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Arlo, at the Scene of the Crime
And that's why I called the song Alice's Restaurant.
Today, the church where Alice and Ray served their holiday meal and stashed their garbage contains the Guthrie Center. The singer, who lives on a farm not far from Stockbridge, bought the former Trinity Church 15 years ago to house his philanthropic foundation and to host live performances. However, for droves of aging Arloheads who can still recite every word from every song, the church is a living artifact from the Age of Aquarius.
"The story of the song is probably the only reason I know Stockbridge," said Richard Monk, a baby boomer who had road-tripped from Indianapolis to hear Guthrie perform and was tailgating with other fans before the show. "It's a stirring feeling to be here and know that the church is still standing."
A few times a year, Guthrie performs in the hallowed church, attracting dedicated followers who travel many highways to hear the best of Arlo, live from Stockbridge. Last month, during a fan reunion on a grassy lot by the church, folks were excitedly comparing recent playlists in between strums on their guitars, swigs of beer and sideways glances anticipating Guthrie's arrival.
Most of the fans at the Stockbridge concert could recite Guthrie's career without cue cards. The eldest son of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie rocked the charts -- and the establishment -- with "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" and became even more famous as the star of the eponymous movie (directed by Arthur Penn, another Stockbridge resident). A string of well-received songs followed, such as "Coming Into Los Angeles" and "City of New Orleans," but "Alice" was the hit that made Guthrie a cultural wonder for many generations.
The singer still continues to tour the globe, his voice now a bit gravelly after singing "Alice" for so many decades.
Seat of the Arts
Stockbridge (population 2,500) seems an unlikely spot for a countercultural movement. The town, about 40 miles southeast of Albany, N.Y., is as well-preserved as a village in a snow globe, with every picket fence and steeple placed just so. One could describe it as Rockwellian, hardly a cliche in this case: Artist Norman Rockwell lived in Stockbridge for the last quarter of his life and worked in a light-streamed studio on Main Street. The studio has since moved down the road to the Norman Rockwell Museum, which was founded in 1969 -- the same year the movie version of "Alice's Restaurant" was released.
The compact downtown is prim and puritan, with Colonial-style buildings, thick foliage shading the two-lane road and such area-appropriate shops as a Yankee Candle outlet and a Country Store. On an autumn weekend, a woman was sweeping crumpled leaves off the sidewalk with a broom, abandoning her yardwork only to watch a parade of Victorian horse-drawn carriages clop through. When the town isn't throwing some type of festival -- one recent weekend there was a harvest celebration, a horse-and-coach procession, a wedding for 300 and an antique fire engine event -- visitors can peruse art galleries, shop for crafts and kitsch, or watch life stream by from rocking chairs at the 18th-century Red Lion Inn.
The town also has a strong creative streak, though it caters more to highbrow sophisticates than to "Kumbaya" types. "There are wonderfully artistic people here who come and see the Boston Symphony Orchestra [at nearby Tanglewood]. There's no better place to hear them, and there's no better place to see dance than at Jacob's Pillow," says Guthrie, whose mother taught summer dance classes here when he was a child. "We also have the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Shakespeare and all of the little clubs that are beginning to sprout up with music."
One of the biggest performing arts venues -- Guthrie calls it the "alpha music center in the area" -- is the venerable Tanglewood. The Boston Pops and symphony relocates to the outdoor venue for the summer, but music aficionados can also catch jazz, pop and other genres during the warm months. When the temperatures begin to drop, the musicians pack up their instruments and let the foliage take center stage. Come fall, leaf peepers come in packs, driving below the speed limit to soak up every red-orange tint.
"It's generally nuts all summer," says Guthrie. "After the leaves fall, that's when we head out to all of the great restaurants and go to some of the events."
To be sure, in small and preppy Stockbridge, Guthrie stands out. You could blame his success. Or maybe it's his long, crinkly hair and clogs.