Seats at the Pete and Peggy Seeger concert at the Bearsville Theater on March 17 are already sold out, but standing-room-only tickets are still being sold, and this is one gig that you might not want to miss – standing or not. For one, it will probably be the last time ever that Pete and his half-sister Peggy, who lives in England and is a celebrated folksinger and activist in her own right, will perform together. “Peggy isn’t traveling anymore,” said Natalie Andrews, operations manager at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, which organized the benefit concert. She noted that Peggy Seeger is in her 70s and “doesn’t want to fly.”
Peggy will be accompanying Pete – who of course will be performing with his iconic banjo – on piano. Pete remains active as ever as he nears his 93rd birthday. Last fall, he led a crowd of Occupy Wall Streeters from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Columbus Circle following a benefit performance for Clearwater, the environmental organization that he co-founded in 1966 – but no one lives forever.
Based in Beacon, Pete Seeger is of course a much-loved and high-profile figure in the Hudson Valley, whose river he was so instrumental in saving. He is also an icon in the music world, as his 90th-birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden made plain, with guest performers consisting of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Roger McGuinn and the like. Few lives have been packed with as much living and marked by as much courage as Seeger’s: The son of a prominent musicologist – whose friend Alan Lomax hired the young Pete to help him archive American “hillbilly” music at the Library of Congress in the late 1930s and was instrumental in launching his career as a folksinger – Seeger was blacklisted by radio and TV stations in the 1950s and was indicted for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that he was able to host his own TV show and make appearances on such programs as the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where, uncowed by years of censorship, he brazenly performed an anti-Vietnam War song that he had written, “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy”. Besides his many folk recordings with the Weavers and political and environmental activism, Seeger was the longtime editor/publisher of Sing Out! Magazine, wrote and published a classic book on playing the banjo and invented a longer-necked version of the instrument.
Peggy Seeger, who has more than a dozen folk records under her belt – one of the most popular was an album of American folksongs for children – was also an activist and agitator. Her visit to China in the 1950s, following a trip to Russia, caused the US State Department to threaten to revoke her passport should she return to the US, so instead she toured Europe, hooking up with the British folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was the father of her children and eventually became her husband. The couple recorded several albums together before his death in 1989. Since then Peggy has continued to perform and record. Her feminist songs have also became anthems in the women’s movement.
The two Seegers wrote and sang about what they lived and believed in, regardless of the consequences to themselves. They were leaders, educators, movers and shakers in affecting change. But they were first and foremost artists, and it is their playing, singing and songwriting talents that will be celebrated at Bearsville. Standing-room-only tickets are $20, and the show starts at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:30. All proceeds will benefit the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild.