GREAT BARRINGTON -- You have to love Arlo Guthrie. Like all great performers, he has a stage side and a human side. On stage, he’s everyone’s intimate friend -- off, he’s a man of stature.
His pal Pete Seeger once confided to me that it was frustrating to be "Pete Seeger, the human being" contrasted with "that Pete Seeger thing." I understand Pete perfectly. People can think they know you when they know your public persona. On the other hand, who you truly are can come through your public persona.
Someone once asked Times Union editor and Media Project combatant Rex Smith, "What’s Alan Chartock really like?" Rex’s response, "You have to ask?" Well, maybe. Recently I wrote a column about crying when our daughter Sarah gave birth. The word came back to me from a new in-law, "Hmm, I guess Alan is more like me than I thought."
Anyway, Roselle and I went to see Arlo at his Bring Your Own God church in the Van Deusenville section of Great Barrington. Of course, the man who can sell out Carnegie Hall every Thanksgiving and who wrote "Alice’s Restaurant Massacree," the Thanksgiving anthem, sold out the church for three nights.
Under the direction of George Laye, the church has found a real place in the community. It provides weekly lunches for those who can’t afford them and its wonderful Troubadour series features some of the best folk artists in the country.
Every once in a while, these artists will stay with us. That’s always fun. One time, folk legend Tom Paxton stayed with us in our tiny guest cottage. We had a wonderful visiting friend from Florida who was also staying over. When she heard that Paxton was there she insisted that we invite him in for a post-concert drink. I told her that I would never intrude that way but just as I said it there was a knock on the door and there was Tom with a bottle of scotch in his hand. What a wonderful man.
His song "Rambling Boy" is one of the best of the genre ever written Also staying with us several times was the incredible folk artist, Christine Lavin, who wrote a song, "What Was I Thinking?" YouTube it -- it’s hysterical.
So the Guthrie Church has always served good-for-you foods like hummus and vegetables and chili, but this year, George Laye struck gold with a new hire, Heather Anello. She is a fabulous chef and the night we were there to hear Arlo, the place was jammed and she fed everyone.
On the menu were things like filet mignon, salmon, shrimp mango and a vegetarian feta and sun dried tomato (stuffed zucchini). She used to chef at Bucksteep Manor in Washington, where she developed quite a reputation for excellence.
She has been a caterer since 2001 specializing in Berkshire weddings and she owns the Becket General Store, which is the nucleus of the towns of Washington and Becket. Trust me; the food is as good as anything you will get in the Berkshires. It’s best to get to the church for an 8 o’clock performance at around 6 although we got there an hour later and got fed. Says George, "This is my dream come true. I have not been in the kitchen for the first time in 11 years." Good for George, he deserves only the best.
On a subject close to my heart, the WAMC fund drive starts at 6 a.m. Monday. Our community has created this fabulous institution. So many people listen to it. I know because as I walk down the street so many of you tell me what they heard and what they’ve learned and how their organizations have been on the radio and what all of that has meant. I ask that everyone make this the fastest fund drive in history. It will be an affirmation that what we have all worked for will continue on. I’m asking and depending on you.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.