Remembering Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

by E. "Doc" Smith on January 31, 2014

The legendary Pete Seeger left us this week, leaving behind an amazing legacy of music and activism. “Dubbed “America’s tuning fork” by poet Carl Sandburg, the banjo-player left behind folk classics like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “We Shall Overcome.” Many will associate him with the 1960s, a decade of profound social and political change, when young Americans took to the streets to condemn the Vietnam war and demand civil rights for all races…” I was fortunate enough to work with him once for a performance for WETA in Virginia back in 2000, when Seeger was a mere 81 years old.

For this performance, Seeger was joined by his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger; a very popular duo in those days. Seeger entered the theater early afternoon, perhaps a little slower and older, yet remarkably energetic. I offered him a beer, a tour of the theater; and he gladly accepted. I reminded him that I was once onboard his famous Hudson River boat in early ’80s. He laughed and said, “Oh that wasn’t my boat, it belonged to a friend and a friend of the cause…” After the tour, I offered him another beer and he declined saying, “That will put me to sleep…” Seeger signed a banjo, remarked on his trip and headed off before the show.

The show went on without a hitch; Seeger and his grandson’s hilarious, playful musical retorts were simply wonderful, a craft of musical storytelling that has been honed and passed down over the years. At the end of the show, Seeger was joined by the rest of the evening’s performers; a stage filled a combination of folk trios, police quartets and fiddlers; a wonderful cacophony of sound.

When the show was over, I walked on stage to see Seeger and Tao, and told them everything went fine. They smiled, and it was then that I noticed a commotion near the front of stage. There were these older men and mostly older women of various colors, heights and sizes, all chanting, “Pete, Pete… Pete, Pete!” Seeger looked at us, smiled and bade us goodnight. Seeger soon made his way to the edge of stage, knelt down and was quite literally, and gently “body-surfed” to the floor. Tao looked at me, smiled and said, “There goes grandpa…” Indeed, Seeger disappeared in a flurry old friends and veterans of bygone battles.

Here is one of my favorite songs by Pete and Tao, “Guantanamera”…

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart and many others. He is also the Arts & Entertainment editor for Beyond Chron and inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick.

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