Podcast 326 – Thanksgiving at Alice’s Restaurant

In 1965 Arlo Guthrie came to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with a friend. They dumped some garbage, got arrested, and made a song and Thanksgiving tradition.

In Episode 326 for their Thanksgiving Special, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger head to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to the place where a Thanksgiving radio legend was born. An arrest that gave rise to a story that gave birth to an 18-minute song that was made into a movie. Arlo Guthrie came here in 1965 and tossed some trash over a hill. The trash belonged to his friend Alice Brock who owned a restaurant in town. But how much of this masacree song is true?

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Guest Voice Talent: Marv Anderson
Theme Music by: John Judd

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A scene from the Alice's Restaurant movie starring Arlo Guthrie.

A scene from the Alice’s Restaurant movie starring Arlo Guthrie.

Stockbridge General Store

Stockbridge General Store

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

JEFF: Happy Thanksgiving, Ray!
RAY: Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Jeff.
JEFF: And Happy Thanksgiving to you, as well! We appreciate you riding along with Ray and I here on Thanksgiving Day, whether you’re bound for grandfather’s house, a friend’s house, or if you’re staying home, we’re grateful you joined us for our Thanksgiving special.
RAY: That we are. So we’re driving up Route 7 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
RAY: We just passed the railroad tracks.
JEFF: Yup. And we’re going to make a right up here onto Main Street.
RAY: Got it.
JEFF: And we should park just over there on the right.
RAY: Okay.
RAY: We’re standing in front of the Stockbridge General Store building which is also the Main Street Café… and Jeff… did you bring your guitar?
JEFF: I did, Ray. I feel a song coming on for this Thanksgiving adventure.
RAY: Okay. Are we busking for our dinner here on Main Street?
JEFF: Nope, we’ve come to the location of a restaurant so iconic that the story behind it launched a story, that launched a song, a movie, and a Thanksgiving radio tradition that’s been going for more than half a century now.
RAY: I think I know where we are.
JEFF: Ray, this place wasn’t always called Main Street Café. It used to be called The Back Room, but the world knows it best by the song title of Arlo Guthrie’s biggest hit. We’ve come to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to visit… Alice’s Restaurant.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, thanks for joining us for the Thanksgiving Special episode of the New England Legends Podcast. Episode number 326 if you’re keeping track. We’re on a mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We do that with a new episode every Thursday, a From the Vault episode each Monday, the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime, and our Web site where you can find a map to point you to every story we’ve ever covered.
JEFF: Our Web site is also the place to find out about all things Jeff and Ray, including a link to buy my brand-new book: The Fright Before Christmas. Available now in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook narrated by yours truly.
RAY: We’ll explore Alice’s Restaurant right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: So downtown Stockbridge is a cute place.
JEFF: It is. Quintessential Main Street New England. Small shops and cafes. Churches. Perfect for taking a stroll. And it was here that an experience launched a story that turned into a song that turned into a Thanksgiving tradition. Ray, you’ve been a radio guy for decades. Have you ever played “Alice’s Restaurant?” by Arlo Guthrie?
RAY: No. Never. That song was never in the rotation of any stations I’ve worked for.
JEFF: When I was growing up, the local classic rock station used to play the song one time per year. At noon on Thanksgiving day. It became a thing… you know? Something we tuned in for out of habit.
RAY: The song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” came out in October of 1967. At 18 minutes and 24 seconds in length, one thing record companies were sure of… NO radio station will ever EVER EVER play this song on the radio.
JEFF: Nope. It’s far too long. Yet somehow it got on the radio anyway.
RAY: The song is a strange tale that begins in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 58 Thanksgivings ago according. So we’ll head back to precisely November 25th, 1965 to check this out.
RAY: It’s Thursday, November 25th, 1965 here in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The conflict in Vietnam has been going on for a decade now, but America directly got involved just seven months ago. It’s a tense time for the country. But here in Stockbridge, folks are trying to focus on Thanksgiving Day. Seeing family and friends.
RAY: Speaking of friends. Driving into town right now is a red Volkswagen Microbus.
JEFF: Yup. And riding inside are two buddies. 19 year old Richard Robbins from Poughkeepsie, New York, and 18 year old Arlo Guthrie from Queens, New York.
RAY: Arlo Guthrie is a bit of a celebrity.
JEFF: How so?
RAY: For one, his father is Woody Guthrie who wrote a bunch of hits including his most famous “This Land is Your Land.”
JEFF: Right! It’s gotta be tough living in the shadow of someone like that.
RAY: I’m sure it is. But Arlo is 18 years old. He’s not thinking about that right now. He’s focused on going to see some friends: artist and restauranteur Alice Brock, her husband, Ray, and their dog Fasha.
RAY: Alice, Ray, and their dog live in the bell tower of a local church that’s no longer used for services.
JEFF: Wow. These folks don’t keep a tidy church, do they?
RAY: No. There’s all kinds of junk and bags of garbage down here. You’d think they’d rather not live among this trash.
JEFF: I guess technically they live above it. Arlo and Richard seem a little disturbed as well. Even though they came here for Thanksgiving dinner, they feel obliged to load up the garbage in their VW microbus and haul it off to the town dump for their friends.
JEFF: So off they go to the Stockbridge town dump.
RAY: There’s just one problem.
JEFF: What’s that?
RAY: It’s Thanksgiving. The town dump is closed and chained off.
JEFF: Good point. Still, Arlo and Richard seem undeterred. So they drive off again toward Prospect Street.
JEFF: And that’s when they notice a hill near a pull off.
RAY: Look at that. There’s a pile of garbage at the bottom of the hill there.
JEFF: Right, and one big pile of garbage is better than two separate piles of garbage….
RAY: And rather than bring that pile up here, they two kids figure it’s easier to dump this new pile down below.
RAY: And quick as they please, Arlo and Richard toss their friend’s trash down the hill and drive back for a Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat.
JEFF: It’s Friday. Everyone is sleepy here in the old church turned home that’s now free of garbage. It’s a slow start to the day, but that’s when the phone rings.
JEFF: It’s Stockbridge police chief William Obanhein.
RAY: Looks like Arlo and Richard are busted. Police found a letter addressed to Ray and so now they know who the trash belonged to.
JEFF: And rather than let their friend get in trouble, Arlo and Richard head down to the police station where they’re arrested. It seems Chief Obanhein wants to make an example out of them. The pair are told to appear in court the following day. The Berkshire Eagle newspaper picks up the story from here.
NEWSMAN: Because they couldn’t find a dump open in Great Barrington, two youths threw a load of refuse down a Stockbridge hillside on Thanksgiving Day. Saturday, Richard J. Robbins, 19, of Poughkeepsie, New York, and Arlo Guthrie, 18, of Howard Beach, New York, each paid a fine of $25 dollars in Lee District Court after pleading guilty of illegally disposing of rubbish. Special Justice James E. Hannon ordered the youths to remove all the rubbish. They did so Saturday afternoon, following a heavy rain.
Police Chief William J. Obanhein of Stockbridge said later the youths found dragging the junk up the hillside much harder than throwing it down. He said he hoped their cases would be an example to others who are careless about disposal of rubbish.
Chief Obanhein told the court he spent “a very disagreeable two hours” looking through the rubbish before finding a clue to who had thrown it there.
RAY: I’ll bet it WAS a disagreeable time sifting through garbage!
JEFF: So they were arrested, fined, and forced to clean up the mess. Having learned their lesson, Arlo and Richard return home to New York and back to a world that’s watching the Vietnam war heat up, and America getting drawn further and further into the conflict. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: As you know if you’ve listened to the song, it’s not a song so much about Alice, the restaurant, or littering. It’s a song about the military draft. Later in the song, Arlo Guthrie explains how he went to Whitehall Street in New York to report for the draft, where he was injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected. And just when it looked like he was going to have to serve in the Army, they ask him if he’d ever been arrested.
JEFF: And then it hits Arlo… the Army doesn’t want criminals in their rank and file. Yes. YES! He HAD been arrested. Went to court, handcuffs, the whole thing. And suddenly, there was a song. Alice’s Restaurant Masacree. Ray, I brought my guitar… should we massacre the masacree chorus?
RAY: I’m ready.
JEFF: And one weird war protest song was born. Like we said earlier, it came out in October of 1967. Ironically Arlo Guthrie’s biggest hit came out the same month that his father Woody Guthrie died from Huntington Disease at age 55.
RAY: The deadpan story song is mostly true with just a few liberties taken. For example, in the song he claims the police officer found a letter in the pile of garbage with Arlo Guthrie’s name on it. As we pointed out in the story, the paper actually had his friend’s name on it, which lead police to the correct house.
JEFF: According to the November 29, 1965 Berkshire Eagle article we found, the junk tossed over the hill included a divan, many empty bottles, regular household trash, paper, and boxes. Enough to fill up a VW bus.
RAY: And the rubbish was dumped into Nelson Foote Senior’s property on Prospect Street. The song was even made into a movie back in 1969 starring Arlo Guthrie as himself. And do you know who else played himself in the movie?
JEFF: Who?
RAY: Stockbridge Police Chief William Obanhein… better known as Officer Obie.
JEFF: That’s amazing! I guess he had a sense of humor about the whole thing.
RAY: He became a bit of a pop culture figure from the song and the movie.
JEFF: Today there are still many radio stations who still play this 18 minute and 34 second massacree each Thanksgiving Day because it’s a song that takes place on Thanksgiving and maybe because it’s a reminder to be thankful for all of life’s experiences both good and bad, because you never know when an arrest for littering might get you out of a war. What do you think, Ray? Should we go out on the chorus?
RAY: Let’s do it!
JEFF: Thank you, Arlo Guthrie for the oddest Thanksgiving song we’ve ever heard. And that brings us to After the Legend where we cut deeper into this week’s story and often veer off course.
RAY: After the Legend is brought to you by our Patreon Patrons! We are so thankful for them. They help us with our hosting, production, marketing, travel, and all of the other costs it takes to bring you two stories each week! It’s just $3 bucks per month and for that you get early ad-free access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear! We’d be most thankful if you’d head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
To see some pictures of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the old headlines, click on the link in our episode description or go to our Web site and click on Episode 326.

Happy Thanksgiving. We hope you get to spend it with the people you love. We’d be thankful if you hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss a single story, and we’d be even MORE grateful if you posted a review for us online, and shared our episodes on your social media. It goes a long way in helping to spread the word about what we do. Then go ahead and reach out to us anytime through our Web site with your own story leads. We appreciate being part of this community with you.
We’re thankful to Marv Anderson for lending his voice acting talents this week, we’re thankful to our sponsors, our patreon patrons, and we’re thankful to John Judd for our theme music.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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