A live performance of 'Alice's Restaurant'

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/11/26/a-live-performance-of-alices-restaurant.html

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I’m curious if anyone knows why this is a thing.

Our local independent radio station runs the full track at the same time every year. So a lot of people from here abouts are very big on playing Alice’s Restaurant Massacree on Thanksgiving.

I just figured it was because no one is listening, and the bosses are away so whoever is manning the station could get away with practically anything and it just became a thing. They’ve been doing it for decades.

But if it’s also a thing all the way in California it has to have started somewhere.

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Because it’s a story that takes place on Thanksgiving, for starters.


WMMS in Cleveland started playing it on Thanksgiving back in the 70s.
I didn’t know anyone else did.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Group W bench!


A live performance of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’

As was the original.

A DIFFERENT live performance of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, you say? Ok!

As in “the sound quality is so diabolical nobody can be expected to listen for more than 30 seconds”?


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Yeah but it’s an odd one for “holiday special” treatment and to but it lightly Arlo Guthrie wasn’t exactly current when I was a kid.

The biggest difference I noticed other than the passage of time was that this time Arlo avoided using a word that most gay people would find offensive when describing what people would think if two people sung the verse in harmony. Mostly it was pretty much the same as the version we all know and love.


Is there a better candidate? What’s the most famous Thanksgiving song you know?

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Totally unrelated, but all this song makes me think of is Vic Tayback stuck in the sunroof of a white VW Beetle.

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For me, as a kid, it was a lifesaving alternative to the phony American Thanksgiving narrative of happy families, punkin pie, & righteous pilgrims. Instead I got this light-hearted tale of illegal dumping, unnecessary arrest, a vicious court system, the Vietnam War, & draft dodgers. Much more America as I came to know it. Now, as a musician, I am struck by Arlo Guthrie’s virtuosic ability to talk in folksy monologue against the relentless repetition of a pleasant fingerpicking tune. I hope it didn’t become earworm torture for him to play it by request at every show.


As I recall, he eventually took to performing the song only once a year.


What deep tradition of Thanksgiving song and music are you familiar with? Cause the closest thing we’ve got to a national media tradition on this is football and an advertisement for Macy’s that culminates in the arrival of Santa Claus.

But to answer the question Jingle Bells seems to have originally been associated with Thanksgiving (though if it was originally written as such seems to be debatable). Its of course now a Christmas song, cause Thanksgiving songs aren’t really a thing.

Though a generically winter song about finger banging in a vehicle is probably about as appropriate for either as a song that’s mostly about the draft.

Yeah but where did you pick it up? Did a local radio station play it regularly or were you just a fan who happened to start putting it on. I’m not the only one to mention radio stations doing it.

Maybe DJ’s on whatever the local “good station” was started doing this cause it was funny and a good turn about on all the saccharin, and that became a thing.

I believe that was the point.


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“Over the River and Through the Woods”, but I have no idea if the kids nowadays learn that.


I remember this version going out. Heck, I remember when the other version was pretty new, and every single word that changed was fingernails down a blackboard to me. But the spirit remained the same: Saint Arlo tells it like it is, and being a litterbug maybe ain’t very nice, but there are worse things.

I had never thought it might be a thanksgiving tradition, but of course it could be. Spread the truth, and it will be. Go, BoingBoing!

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So, I get to dine out on this story every year: I went to a small, undistinguished boarding school in the Berkshires. Arlo was our most famous alum - Cornelius “Chevy” Chase being the second - and Alice [“Remember Alice? This is a song about Alice”] used to be the librarian. She left to open a restaurant in town, which was indeed about a half mile from the railroad track, and called “Around the Back,” because it was off the main drag through Stockbridge. Officer Obie was Chief of Police by the time I was in school there. What I’m saying is, this is all true. And I know all the words and can play along on the guitar. Have a good bird or bird substitute, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all Happy Mutants and their close friends and family. Stay safe!


From the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA on November 29, 1965:


Interesting. I was going to reply saying that a sleighing song doesn’t make much sense for Thanksgiving due to the rarity of significant snow that time of year, but the Wikipedia entry on that song has an explanation:


Okay, Karma time. Sadly, the real Alice isn’t doing well and could use some help. A GoFundMe page has been set up to give back to the gentle sole who gave so much to so many all her life. Here’s a link if you want to help


And since I was a kid in the early 70s when there were also generally earlier winters (my first memory of trick or treating was through snow), I never gave it a second thought.