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Sing along and pay tribute to Pete Seeger with 2 weekend concerts

  • Pete Seeger performs at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh in a September 1986 file image. Seeger died Monday at the age of 94, after a long career collecting and championing the folk songs of the United States as well as writing his own, according to news reports. He died of natural causes in a New York hospital. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/MCT)

  • Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, right, Pete Seeger, center, and Bruce Springsteen perform at the Obama Inauguration Celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, 2009. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

  • Pete Seeger performs at the Clearwater Festival June 18, 2011 in New York. Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger died Monday at the age of 94, after a long career collecting and championing the folk songs of the United States as well as writing his own, according to news reports.He died of natural causes in a New York hospital. (Brian Cahn/Zuma Press/MCT)

  • Pete Seeger aboard the sloop "Woody Guthrie," taken by Thom Wolke the day they met in 1981. (Thom Wolke photograph)

  • The band Gumbo, Grits and Gravy, from left, Anne Harris, Guy Davis and Marcella Simien performs in Jan. 2019. (Joseph A. Rosen photograph)

  • Peter Blood and Annie Patterson have organized a Pete Seeger sing-a-long in Hanover, N.H., on May 3, 2019, where they will also perform. (Sarah Prall photograph)

  • Pete Seeger, left, and Guy Davis backstage at Lincoln Center in New York City in 2008. Davis is bringing his Gumbo, Grits & Gravy Trio to the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on May 4, 2019, for a concert benefiting The Upper Valley Haven’s programs for homeless people and for the Friends of Pete Seeger Foundation. (Hasna Mohammed photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2019 10:00:28 PM
Modified: 5/1/2019 10:00:18 PM

To the extent that he ever flared with anger, Pete Seeger focused the lion’s share of his ire, through folk music and activism, on warmongers, racists, conscience-deprived capitalists and polluters during his 94 years, three months and one week of life

As for his pet peeves? Well, almost until his death in 2014, Seeger often lectured audiences who hesitated to sing along at his concerts to the music of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Bob Dylan, Malvina Reynolds and Joan Baez and to his own iconic songs, from Turn! Turn! Turn! and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? to Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and Kisses Sweeter than Wine.

And Heaven help you if you suggested staging a tribute concert to him on one of his milestone birthdays for the sake of celebrating him, unless you promised the proceeds from tickets would go to a good cause, such as social justice or the health of the environment.

“When they did his 90th at Madison Square Garden, he wasn’t too thrilled about it in the beginning,” Plainfield resident Thom Wolke, a longtime friend of Seeger and his family, said on Tuesday. “It was a big production, with almost everybody there you could think of who had been influenced by him. He only agreed to it when they made it a benefit” for Seeger’s Hudson River Sloop Clearwater project.

In which case, Seeger most likely would approve of the two Upper Valley concerts that are among hundreds of celebrations going on around North America marking the 100th anniversary of his birth this weekend.

On Friday night, the actual anniversary, Seeger proteges and collaborators Charlie King and Peter Blood are leading a concert at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in Hanover that will benefit Upper Valley Interfaith Project’s activism on behalf of migrants and refugees.

And on Saturday night, bluesman Guy Davis brings his Gumbo, Grits & Gravy Trio to the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction for a concert benefiting The Upper Valley Haven’s programs for homeless people and for the Friends of Pete Seeger Foundation.

“I didn’t know until now that Guy is playing there the next night,” King said on Tuesday, during an interview from his home in western Massachusetts. “I’ll be happy to let people know about it during our show.

“I’ll be singing the praises of Guy Davis.”

Between songs with Gumbo, Grits & Gravy fiddler-singer Anne Harris and singer-accordionist Marcella Simien at the Briggs, expect Davis to tout the continued relevance of Seeger’s music.

“I’m doing this just because it’s great stuff,” the 66-year-old Davis said during a recent telephone interview from a Woody Guthrie celebration in Oklahoma. “The older I get, his songs are a little closer to me every time. Now is the right time, whether or not it’s his birthday.”

While many of the issues facing the country and the world were brewing before the election of President Donald Trump to the White House, Davis sees that presidency as throwing gasoline on fires that are dividing Americans.

“Oh Lord, oh mercy: These last two years, it’s been more important than ever that people learn what it means to stick together,” Davis said. “ ‘Stick together’ is a phrase Pete used a lot. It’s another of those times when we’re going to have to grow up and step up to the plate. Pete’s talent was getting disparate people into one room.

“When he was done with the concert, everyone was friends.”

Davis’ friendship with Seeger began in the early 1960s, when Seeger visited his parents, actors and human-rights activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, at their home in the suburbs of New York City. A year or so later, during a visit to the Seegers’ house on the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y., Davis was riding in Seeger’s Volkswagen when the singer asked him what music he liked.’”

“I was maybe 11 at the time,” Davis said. “I looked out of the corner of my eye and declared, ‘James Brown,’ in the tone of voice of an adolescent trying to sound cool and contrary. Pete never held that against me.”

Instead, during that time, Seeger introduced Davis to the music of Leadbelly, Guthrie and blues masters like Bessie Smith, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, whose work has influenced Davis’ ever since. In the late 1970s, Seeger and his wife, Toshi, helped Davis secure a contract with Folkways records. Among the musicians he’s encountered along the way are Harris and Simien, with whom he first started playing tribute to Seeger about a month ago, in a concert near Boston.

“I was very pleased with the way we were received,” Davis said. “We’re still at it, still new, still hungry and creative.”

Charlie King, who first sang and played guitar with Seeger during a festival in New York City in 1976, is preparing for the second of five consecutive spring weekends, with Peter Blood and Anne Patterson and other devotees, celebrating their mentor and colleague around the Northeast.

So far, they haven’t needed to prod the audiences to sing along.

“In Northampton (Mass.) last weekend, we just about blew the roof off the Unitarian Church,” King said. “It was a rafter-rousing evening.”

■The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College in Hanover hosts a singalong tribute to Pete Seeger at 7 on Friday night. For tickets ($10 to $50) and more information, visit riseupandsing.org. Proceeds from admission and from sales of Seeger songbooks benefit the social-justice work of the Upper Valley Interfaith Project.

■The Gumbo, Grits & Gravy trio plays tribute to Pete Seeger at 8 p.m. on Saturday night at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. To reserve tickets ($25 to $40) and learn more, visit kconcerts.net. Proceeds from admission benefit the Upper Valley Haven’s programs for the homeless and the Friends of Pete Seeger Foundation.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to highlights@vnews.com.

 




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