A Thanksgiving tradition that has endured for a half-century

Thanksgiving traditions include the obvious: Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and a table filled with side dishes.

While the holiday does not have the volume of songs like Christmas does, it does have one important song. And, it can be sung with full orchestration and five-part harmony.

Arlo Guthrie released “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” in 1967. The 18-and-a-half-minute-long song was the lead track (and entire first side) of the album titled “Alice’s Restaurant,” and given its length, it is hardly a radio-friendly song. Yet, it still finds its way to the airwaves every Thanksgiving.

The song, which won’t be recounted in full here, starts by recounting Guthrie’s arrest for littering in Stockbridge, Mass., during the 1965 Thanksgiving Day holiday. It then transitions to a story about his experience in New York City before the Vietnam War draft board.

Hence, it is a Thanksgiving song. It is also one of those rare gems inspired by littering.

The song has been described as an anti-war song, a song protesting the draft and a political satire. No matter what it is called, it is Guthrie’s signature song and has been updated and expanded over the past half-century.

In 1969, the song was the basis for a feature-length movie, aptly named “Alice’s Restaurant.”

“A lot of people thought it was fiction and this is all real stuff,” Guthrie, the son of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, told NPR in 2005. “I had visited my friends during the Thanksgiving break, Ray and Alice, who lived in this abandoned church. They were teachers at a high school I went to just down the road in the little town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

“And a friend of mine and I decided to help them clean up their church, and because I had gone to school there, I was familiar with all of these little back roads and nook-and-cranny places,” Guthrie added. “And I knew a place that local people were using to get rid of their stuff.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

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About Todd DeFeo 412 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits The Travel Trolley and Railfanning.org.