We’ve lost our Pete. Though he truly belonged to the world, he lived so visibly, so humbly and accessibly among us here in the Hudson Valley for so long, and did so much to make the river and its environs healthier and more habitable, that we came to think of him as “ours.” We all knew that it had to happen sooner or later, but it still comes as a shock.
Energetic and indestructible as he always seemed, folksinger/activist Pete Seeger was 94, after all; he needed two canes to march with the Occupy Wall Street folks in 2011, and his reedy tenor singing voice was diminished a long time ago. That in itself didn’t matter much; he had already trained his audiences better than any other musician on Earth ever could to do most of the singing for him. At around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, January 27, 2013, at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Pete lay down that trusty long-necked banjo and shuffled off this mortal coil at last.
Those of us who grew up on his music and his message, watched CBS censor his performance of “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy” from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the height of the Vietnam War, heard him play innumerable times at the Great Hudson River Revival, on college campuses and countless fundraisers for schools and community groups or listened to our kids’ excited tales about Pete’s classroom visits or their sails on the Clearwater – we’ll just never be quite the same, knowing that there will be no more Pete Seeger concerts, except of the tribute variety. But at least we can console ourselves that there will plenty of those in the months to come, and opportunities to convene with other fans, to mourn and reminisce and sing along.
The first of these tribute events will take place at the Falcon in Marlboro, which will host a concert to celebrate the life and legacy of Pete Seeger on Saturday, February 22. Jay Ungar and Molly Mason will definitely be there, and the “many, many more” advertised are likely to comprise a long list indeed of acoustic music luminaries. And you may rest assured that, when somebody steps up to the mic to lead a chorus of “Well May the World Go” or “Old Devil Time” – two of the greatest songs ever written on the subject of mortality, both of them by Pete – there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
There’s nothing wrong with a little well-earned mourning; but if your spirits need a lift, or you feel inspired to “do something” in the way that this great model of citizen activism always exemplified, here are a few suggestions for starters: Make a donation to the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization (www.clearwater.org) in Pete’s memory. Sing something out loud next time you get together with friends. Or plan an outing next summer to some riverfront park like Kingston Point Beach. You can even take a dip in the Hudson nowadays without worrying about getting cancer from it. Thanks for that, Pete – and for everything else. We’ll never forget you.
Pete Seeger tribute concert, Saturday, February 22, time t/b/a, by donation, the Falcon, 1348 Route 9W, Marlboro; (845) 236-7970, www.liveatthefalcon.com.