Happy 95th Birthday Today, Pete Seeger – and That Calls for a Festival!

Mark the dates – Thursday, July 17 to Monday, July 21. Hudson Valley & New York City.

It was an NYC invite-only press invitation gladly accepted earlier this week by broadcast and print media to learn about – and report on – the first-ever Festival/Tribute to be held in honor of the life and contributions of Pete and Toshi Seeger.

“Seeger.” The name alone commands respect. And now, the press learned, that name is going to be further honored by the creation of a festival to celebrate this man’s placement in history. At least, if Pete and Toshi’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson and a core of Seeger family members and friends have anything to say about it.

They were there in force. Tom Chapin, The Chapin Sisters, Emma’s Revolution, Rick Nestler, Aurora Brown, Hip Hop artist and poet Nyraine and DJ Kool Herc, all stepping up to the microphone to pay tribute and show support. They will be among a score of musicians who will sing and play at the upcoming fest.

Performances and Protest – Synonymous With Pete Seeger

Think of the occasions through the years. The festivals of Clearwater, Strawberry Festival, Newport Folk Festival (he was a founder), Farm Aid, benefit concerts for migrant workers, college coffee houses, churches, summer camps, world tours, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Union Halls, Carnegie Hall, the Vietnam Moratorium Day, Lincoln Center…any place and time where peace and hope needed to be championed.

Think of the people he sang with, or whose music he influenced. The Weavers, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Lee Hays, Cisco Houston, The Byrds, Johnny Cash, June Carter, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, The Smothers Brothers, Bob Dylan, Theodore Bikel, Odetta, Don McLean, Bruce Springsteen, and on and on.

Think of the songs he wrote or made famous. If I had a Hammer. Turn Turn Turn. Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. Midnight Special. What Did You Learn In School Today? Little Boxes. Guantanamera. This Land is Your Land. Worried Man Blues. Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. La Qunice Brigada, And, of course, the anthem: We Shall Overcome.

Think of the travails he endured and overcome. They came early and lasted late. His early membership and experience in the communist party, his work on behalf of labor unions, pioneering integrated casts of musicians, and musical lyrics which called for peace instead of war caused him to be the target for right-of-center politicians and the John Birchers of that day.

That continuing, corrosive assault caused his work and his patriotism to be questioned and attacked, resulting in a blacklisting of his famous singing group, The Weavers, and radio stations refused to play their music and bookings were cancelled.  The McCarthy era ramped up the venom.

On August 18, 1955, Pete Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) where he refused to plead the Fifth Amendment. Rather, he stood on his First Amendment rights of free speech.  The 1957 indictment (from a body itself contemptible – much as today), he was convicted in a jury trial for contempt of congress. In May, 1962, an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and the conviction was overturned.

Blacklisted and unemployable in the industry, he and Toshi survived by earning money as music teachers in summer camps and travelling the college circuit. And, this is where he served as an essential source for the revival of folk music. Pete’s music and causes helped him to worked his way back into America’s heart (where he had never left).  We are the beneficiaries of his life’s work.

And, That Calls for a Festival!

Think of the experience you will have, attending what will surely be a musical love-fest. Artists (and expect surprise “walk-ons”) over the series will include David Avram, Tom Chapin and the Chapin Sisters, Guy Davis, Emma’s Revolution, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Kim & Reggie Harris, Hudson River Sloop Singers, Holly Near, Paul Winter Consort, The Vanaver Caravan, Dar Williams & Dan Zanes and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and the famous “more.”

Here’s just a partial run-down:

Thursday, July 17 – Opens with a film screening of the Emmy-award winning documentary, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Pier 46 & The Hudson River. 8:30 p.m.
Friday, July 18 – Memorial Service. Bardavon Opera House, Poughkeepsie, NY. 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 19 – ALL DAY
Events throughout the Hudson Valley, song circle and potluck supper, square dancing, “Rocking the Boat,” and film-and-photography by Pete and Toshi Seeger by El Taller Latino Americano.
Sunday, July 20 – 4 p.m.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors – Memorial Concert for Pete and Toshi
Monday, July 21 – 6 p.m.
New Songs of Justice: An Evening Honoring Pete Seeger. Summer Stage, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park

(More complete details for each event can be found at: www.seegerfest.org)

The Founder and Executive Producer of Seeger Fest is Pete’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, his wife, Jeannine and family friend Kalynda Klementis. The festival co-producers are Gina Belafonte, actress, activists and daughter of Harry Belafonte, Janae Desire, television producer and Jason Samel, music activist and record producer.

As described at the site:

“The Seegers were involved in nearly every cause of the twentieth century. From the labor movement to civil rights to anti-war to the environmental movement, Pete and Toshi were always on the front lines. This five day event will honor their work, remember them as people and shed light on the musicians and non-profit organizations continuing to work for a better tomorrow.”

Your presence, as part of that acknowledgment, is requested.

guitars and banjo

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