Alan Chartock | I, Publius: At Guthrie Center, longtime proprietor steady at the helm

GREAT BARRINGTON — Arlo Guthrie and George Laye have teamed up to create a real gift to the Berkshires. Arlo, of course, bought Alice's church.

A large part of his genius is that he knew who to get to run the place. George Laye is anything but a rich man but he is the genius who has made the whole thing work, with the emphasis on the word "work."

Laye is not only smart but he has great ideas. I have always said that what makes employees great is what I call "ownership." Anyone can work for someone else, but not everyone owns their job. George Laye owns his job. I know that Arlo knows that.

There are a lot of people working at WAMC but the ones who own their jobs are the special ones. They are truly the keepers and George Laye, who we know Arlo loves and appreciates, is a pretty special guy.

Under Laye's tenure, Alice's church, now known as the Guthrie Center, has been fixed up to the degree that the people who were there for the Thanksgiving Day massacre would hardly recognize it. Now after years of sweltering heat and a roof that sometimes let the rain in, there is heat, air conditioning and a new roof.

George has taken Arlo's instruction and made the place into a showcase. Not only can the greats of folk music be seen and heard, the organization does amazing things for people who may need something to eat or legal advice. The venue is not really that big so it provides a sense of intimacy to the people who not only can enjoy the music but also eat really fine, reasonably priced food.

It couldn't work without an unparalleled loyalty to George on the part of the volunteers who show up and serve the food with the right kind of attitude that makes everyone feel welcome. From the folks who make sure that people park correctly to the food servers, those volunteers really get it. Without them, it couldn't happen.

George's talents don't stop there. More and more frequently, people who have a little extra know to come to George and show their generous sides. They've helped to provide the roof, the air conditioning, a wonderful old player piano and more.

George and Arlo recently got the great news that the Kaman Foundation had awarded the church $150,000 to rebuild the wheelchair ramp and put a roof over it.

George, of course, is up there with me when it comes to age. In his case, that's a very good thing because it has assured continuity. People know that he is the go-to guy, if you will — the proprietor of the place.

One of George's toughest tasks is recruiting the talent. We saw Tom Paxton at the church last week and, as usual, he was superb. For a guy of his age, his voice is as strong as ever. We had a terrific meal followed by their wonderful iced tea and what any diabetic might call an illegal desert.

It's fascinating to see performers of Paxton's level show up just out of loyalty to Arlo, George and Woody. If you are a folkie it always leads back to Woody and each performer speaks of him with reverence.

My band, The Berkshire Ramblers, closes out each season on Labor Day weekend. The band has a lot of professional musicians who command high salaries but when it comes to the church, they throw in their talents for free.

I am really looking forward to one of George's best-planned events, "A Tribute to Doc Pomus," one of the greatest songwriters ever. You will remember him for his song, "Save the Last Dance for Me."

Another George invention is "The Talkin' Series" where Arlo interacts with the people he treasures the most. A salute to George and Arlo for what they have done for all of us.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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