Story behind ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ has a summer camp connection

The true story behind Arlo Guthrie’s famed 18-minute “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre” song that’s a Thanksgiving Day tradition on classic rock radio stations has an interesting summer camp twist.

In the satirical musical monologue, the folk singer tells a story about Thanksgiving Day 1965 that begins with him getting a citation for littering and ends with him being rejected for the draft by the U.S. Army for his littering crime.

As the story goes, Arlo and his friend Rick Robbins were visiting friends Alice and Ray Brock at the old church they lived in near Stockbridge, Massachusetts for Thanksgiving and after helping clean the church up from the feast had a van full of trash to throw out. They haul the half ton of trash in a VW bus to the town dump, but discover it’s closed on Thanksgiving and end up illegally dumping the trash near a summer camp Arlo attended.

The camp was called the Indian Hills Arts Workshop but is also referred to as Indian Hills Music Camp. Arlo, whose mother Marjorie Mazia Guthrie taught at the camp, attended during the summers of 1960, 1961 and 1962 and remembered the area near the camp when he and Rick were looking for a place to dump the trash.

The song was released on Guthrie’s debut album Alice’s Restaurant in 1967, days before Guthrie’s famous folk-singing dad Woody died (the “family joke” is that it was the last thing Woody heard before he died). The song also inspired the 1969 movie Alice’s Restaurant and is still played in its entirety on radio stations every Thanksgiving. Indian Hills closed in 1978.

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Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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