The Washington Post

Thanksgiving Traditions: Listening to Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant’

Musician Arlo Gurthrie, left, on guitar (JACQUELINE LARMA/AP)

Or so Arlo Guthrie explains during the preamble of his iconic 18+ minute satirical spoken blues classic. According to the bio on Guthrie’s Web site, it was 46 Thanksgivings ago when Guthrie got caught littering Alice’s garbage, events that inspired the song.

Of course, a song of this length (there are versions that stretch to 30 minutes) has a few more twists and turns than simple littering. There is a trial for the “biggest crime of the last 50 years” for the small town of Stockbridge, Mass. There are the ramifications of this police record when the narrator makes his way to Whitehall Street in New York to be drafted. And there is a call to action for greater social conciousness amidst all of the mayhem.

The song was popular enough in the late 1960s to spawn a Hollywood movie starring Guthrie as himself. But in the near half-century since it’s release it has established an ethereal foothold on the American cultural landscape as a regular feature of Thanksgiving day radio broadcasts. Radio stations from Philly to Santa Fe play it on their Turkey day broadcasts year after year. Bringing together generations of listeners as they make their way through traffic choked interstates to Thanksgiving tables across the country.

To pay it forward to a digital generation, we present to you the following embedded YouTube videos. They include the full “Alice’s Restaurant” with full orchestration and five-part harmony.

Do you have a different Thanksgiving tradition? Melissa says she’s never heard the song, but watches the “Twilight Zone” with her family every year. She wonders if this makes her peculiar. Tell us in the comments what you and yours do. Happy Thanksgiving!


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Play Videos
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
The rise and fall of baseball cards
How to keep your child safe in the water
Play Videos
'Did you fall from heaven?': D.C.'s pick-up lines
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
How to get organized for back to school
How to buy a car via e-mail
The signature drink of New Orleans