerson Theater; tickets are $39-$49 and available online.