GREAT BARRINGTON — Alice doesn’t live here anymore.
But her old home, a 19th-century church she used to share with her husband — and where she prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for the ages in 1965 — still stands and still hosts the ecumenical spirit it has fostered for a half-century now.
“It was a place of peace and loving and good times,’’ Alice Brock told me the other day from her home in Provincetown. “And the door was always open. We had people hanging around that we didn’t even like. Honest to God. But they needed something. Everyone was welcome.’’
They still are.
Alice Brock is best known — sometimes to her displeasure — as the Alice from Arlo Guthrie’s venerable antiwar anthem “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,’’ now a staple of Thanksgiving Day radio, an 18-minute epic tale beloved by baby boomers of a certain age who have committed its cast of colorful characters and its labyrinthine plot line to memory.
Her old home is now emerging from a restoration, reacquiring the luster it had as the site of the 1969 movie “Alice’s Restaurant.’’
A large, circular stained-glass window out front sparkles anew. Its ceiling has been redone. The place has been insulated. Musicians are tuning up for the start of a summer-long Troubadour Series.
“The place is gorgeous,’’ Guthrie told me the other day from Hawaii, where he was preparing to head to Great Barrington for a concert late this month. “There’s a spirit to the place when you walk in the door. You feel something, and I’m sure each person feels something different. I’m reminded of the first time I ever walked in there, which was probably around 1963.’’
The son of folk music legend Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie was probably bound for music-making fame in any case, but that short walk up the stairs to what was called St. James Chapel when it was built in 1829 changed Guthrie’s life.
If you aren’t familiar with the song and the lore around it, ask the closest 60-something in your life. Here’s what they will tell you:
Alice and Ray Brock bought what was then called the Trinity Church in 1964. The Brocks were on the staff of a small nearby school, the Stockbridge School, where a group of idealistic young students — Guthrie among them — was drawn to them and the unusual place they called home.
The song recounts the 1965 Thanksgiving Day feast prepared by Alice, to which Guthrie and a friend had been invited. As a gesture of their own thanksgiving, the two teenagers decided to clean up and used a Volkswagen microbus to haul the Brocks’ leftover trash to the local dump. It was a holiday. The dump was closed. They tossed out the garbage anyway over the side of a road near the dump, drawing the ire of then-Stockbridge Police Chief William “Obie” Obanhein. He dutifully photographed the crime scene, producing annotated pictures with which he later confronted an 18-year-old Guthrie in court.
The modest fine that was imposed left Guthrie with an arrest record that — as the song recounts — led to his ineligibility for military service two years later.
The song has become synonymous with Guthrie, who during the later filming of the movie befriended “Officer Obie.’’
Alice Brock, however, was not amused.
She didn’t like how she was portrayed in the movie, which despite its title is not about the restaurant she once owned in downtown Stockbridge. The key events take place in that old church where she once lived.
Brock also didn’t like the caricature that ensued. But she liked the original song. And its singer.
“Well, the song is great,’’ Brock told me. “And it’s very funny. Arlo is very clever. It’s a lot of fun and it has a message of all the right things: of hope and music. So I liked the song. But I don’t like people to think of me as the Alice in ‘Alice’s Restaurant.’ It kind of freezes me in time.’’
Arlo Guthrie knows the feeling.
He has called the song his lyrical equivalent of the movie “Groundhog Day,’’ something that occurs over and over even though often you wish it wouldn’t.
“So the shows that we do often have not included ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ because it wasn’t part of the show,’’ Guthrie said. “And yet the audience may not be coming to see a show. They want to hear that. So that’s always a dilemma that an artist has.
“I remember my old friend Rick Nelson wrote ‘Garden Party’ because people just wanted to hear the old songs. They didn’t care what he was interested in. They didn’t care what was moving him. They came to see what moved them 30 years before. And so you have to do some of that, I guess. But you can’t fall into doing it all the time without feeling like they could substitute a sound track and you might as well just sit home and watch TV.’’
These days, Guthrie, 70, is rarely sitting home.
He’s on the road nine months a year, making music with family members who accompany him on stage and help him breathe life into Alice’s old home, which he bought in 1991 and now houses the Guthrie Foundation, a not-for-profit educational foundation named for his parents, Woody and Marjorie Guthrie.
There are free lunches on Wednesdays and yearly free Thanksgiving dinners. There’s a tutoring program at no cost. And on Thursday nights music fills the old sanctuary during popular “hootenannies.’’
The place is run by George Laye, its artistic director and manager and a longtime friend and godfather to Guthrie’s four children.
“The church means everything to me,’’ Laye told me the other day as we sat on benches outside the church on a sun-splashed day that held the warm promise of summer. “I mean everything. I found myself in this church. Our mantra is: Take care and give care.’’
Laye said the church and its programming is a tribute to Arlo Guthrie’s dad, who believed people down on their luck need a hand up every now and then.
A large exterior church window is inscribed with the words of Woody Guthrie, who said he hated songs that make you feel like you are bound to lose, that you are good for nothing, or that you are too old.
“I am out to sing songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you,’’ Woody Guthrie said, words now memorialized in the old church owned by his son.
And those are the kind of songs that still fill the big white place where Alice Brock once lived. Although Guthrie’s lyrics focus famously on the restaurant, it’s the church, not the restaurant, that is the star of the song.
“This song is called Alice’s Restaurant, and it’s about Alice, and the Restaurant, but Alice’s Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, That’s just the name of the song, and that’s why I called the song Alice’s Restaurant.”
Early next month, those drawn to Arlo Guthrie and his music and the interfaith tradition of the old church will participate in “Arlo Guthrie’s Historic Garbage Trail.’’ Proceeds will help combat Huntington’s disease, a genetic neurological disease, chiefly responsible for Woody Guthrie’s death in 1967.
Participants will ride a “groovy microbus’’ to Alice’s restaurant, which today is Theresa’s Stockbridge Café. After breakfast, a 6.3-mile trip will wend its way past the “police officers station,’’ past the old town dump, and end at Trinity Church.
Alice Brock, 77, used to have an instinctive aversion to sentimental journeys like that.
“I used to not like it at all,’’ she said. “Now, I realize that you just say my name and people start to smile. And they remember their days in the ’60s. It was a special time. I’m associated with that. And it’s a blessing. Lucky for me.’’
You can no longer get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
But Arlo and Alice still manage to get together for an occasional meal. “She’s still a dear friend,’’ Guthrie told me. “I’ve known her for a long time now.’’
And there’s still plenty of magic on the menu at the old place she used to call home: hope, help, music — and friendship’s unbreakable bond.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.