The Hippo


Jul 5, 2020








 Arlo Guthrie 

When: Friday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. 
Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
More: $44.50 - $74.50 at

Alice’s Restaurant Redux
Arlo Guthrie marks movie’s 50th with tour


 By Michael Witthaus
There’s a moral hidden in the film version of Alice’s Restaurant that’s not on the record; in fact, it’s not even on the screen. However, the message could go a long way toward healing today’s fractious world.
The song, if an 18-minute monologue bookended by a chorus can be called that, is familiar to most of the ’60s generation. On Thanksgiving Day, a young Arlo Guthrie illegally threw half a ton of garbage over a cliff for his friend Alice, because he wanted to do her a favor, and the Stockbridge, Mass., dump was closed. 
Guthrie was arrested by the curmudgeonly “Officer Obie.” His offense kept him out of the Vietnam War but forever on the FBI watch list. The basic story is true, and director Arthur Penn decided to use a few real people in his movie — including Guthrie, Obie and the judge in his case.
That’s when the teaching moment arrived, Guthrie explained in a 2015 concert. After two weeks of early morning shoots, the cop looked at him and said, “Guthrie, if you hippies can get up at 5 in the morning, go through this wardrobe and makeup crap, work all day into the night, you can’t be all that bad.”
In that moment, a bond formed between the two, one that lasted until Police Chief William Obanhein died in 1994.
“If you ever see this movie, what you’re actually seeing is a couple of people whose lives are a lot like the country,” he said. “They may not have anything in common at all, but they get stuck working together for just a couple of weeks and become lifelong friends. The world needs a little more of that, and it’s not too hard to do.”
The Oscar-nominated film’s 50th anniversary is being marked with a tour that hits Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Oct. 12.  It’s a family affair; the onstage band includes Arlo’s son Abe, and daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie, a successful singer-songwriter both on her own and with husband Johnny Irion, who will open the show. 
Guthrie’s youngest child, Sarah Lee, first watched Alice’s Restaurant at age 14, when she found a stashed VHS copy. 
“All I can remember is laughing at how funny looking my dad was,” she said recently by telephone. “He’s this awkward, skinny kid in his underwear, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s my dad.’ 
When they discussed the film, she learned about a few artistic liberties taken by Penn. Dad didn’t ever have a stutter, for example, or an Asian girlfriend. 
“It was part of the character created for the movie,” she said. “I found that fascinating, but I think that he was really taken aback. Here’s his kid having a totally different idea about him, because of this film. … He spent years straightening me out.”
The Palace show will start with her solo material. 
“I love to sing the old songs too, so I’ll mix it up a little bit,” she said. “I’m working on an album [that] will shine through hopefully. I’m actually hoping that Dad’s gonna join me; we’ve talked about that.”
Guthrie’s headlining set will include a multimedia show — stills and video from the movie, of course, and a touching tribute to his wife of 43 years, Jackie, who passed away from cancer in 2012. He’ll also delve into the catalog of legendary father Woody, and play his own hits, like “Coming into Los Angeles” and “City of New Orleans.”
Arlo Guthrie joked about an “Alice’s Restaurant entire massacree movement” in the original version; it turns out that he really did create something close to that. The Guthrie Center in Great Barrington, Mass., is a community cultural hub located in the restored church where the actual Alice lived.
A few years ago, Sarah Lee Guthrie launched a program there with a group of activists and musicians called The Hoping Machine, focused on social change and justice. The effort got her more involved in working to secure the Center’s legacy. 
“How to keep it relevant for future generations,” she said. “We’ve been taking a good hard look at that and creating some changes there that will really enforce that.”
Activism also found its way into her music. A few years ago, she and husband Irion recorded “World Gone Wrong,” a pointed anthem about social and systemic injustice. 
“I got away with thinking, we’re just doing this for fun and entertainment, but there’s a great purpose that I was missing,” Sarah Lee Guthrie said. “I finally feel like I’ve come back around to what that is and how to portray it and how to inspire that. I think my dad’s generation already do that and know that, and maybe came away from that because it wasn’t important. Now ... it’s important again.” 

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