Who has the stature to bring together a crowd of talented performers so diverse as to include Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Joan Baez, Dar Williams, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Michael Franti, Tom Morello, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle, dozens more of the shining lights of American music over the past half-century and…Oscar the Grouch? Only a man whose own career has spanned that entire half-century and several decades more: Pete Seeger.
It was my immense privilege (and great fortune, thanks to a desperate scalper willing to come down 60 percent from face value as show time approached) to attend Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden this past Sunday, May 3, a benefit for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater (a non-profit organization created to restore the Hudson River). Seeger appears remarkably spry despite his advanced age—perhaps it is in the genes, since at one point he introduced his older brother…who is 95 years old. The longtime activist, folk singer and indefatigable public gadfly sang several songs himself and participated in a number of group performances during the concert, including moving versions of “We Shall Overcome” and “Amazing Grace.”
Stealing the show by the sheer beauty and power of their voices, however, were Emmylou Harris and Joan Baez. Baez’ rendition of Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” was absolutely spellbinding, not just because Seeger’s lyrics remain pertinent today (almost five decades after he wrote them) but because time has done nothing to diminish Baez’s singular voice.
Happy Birthday, Pete. Ad Multos Annos!
Jim Keane, S.J.