While Pete Seeger himself exemplified a kind of folk purity – a man and a banjo encompassing the music’s topical and political calling as well as its deep roots and preservationist tradition – the festival that he founded might be the most eclectic, risk-taking and unpredictable big show out there. Celebrating its second go-round since the passing of Pete Seeger, this year’s Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival (also known as the Clearwater Festival) boasts a lineup as staggeringly deep and diverse as the last few stunners when Pete was still on the scene. Global in purview, unafraid of renegades, unafraid of electricity, the Clearwater Festival proves once again that while the folk genres may be a commercial convenience, they do not define the tastes and willingness of actual audiences.
There’s no contradiction here, insists Clearwater director Steve Lurie. “We believe it’s really important to continue Pete and Toshi Seeger’s legacy. Diversity is something that was near and dear to them, and this year’s festival will be the most diverse lineup we’ve ever had.” Looking along the top line, we see folk/rock royalty in David Crosby, America’s greatest roots/rock confusionists in Los Lobos, former B-52s Venusian vocalist Kate Pierson and the Mountain Jam-veteran soul/folk bard Citizen Cope. No Malian desert blues this time, or Balkan electro-fusion, but once again, the Clearwater lineup taxes any meaningful definition of folk music, leaving us to fall back on Louis Armstrong’s assertion that “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing no song.”
The festival’s diversity is not just a result of eclectic, multi-genre booking. Many of the acts on the bill are uncategorizable, multi-genre mavericks in and of themselves – like, say, Florida’s poly-roots rovers the Mavericks. Since Fox Confessor, the great Neko Case has been a mining a luminous dream-folk genre that is entirely her own doing. Béla Fleck is known for the kind of bluegrass that is left when you remove the blue and the grass. Shelby Lynne has never played by the modern country rulebook, though certain industry interests no doubt wish she would embrace it. And what exactly is Guster? Indie/pop/cult? Adult alternative? Iconoclastic independence is Ani DiFranco’s very brand. And just when you think you know the Felice Brothers to be a ramshackle and reverent incarnation of Dylan and the Band, you’re forced to deal with the reality of Celebration, Florida.
The lineup startles with its depth, leaving us nothing to do but drop names and more names as if they weren’t all prospective headliners in their own right: Bettye Lavette, the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Lone Bellow, the tireless, ageless folk writer Tom Paxton, the Klezmatics, Mike + Ruthy, C. J. Chenier, international virtuosos Matuto, Dog on Fleas, Tom Chapin… Just stop me now, because the hits keep coming. Check the website.
The Great Hudson River Revival is of course about more than music. It maintains a story stage all day both days, as well as a program of dance and theater. Rides on small boats and tall ships including the sloop Clearwater and the schooner Mystic Whaler. The Handcrafters’ Village showcases more than 50 crafters and folk artists with quality handmade items, demonstrations and workshops. The Green Living Expo is the place to learn about sustainable products, services, concepts and technologies for informed lifestyle and business choices.
The Discovery and Tideline Tents feature Clearwater’s original hands-on environmental education programs and Hudson River research. The Environmental Action Tent highlights Clearwater’s watershed and environmental justice initiatives in our Hudson Valley communities. An always-expanding Artisanal Food & Farm Market offers Hudson Valley foods and specialty items, as well as demonstrations and performances by local musicians. All seven stages are powered by solar or biodiesel generators.
If festivals are ephemeral communities of the like-minded, affirming beliefs and educating newcomers while entertaining with world-class music and vendors in a carnivalesque environment, you’d have to say that the Clearwater Festival just about schools all the others on how it’s done.
Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, June 20-21, $60-$215, Croton Point Park, Croton-on-Hudson; www.clearwaterfestival.org.