Pete Seeger - vocals, banjo; Besse Jones - vocals (at the very end of the last song only)
The life of pioneering folk musician Pete Seeger reads like a virtual history of social change in America. The epitome of the "sing-a-long leader," his career in music has been devoted to one social cause after another. Even during the 17 years that the House of American Activities Committee effectively blacklisted Seeger from radio and television, he made his presence felt and he deserves much credit for the powerful and lasting statement folk music has made on our culture.
1972 was a particularly monumental year in Seeger's life and his accomplishments were many. He visited North Vietnam that year, returning ecstatic about the country and the peace-loving people there. He also led a successful campaign to clean up New York's Hudson River. Clearwater Executive Director Andy Mele is quoted as saying "Seeger is an American icon of environmental stewardship. Largely because of Pete, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater is now recognized around the world as the symbol of river protection and the fight for clean water." Seeger was also chosen by graduating seniors at Oberlin College to deliver the Commencement presentation via banjo, songs, and personal comments, where he declined to accept an honorary degree. Additionally, that same year, director Robert Elfstrom's documentary, Pete Seeger...A Song And A Stone was released. This music performance movie was devoted to the accomplishments of Seeger and the founders of the folk music movement. He was also experiencing chart success with the double album compilation of his music, The World Of Pete Seeger, also released that year. And if that weren't enough, he was captured in print via a 1972 feature interview in Rolling Stone, additionally raising his public profile. However, all of this activity didn't curtail his indefatigable contributions to worthy causes, as this recording clearly shows. Here Seeger is captured performing at New Hampshire's New England College for a fundraising benefit to help his friend, singer Bessie Jones, to open a school in Georgia.
During this set, Seeger touches on social injustice and environmental issues, as well as communicating directly with the audience via thought-provoking monologues, but he balances the preachiness with a whole lot of good-hearted fun and fine music. Following a brief opening monologue, he begins a cappella with a song in a Native American tongue, immediately followed by a few lines from his hymn-like, "Old Hundred." He then begins directly engaging the audience to sing along on the sad children's lullaby, "Gray Goose." The audience participation continues in a far funnier way, as Seeger encourages them to grunt, groan and repeat the lines as he sings "Cumberland Mountain Bear Hunt." And then there's "Garbage," a humorous cautionary tale on the perils of pollution.
Things then take a serious turn as Seeger ventures into social injustice territory, first with a monologue about Rosa Parks, followed by one of his most resonating songs, "Which Side Are You On?" He closes the set with the traditional, "Twelve Gates To The City," again encouraging the audience to join in. At the very end, Besse Jones also joins Seeger on stage for a rousing finale.
Pete Seeger's influence as an activist and revered American folk singer only continues to grow as time marches on. However, it is the countless dedicated performances to benefit causes he believed in, such as this one, that are his true legacy. Nothing says it better than the inscription on Seeger's banjo, "This instrument surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."