[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Seeger NYC concert yesterday
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon May 4 19:06:55 BST 2009
NY Times May 5, 2009
Music Review | Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger Celebrates 90th With a Concert
By JON CARAMANICA
The celebrant who made the most noise and aroused the strongest
sentiment during the celebration of Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday at
Madison Square Garden on Sunday night was the one who couldn’t make it.
In an updated version of the 1930s labor anthem "Which Side Are You On?"
Ani DiFranco sang, "Now there’s folks in Washington that care what’s on
our minds." Bruce Springsteen told of rehearsing for the recent
presidential inauguration with Mr. Seeger, who had relayed the story of
"We Shall Overcome," crucial to both the labor and civil rights
movements. Watching the transfer of presidential power, Mr. Springsteen
said, "was like, ’ Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man.’ It was so nice."
President Obama was nowhere to be seen, but he did send a letter,
praising Mr. Seeger for voicing "the hopes and dreams of everyday people."
And, as was evident throughout this four-hours-plus event — a birthday
party masquerading as a fund-raiser for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a
preservation charity founded by Mr. Seeger — many have attempted to
follow in that path, or at least capture some of his refracted glow.
More than 40 performers gathered here to pay tribute to Mr. Seeger — one
of the lions of American folk music and, at 90, indefatigable — who,
save for a handful of exceptions, outworked them all.
Here, rising to the occasion (formally called "The Clearwater Concert:
Creating the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders") meant more than
showing up and breezily soldiering through a classic protest tune or
two, as plenty of singers — John Mellencamp, Roger McGuinn, Emmylou
Harris — gladly did, in performances that often felt dutiful, not exuberant.
Some, though, shook off the oppressive nature of good intentions to
create transcendent moments. Richie Havens revisited the
"Freedom/Motherless Child" hybrid he performed at Woodstock 40 years ago
in devastating fashion, closing with a high kick and a twirl of his
guitar. Billy Bragg fiercely sang part of his revised version of "The
Internationale," lyrics he wrote at Mr. Seeger’s behest and which now
appear in the Industrial Workers of the World’s Little Red Songbook
alongside the originals.
In group settings — most performances included several singers — Rufus
Wainwright and Abigail Washburn stood out, as did Bernice Johnson Reagon
of Sweet Honey in the Rock and her daughter Toshi, as well as Ben
Bridwell and Tyler Ramsey of Band of Horses.
In one of the night’s most riveting moments, Bela Fleck and Tony
Trischka played dueling banjos, closing with a clever variation on
"Happy Birthday to You." In the postwar era Mr. Seeger helped popularize
the banjo, which was as much an object of celebration here as Mr. Seeger
himself, with at least a half dozen musicians picking at their weathered
This show’s lineup showcased folk’s topical range, if not always its
emotional range. There were union songs; anti-war songs (the
still-relevant "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" and "Bring Them Home"); a
Bob Dylan song, "Maggie’s Farm," but no Dylan; and songs about the river
(lighting was strung above the stage in the shape of sails). And, as
with any show of this scale, there were plenty of rough patches: awkward
letdowns (Ben Harper, Michael Franti), questionable pairings (Tom
Morello, barely keeping up with Mr. Springsteen on "The Ghost of Tom
Joad"), and moments of overindulgence, as with Dave Matthews’s overly
precious rendition of "Rye Whiskey."
There was also Oscar the Grouch singing "Garbage," a reminder of Mr.
Seeger’s belief that no voice should go unheard. His commitment to
singalongs was refortified throughout the night, decentering the
authority of those on stage in true folk style. Encouraging those in the
sold-out arena to chime in with their voices, the actor Tim Robbins
assured them, "Nothing would make Pete happier on his birthday."
Mr. Seeger led the crowd in "Amazing Grace," calling out lines in a
spooky, hole-filled, appealingly weathered voice. It was one of several
brawny, moving exercises in mass vocalizing: "We Shall Overcome," "This
Land Is Your Land," "Well May the World Go," "This Little Light Of
Mine." (No "Kumbaya," though — something of a relief.) Ninety years
after Mr. Seeger’s birth, 50 or so years after the height of the folk
music movement, 40 years after the civil rights movement, and 104 days
after the swearing in of the country’s first black president, those
songs no longer sound defiant or expectant, but instead matter-of-fact.
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