Sunday, March 9, 2014

Celebrating Pete Seeger


Today I was at the Will Geer's Theatricum and Botanicum with my sister 
to celebrate the songs and spirit of Mr Pete Seeger.

This is an amazing venue tucked away in beautiful Topanga Canyon.
In the shade of the oaks stands a stage.
The last time I was there was to celebrate Woody Guthrie.  
This was way too many years ago, as my mother was with us that day.

It was too many years ago, because I love this kind of event.
It speaks to my core.

Anyway, today many performers joined the Will Geer family to host 
a tribute to a most amazing man.  
In the spirit of Pete, we all came together for a giant sing-a-long!

Entering the stage
From the moment they entered and we all sang "Oh When The Saints Go Marching In"...
the magic had begun.

There were a few performers I was familiar with, many I did not know of (yet) and a few more I'd like to learn more about.

Here is the program:
(As always click on photos to enlarge)

Enlarge to access artists contact information

There were folk songs, protest songs...songs to embrace humanity.
There were the songs of my childhood.
 (That will be an upcoming post, the songs of my childhood.  
I'm too tired to write that one tonight).

Great Rock-n-Roll songs have a hook to grab you and compelling licks to move you and maybe a drum or guitar solo to carry you away.

But, folk songs...these songs have a chorus that you can sing with.
And the thing about these choruses is that anyone can learn them and sing them.
And once you will never ever forget them, for they become a part of the fiber of who you are.  At least that's how it's been for me.
Along the line, you may learn all of the words to the whole song, or not.
You may remember all of the words to the whole song, or not.
But you will always remember the chorus and today we all got to sing-along.

So we did, this sold out crowd...sang, smiled, clapped and laughed together.

Fortunately, I was able to get through the three hour performance with only one real bad coughing spell.
I warned the woman next to me that I am asthmatic and may be heard coughing.
I was a bit embarrassed, but tried to drink water and carry on as gracefully as one with a chronic illness can.  I hate these asthma moments because not only do you get the tickle induced cough that you can't stop, but it also comes with those moments of panic because you can't catch your breath.  Those of you with asthma know what I mean.
Anyway, this is only a part of the story because I wanted to sing...I needed to sing.
This stuff feeds my soul.
Mine has needed filling lately.

Anyway, there were so many beautiful, unique voices and
a stage filled with almost more instruments than I could count!
over 10 guitars, a mandolin, a Dobro, auto harp, flute, fiddle, 3 banjos, a piano, drums & rhythm instruments.  I tried to get pics of all so I could show the guy when I got home!
Seeing all of those guitars made me wish I could play!

I loved seeing and hearing all of the diverse players.
Sitting among the others in the crowd, I noticed a sea of gray hair and sunhats protecting thinning hair or possibly skin that had already spent too many years in the California sun!
I noticed tie-dye and beads and funky floppy clothing, with the scent of patchouli drifting on the breeze.
The audience was mostly Baby Boomers, with only a few children in attendance.
I wished this was different.
I wished children today were getting this music, these values...these meaningful experiences.
They will be doing a second performance in July (since this one sold out).
They're calling it a "Re-Pete"!!!
It was mentioned that hopefully more youngsters will be there!
I hope so.

There was one child performer.
A young girl with a beautiful voice and a demeanor so poised and serene,
that I could not take my eyes off her.
Her solo performance was powerful, her presence was filled with light, and
her inclusion with this group, necessary perfection.
I applaud her.
Carry on Lily.  Carry the torch towards the future.
Here is the song she sang: I Come and Stand
It was respectfully silent as she sang.

Of course, as with every great folk/protest sing-along,
this one was also filled with story.
Words woven among the songs to tell the story of Pete Seeger and his music, his spirit.
Stories that told of particular times.
Times that have passed, but may come again.
Important times.
The stories spoke of the storytellers deep connection to Pete.
They were funny, charming, and profound.
They were filled with love, passion, compassion and memories.
They were poignant.

Emma's Revolution sang Sing People Sing, their tribute song for Pete.
You can read the lyrics, complete with beautiful chorus, on the link.

Len chandler shared his story of visiting Pete in his last hours and Pete's request to hear Shakespeare's Sonnet 65:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer's honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
–William Shakespeare
He told us the last song they sang together, which I can't recall right now.
He also told the humorous story of his song Beans in Your Ears, which was banned by the NY Board of Health when it came out because of the over 33% increase in children putting things into their ears after hearing this song!!  He said he continues to live by the lesson that music does indeed impact its listeners.

The variety of instruments was so great, but even more amazing to me was how some of the musicians jumped from one to another.  That ability to play to many instruments mystifies me!

Then Gerald Rivers performed as Dr. Martin Luther King
and brought some of us to our feet!
We Shall Overcome!

Of course, we sang many of my childhood favorites:
"Goodnight Irene"
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
"Turn, Turn, Turn"
"Follow the Drinking Gourd" (haven't heard this one in years)
"This Land is Your Land"
"We Shall Overcome"
"If I Had a Hammer"

And even Peter Alsop performed
my beloved Abiyoyo!  I first learned this treasure in 1977 in my first teaching position, where one of my mentors played her guitar and sang/told this story.  I bought this very recording (in the link) for my young son a few years later and have been singing it ever since.  I have sung/told this story forever and had kindergarteners who adored acting it out!
In my humble opinion, this is storytelling and even though Pete himself collaborated on the book version...
this will always be storytelling in the oral tradition to me.
Storytelling where the listener uses his/her imagination to become a part of the story.
Everyone's Abiyoyo is unique to them, therefore I can't bring myself to use the book.

With all of the emotional attachment of a lifetime to Pete and his music, I was caught off guard when The Garden Song brought me to tears!
This is another song that I have used in my classrooms with young children
for many, many years.
I have always enjoyed it in that way.
But, today it felt like a metaphor for our lives.
A metaphor for the seeds I've tried to plant and grow.
For the life cycles of all living things, not just garden plants.
But us.
He planted seeds that are still growing and being spread far and wide.

May we continue to mulch, pull weeds and pick stones...
And may the rain, rain down on us all.

Inch by inch...
 Row by row...may we all tend to all of our gardens...
and those of one another.

If you have read all of the way through this very long post...
Thank You.
I did it this way as much as a record for myself and my children, as a way to share this experience with all of you.  
I added way more links than I first planned to.
But, how could I not?
It was to deep and wonderful not to share.
If you want to learn more, you can always search out the other artists.

And Thanks to my sister who is always ready to share a powerful good time!

Photos by NAE @pomegranatetrail ©2014


Ms. said...

Oh eeeeeeeeeeee (as our Grace Forest says) How I LOVED IT...the colors in that place...and the links...and YOU. I first sang with Pete when he used to come to the Shakespeare Festival in Connecticut (no longer there) when I was but a teenager with a scholarship to study acting there. And, I knew Will Geer too, and visited him with a boyfriend in his New York City apartment to party. He was very 'naugty' and playful. loved life. Love to you dear Nancy.

Nancy said... sweet Michelle! i thought of you so many times through the sing-along and wished you were by my side, Knowing how you would have loved it all! You are one of the reasons I did such a very full post and I thank you for taking the time to explore it. What experiences you must have had, back in the day! Singing with Pete! Wow. As I tried to sleep through the coughing last night (OK well, this morning) I thought about how I would like to have known him myself, but my next thought was that it doesn't really matter that I knew him for reals or not...because he is there in my heart either way! Love to you too Michelle :)

deanna7trees said...

a wonderful post. glad you enjoyed such an amazing experience. as far as the children of today...every generation has their own music and meaningful experiences. don't think that will ever change.
thanks for sharing.

Nancy said...

Thank you Deanna! It was wonderful, still thinking about it :)
As far as the generations of rue. I remember when my sister and I brought home Rod Stewart's Maggie May, and our mom thought it was awful! She thought it was loud and she couldn't understand the words! I get that, my son loves heavy metal music from Nordic about not understanding a word! lol
And I fully realize there is always a new crop of social/political/protest music, which is good. But, this music is what is so close to my own heart and I'd like to see it carried on.

Lesley Romanoff said...

Thank you so much for sharing this post with us! I liked that it felt like I was there and experiencing the day of celebration and also the commitment to both mark the day, the people who go before and the people who WILL go after. I especially like the image of the pomegranate for your blog. Thank you, thank you. Pass that torch right around, you!

p.s. it didn't take long at all to load and seeing the photos was just so enjoyable!

saskia said...

oh Nancy, this is such a lovely WonderFul post...what an amazing man, artist, human being, what an amazing day for you all....yes makes me wish too I had known him realising it doesn't matter, the music, the magic continues; I am listening to the clips you posted, how truly extraordinary we can do this these days!
thank you and love

Nancy said...

Lesley~ Thank you so much for stopping by the Trail! I appreciate that, and your taking time to leave a comment. I'm glad you felt "there" with me. And - Yes, we must all carry and pass the torch! I know you do in your work with young children. I am grateful for that.

Saskia~ I'm so glad you enjoyed this post! yes...he was all of those things, and more. I am glad you have enjoyed the links too. Big Love to you too :)

AKW said...

This was a lovely post and a wonderful day shared. Thanks for all of the great pictures too! It is so nice that we can share these times together.

Nancy said...

Amy~ Thank you! And I'm so glad you and I were able to go together...that added a whole other layer to the meaningfulness!

handstories said...

Oh how wonderful to have been a part of this! Just yesterday I was singing "Follow the Drinking Gourd" while we stitched on the Underground Railroad quilts, and we've been listening to his cds on the drive to school. Janie and I often played a cassette of Pete telling "Abiyoyo" during rest time. Thank you for pulling all of these memories together. (and watching the video of Pete…I wonder what political msg they made him hide by turning his shirt inside out?!)

Nancy said...

Cindy~ I knew you would love this! Right up your alley :) I had not heard "Follow the Drinking Gourd" in so many years, it was like coming home. You and Janie probably had the same Abiyoyo cassette as me! And Pete did say that it was good song to go to sleep by! I love how he sang quieter and quieter and quieter. I still sing all the songs from it!

jude said...

this really made me miss the sing alongs we used to have at the local library when i was little. thank you.
and look at you two!

Nancy said...

Jude~ Yeah, I sure miss ours at camp at the end of the day...and my mama. Yep, there we are!

Peggy said...

Hi Nancy, I left a comment yesterday -- see it didn't go through. But what I said was what an awesome day and also I listened to the I Come & Stand song twice. Goosebumps. Thanks for all this goodness. xo

Nancy said...

Peggy~ I didn't see your comment either! Wasn't that such a an amazing song? And her performance was amazing. Glad you liked the goodness I like to share.

Anonymous said...

what a wonderful post capturing so much detail and energy! thank you. I scanned your descriptions, and could feel the intense delight and energy and appreciation. The Sonnet I read slowly and word for word. I can see why Seeger picked it. Quite a meditation on death and time.

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hi, Nancy. I loved reading your marvelous post and the wonderful comments. What an event! As you noted, it's a pity that the young ones don't know about Pete and the folk song movement.
best, nadia

Nancy said...

Nadia~ Thank you...and we are here to teach them!