Fifty Years Later, Arlo Guthrie Returns to 'Alice’s Restaurant'

Arlo Guthrie, undaunted by his father's shadow — and still singing about that fabled restaurant.

And to think it all started with a littering offense.

Five decades ago, Arlo Guthrie and a few friends thought they were doing their Thanksgiving host a favor by loading up the back of a VW Microbus and disposing of a load of trash. Finding the city dump closed for the holiday, and spying a pile of trash at the bottom of a nearby cliff, “we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down.”

The shaggy dog tale of woe unleashed by this botched good deed, recounted in meandering detail on Guthrie’s 18-minute talking blues “Alice's Restaurant Massacree,” led to an underground FM radio hit, a beloved Thanksgiving tradition whereby entire families recite the epic story along with Guthrie, and even the 1969 Arthur Penn-directed film Alice’s Restaurant (it still holds up reasonably well). Always undaunted by the shadow of his late, legendary father -- the songwriter, folksinger and tribune of the people Woody Guthrie -- Arlo carved out his particular niche with “Alice’s Restaurant” as a sly, self-deprecating and lightly toasted observer of the American scene.

He celebrates five decades of good service and institutional stupidity with the 'Alice’s Restaurant: 50th Anniversary Tour,' which includes four stops in Northern California: April 14 at the Livermore Valley Theater, April 16 at UC Davis’s Mondavi Center, April 17 for at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall for Cal Performances, and April 18 at the City Winery in Napa. With drummer Terry Hall, guitarist Bobby Sweet, bassist Darren Todd, and Arlo’s son Abe Guthrie on keyboards, the multimedia production features songs drawn from all of Arlo’s albums, previously unseen photos from the Guthrie archives, and a light show designed specifically for the tour.

While it all might sound like a hippiepalooza, Guthrie has always resisted easy pigeonholing. An ardent libertarian in recent decades who supported Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, he’s got a keen eye for absurdity and a soft spot for the underdog. After all, as he recounts in the course of “Alice’s Restaurant,” the littering conviction ends up saving him from the draft, while the charge of creating a public nuisance gave him the street cred to hang with the hardened criminals on the Group W bench. All together now: You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant (excepting Alice)...

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