Monday, May 4, 2009

A report about the Seeger birthday concert

This from John Platt of WFUV radio at Fordham University:

Last night's 90th birthday tribute concert to Pete Seeger at MSG was everybit as stirring as I'd hoped. We took the train in (for Pete's sake!) andbefore we got to our seats had already run into a bunch of FUV friends andfans (no surprise there). The audience was about 95% white, but all ages.The early 5 pm start may have been to accommodate Pete's bedtime, but alsothe fact that it was a school night. Kudos to the parents who thought toshare such a historic night with their kids. I doubt anyone will forget the4 hours + of music!

The concert opened with Pete on recorder on a dark stage that became framedwith little white lights in the shape of a sail - a fitting reminder thatthe evening was a benefit for the Hudson River sloop Clearwater. (Pete, whohates having a fuss made over him, wouldn't have agreed to the concertotherwise.) For all the classic songs Pete has written, surprisingly few gotperformed. John Mellencamp opened with "If I Had a Hammer," Joan Baez did"Where Have All the Flowers Gone," Taj Mahal did "Waist Deep in the BigMuddy" and Roger McGuinn gave us "Turn Turn Turn." Not many others.

Like Springsteen's "Seeger Sessions" CD, there were mostly songs that Petehas been identified with over the years. Bruce Cockburn and Ani DiFrancorepresented the activist with "Which Side Are You On" and Dar Williams,Billy Bragg, and Mike and Ruthy Merenda the labor organizer with "UnionMaid." The first half closed with Guy Davis, Cockburn, Joan, Dar, Billy,Emmylou, Toshi Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ani, and Tao Rodriguez Seegerjoining voices on "We Shall Overcome." I have to say I was overcome myself.I never sang it at Selma or the March on Washington, but singing it with18,000 people brought tears to my eyes, as we channeled the souls of allthose who did march and struggle for the rights we enjoy today.

Pete popped up here and there on banjo, but his main moment was thebeginning of the second half, when he led us all in "Amazing Grace.""There's no such thing as wrong harmony," he said, "as long as you'resinging it." Other second half highlights included Richie Havens getting astanding ovation for "Freedom," Arlo, Del McCoury, John Hall, and thePreservation Hall Jazz Band rocking out on "Mary Don't You Weep," Ben Harper(accompanied by his mother and sister!) doing "Gather Round This Stone," andDave Matthews doing a solo "Rye Whiskey."

For some reason, Eddie Vedder was a no-show (and I wondered why Peter Paul &Mary and Judy Collins weren't represented). Of course, the big ringleaderwas Bruce Springsteen, and he didn't disappoint. With his usual eloquence,he saluted Pete for having "the audacity and courage to sing in the voiceof the people. Despite his benign appearance," Bruce said, "he has astubborn, defiant, and nasty optimism. He is a stealth dagger through theheart of this country's illusions about itself. He looks like your granddadif your granddad could kick your ass!" Then, accompanied by Tom Morello ofRage Against the Machine, he invoked "The Ghost of Tom Joad."

How could the concert conclude if not with all hands on deck for "This LandIs Your Land"? I thought to myself, Pete's world is our world (the one wedream about - a healthy planet where there is no war and equality foreveryone), and these songs are our songs. That's what he wants his legacy tobe. How lucky we are to have had him during our lifetime. And how lucky Ifelt to be there last night. And her's the good news: it was recorded forbroadcast on PBS later this year, so we'll all be able to enjoy it.

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