Review by Greg Haymes
Photograph (from soundcheck) by Rudy Lu
Peggy Seeger said it best with a new song that she had penned for her brother Pete’s 94th birthday. It kicked off the second half of the evening, and she was joined by Bill Vanaver on banjo, Happy Traum on guitar and quartet of Seeger family ‘n’ friends back-up singers as she settled down at the piano and sang, “It’s Pete. It’s Pete. Strummin’ his banjo, stampin’ his feet. That lanky man comes down your street, and what do you know… you’re singing.”
The sold-out audience at Proctors rose to their feet in a hearty standing ovation as soon as Pete Seeger ambled out onto the stage, and they were singing along – loudly and frequently in harmony – by the second line of the Seegers’ opening song – the time-honored “Worried Man Blues.”
The fans had come to see a bona fide living legend of American music, and they were not disappointed. Of course, for years now, Seeger has been a song-leader, rather than a singer. His voice is mighty ragged these days, often reduced to nothing more than a hoarse whisper – and that was compounded by problems with one of his vocal microphones during the first of their two hour-plus sets, (the technical difficulties were remedied for the second half). And, yes, he occasionally need a bit of coaching from Peggy to recall some of the lyrics.
But few in the audience seemed to mind. In fact, they seemed thrilled just to be altogether in his presence.
It was a multi-purpose concert – a belated birthday party for Pete Seeger (May 3); a 45th anniversary celebration for the venerable Eighth Step; and a benefit for Camp Killooleet, a children’s camp Hancock, Vermont, that was founded by the Seegers’ elder brother John.
Peggy mostly played guitar, but also took up the banjo and piano for several songs. Pete, meanwhile, alternated between his 12-string guitar and his long-neck banjo, as the two siblings swapped songs – and sometimes verses – back and forth throughout the night.
There were, of course, those classic Pete songs – “Turn, Turn, Turn” (with several additional children’s-oriented verses penned by Pete’s wife Toshi) and the rousing encore of “If I Had a Hammer.” Peggy’s spotlight numbers included the powerful anti-war song “The Ballad of Jimmy Massey,” a riveting performance of Ewan MacColl’s classic love song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and the feminist anthem “I’m Gonna Be an Engineer.”
Mostly Pete and Peggy sang together, accompanied by the nearly 3,000 voices in the crowd. We sang a number of old-school children’s folk songs – “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” “Ristle-tee, Rostle-tee” and a wry take on “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” – union songs and humorous songs, as well as songs of freedom, feminism and civil rights.
Clearly, the crowd had come to see Pete Seeger and show their appreciation for his years and years of music, as well as his social and environmental activism. Maybe only Pete and Peggy knew that the real star of the evening was the audience…
B.A. Nilsson’s review at Metroland
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Seeger is amazingly sharp and capable for his age, standing for many of the songs, strumming a guitar or banjo, and leading the crowd in songs with dozens of verses. At one point in the first set, which lasted an hour, he recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from memory. The moment he appeared on stage, the packed crowd rose to its feet to honor him with a lengthy and vigorous applause. Early in the show, he told us he never sang ‘Turn Turn Turn’ until ‘an electric band made it well-known. I’ve been singing it ever since.’ While his sister carried most of the guitar work through the night, he handled this one by himself. The crowd interrupted the song with applause when he sang, ‘a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.’ He and Peggy rotated songs. Seeger’s tunes can feel like children’s songs — simple nursery rhymes — that delivered subtle and poignant social lessons. Peggy often used humor to get across her equally clever messages.”
PEGGY & PETE SEEGER SET LIST
Worried Man Blues
I’m Gonna Be an Engineer (Peggy)
You Old Fool
Turn, Turn, Turn
Everyone Knows (Peggy)
There’s a Hole in the Bucket
The Ballad of Jimmy Massey (Peggy)
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (spoken word – Pete)
I’m Stickin’ to the Union
It’s Pete (Peggy with Happy Traum, Bill Vanaver, more)
English Is Crazy (Josh White Jr.)
Henry Lee (Peggy)
She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain
Take It From Dr. King
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Ewan MacColl) (Peggy)
The Erie Canal (E-Ri-E)
My Mother Is Younger Than Me (spoken word – Peggy)
Everything Changes (Peggy)
Quite Early Morning
If I Had a Hammer