There were many celebrations for what would have been Pete Seeger’s 95th birthday throughout the country last weekend. But one of the most unique celebrations of Pete’s life was held last Sunday night (May 4) at the Towne Crier Café in his hometown of Beacon.
Producer and noted percussionist Jeff Haynes masterminded a multimedia celebration of Pete’s life and times. Haynes’ roots are not in the folk tradition; rather, his musical background is in jazz, and he has played and toured with the likes of Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson, Al Jarreau and Lizz Wright and Peabo Bryson.
Haynes used his interpretation skills both as a musician and as a producer/engineer to blend a wide variety of musical styles on the Grammy nominated CD, Pete Seeger: The Storm King, which featured Pete telling stories of his life and times accompanied by musicians of many genres and a revolving slide show of Pete and his wife Toshi’s life.
Haynes brought this project to life at the Towne Crier, setting the recordings of Pete’s stories, poems and recitations to the music of many musicians of many genres who came from as far away as Utah, in addition to Haynes’ own students from the Newburgh Free Academy.
Opening with a poem recited by Haynes (who was moved to tears during his recitation) and a flurry of multiple percussionists on stage, Pete’s voice followed with his telling of the origins of the song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and the gentle guitar of Sean Harkness.
Other carefully choreographed pieces included vocals by students Bianca Merkley and Anthourn Walden. Walden sang a beautiful version of “Danny Boy,” while accompanying himself on piano. There were also performances by Dar Williams, Richie Sterns (of the Horse Flies), Sara Milonovich, Bruce Molsky and others.
Of particular interest were the words of a young Martin Luther King’s writing as to origin of interracial relationships, with Pete’s recitation set to Charles Mingus’ tribute to Lester Young, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” as performed by acoustic guitarist Emile Menasche. The multi-talented David Amram played flute while Haynes blew on a glass bottle producing a sound reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, “Watermelon Man,” while the voice of Pete was reciting the poem, “The Double Helix.”
The evening ended with a moving audience sing-along of “We Shall Overcome” with the entire cast of nearly 20 musicians all onstage together. The diverse nature of this birthday celebration was certainly a fitting celebration of Pete Seeger’s 95th birthday, and it’s good to know that Pete is still bringing people together.