(CN) - These days it comes right after intermission, its ascending, four-note introduction starting even before the stage lights come up.
"You still here?" Arlo Guthrie says in mock surprise as the anticipation in the darkened hall gives way to sustained applause.
The sound coming from the audience almost eclipses the spare sound of Guthrie's acoustic guitar, cresting just as the first verse approaches.
"Well, it sounds like you might have heard this before," Guthrie says, adjusting his position on the wooden stool at center stage.
"I know I have," he adds ruefully.
For the next 18 minutes and 34 seconds -- more when he's in the mood -- Guthrie's audience sits enraptured, listening intently to the verses most of them know by heart, and singing along on the choruses.
Somehow, the song originally titled "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," but known for almost all of its life simply as "Alice's Restaurant," never grows old. Its smirkily subversive message finds new adherents every year, while in its familiar glow longtime acquaintances grow young again.
It all started 50 years ago this Thanksgiving, with a friendly gesture that went comically awry, and later played a surprising and more serious part in making in making Guthrie ineligible for the draft, keeping him out of Vietnam.
However , the roots of "Alice's Restaurant" go back much further than that, to Woody Guthrie's decision to settle in Coney Island, New York, where his first son Arlo was born on July 10, 1947.
By the time he arrived in New York, Guthrie was well established as one of America's most important folk singers and songwriters, the majority of the hundreds of songs he turned out commenting on social injustices and his experiences traveling with displaced farmers from Dust Bowl era Texas and Oklahoma to California.
It was radio that cemented his image as "the Dust Bowl Troubadour," and his daughter Nora Guthrie suggested he could have been a big radio star, but inevitably, "his politics got in the way."
"That happened on almost every, single radio show he had," she said. "Woody would start out and people loved him. He was very funny, personable, and then, at a certain point, the sponsors would start getting uncomfortable with the things he was talking and singing about. This was especially so when his music became more political.
"So what would happen is, the sponsors would ignore the comedy and the strong public response, and say, 'Could you please lighten up?" And Woody would get upset and he quit almost every show he had," she said.
The move east was a chance to rekindle his radio career; it became so much more.
Between stints on the CBS network, and the New York radio powerhouse, WNEW-AM, Guthrie met Arlo and Nora's mother, Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia, wrote what would become his most famous song, "This Land is Your Land," became a member of the Almanac Singers, and completed his long-gestating memoir, "Bound for Glory."
Despite being the keeper of her father's legacy, Nora Guthrie apologetically admits she's far from a Woody Guthrie scholar. She doesn't know how her Dad wound up in WNEW, for what would turn out to be his last programs as host. She does, however, still possess the script from his very first WNEW show, covered with notes written in her father's hand.
The date was Dec. 3, 1944.