Guthrie Center: more than a performance arts center, more than a Thanksgiving landmark

The Guthrie Center - picture via the center's Facebook page.
The Guthrie Center - picture via the center's Facebook page.
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GREAT BARRINGTON — It was 55 years ago that the incidents that inspired Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” took place.
In 1965, Alice and Ray Brock lived in the former Trinity Church and opened their restaurant “just a half-a-mile from the railroad tracks.”
It was also the year that Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins were arrested for illegally disposing of trash by Officer William J. Obanhein (aka “Officer Obie”).
In a strange twist of fate (which Guthrie told in a comedic way in his song), thanks to the arrest, Guthrie was able to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War.
From all the incidents that took place in 1965, a famous song came out of it, an album, a movie directed by Arthur Penn, and even a cookbook written by Alice Brock.
Many things have changed over the years since Guthrie recorded the song: Ray Brock died in 1979, Alice Brock is in her 80’s and is in poor health (a GoFundMe fundraiser has been started for her at https://gf.me/u/y23jh5 ), and after many years on the road singing, this fall Guthrie retired from performing concerts.
Despite this, the spirit of “Alice’s Restaurant,” along with the spirit of community fostered back in the 1960s, lives on atGreat Barrington at The Guthrie Center, located at 2 Van Deusenville Road.
The Guthrie Center is the church building formally owned by the Brocks more than 55 years ago.
It was purchased in 1991 by Guthrie for use as an Interfaith Church and a community center.
For almost 30 years, the center was the host of cultural events including concerts, weekly free community meals on Wednesdays, Hootenanny events on Thursdays, free legal aid, and various fundraisers for local organizations.
However, this year the COVID pandemic hit and then everything stopped.
“When the pandemic started, I knew it was going to hit us very hard,” Guthrie Center Director and General Manager George Laye said in an interview to The Winsted Phoenix. “We have a summer Troubadour concert series that keeps us afloat. Without it, things have been really difficult. My real concern is for the people that come here for their free lunches, legal aid, and all the other programs we have here. I know these people were going to be hurting because it’s not only the food but the social aspect of it all.”
With its community programs, The Guthrie Center acts as a community center to Great Barrington and surrounding towns.
A successful fundraiser was held in the fall to help support the center during the pandemic.
However, while the fundraiser was successful, and community lunches started again in early October on a take out basis, Laye still longs for the day when the center is open to the public again.
“We are nowhere near what we used to call ‘normal’, and I don’t know if that will happen again, but we are still so connected with all of the people that support and love us,” Laye said. “The Guthrie Center is a people place. I found out that it’s on a lot of people’s bucket list. I found that out during my time here in the past 17 years. Sometimes we get notes in the door that say ‘We didn’t get to say hi, but we just needed to be in this space and on this ground.’”
The Guthrie Center is currently closed to the public.
However, for more information about future programs, including the Center’s possible reopening in 2021, go to https://www.facebook.com/TheGuthrieCenter or https://guthriecenter.org/

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