Great Barrington's Guthrie Center builds harmony in all senses


GREAT BARRTINGTON, MASS. >> For George Laye, director of the Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, music is all about the community.

Arlo Guthrie, a folk legend and the son of a folk demigod, had his first run-in with the Old Trinity Church in the mid-1960s, when Alice Brock and her husband Ray called it home. This American folk landmark became the setting of a Thanksgiving dinner in Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree."

In 1991, Arlo bought the church and turned it into an interfaith community center in honor of his parents, Woody and Marjorie Guthrie. Today, the Guthrie Center is a place for yoga, free educational tutoring and legal aid, meals for people who need them, "bring-your-own-God" spiritual services — and music. The music raises funds to keep the center's programs running.

The Troubadour Series will span up to 35 events from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with a mix of folk, jazz, blues and country. This summer, folk and country greats like Ellis Paul, Tom Rush, Jimmy Webb, Tom Paxton and Tom Chapin and family will perform at the center. Local musicians will open the season on Memorial Day, and the traditional folk Berkshire Ramblers will perform on Labor Day.

Old Trinity Church has fine acoustics and the intimate feel of a friend's living room, Laye said. It was built before the invention of microphones, so natural acoustic mattered.

"When people come to hear their favorite artist, there's no noise because they want to hear every note," he said. "[Well-known artists] want to play here."

More than 100 listeners can fit in for a cabaret-style show and get dinner from the center's chef. Volunteers keep the church clean and make sure the shows happen, Laye said, a testament to the center's community.

"Arlo, many times on stage, paraphrases Pete Seeger, and I then paraphrase Arlo: If all of the little communities around the world did what the center does, then the 'big piece' would take care of itself," Laye said.


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