Pete Seeger (center) with John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews and Neil Young (photo by Martin Benjamin)
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Martin Benjamin, Donna Fitzgerald, Stanley Johnson
It wasn’t the musical highlight of last Saturday’s Farm Aid celebration/festival/fundraiser at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, but it was certainly the emotional heart of the day. Introduced by John Mellencamp, surprise guest Pete Seeger ambled out on stage with his longneck banjo in hand.
“Friends, at age 94 I don’t have much voice left, but here’s a song I think you know. And, if you sing it, why, we’ll make a good sound,” he said, picking his banjo and launching into a sing-along rendition of “If I Had a Hammer.” Then he invited the rest of the Farm Aid headliners/board of directors – Mellencamp, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Dave Matthews – out onstage to help him to lead the crowd through Woody Guthrie’s classic, “This Land Is Your Land.” Seeger closed out the song by adding a new and timely verse that ended with the lyric, “New York was meant to be frack-free.”
The 94-year-old Seeger’s voice was little more than a cracked whisper, and he had to refer to his notes to be sure that he got all of the superstars names right when he introduced them, but it was nonetheless a magical moment.
Led by Jen O’Connor and Eric Krans, Nippertown’s own the Parlor kicked off Farm Aid at 12noon with a high-spirited set on the Homegrown Stage, as they launched into nuggets like “Tear Down the Coastline” and “The Snake in the Woodpile” (with Krans seemingly channeling the late Jeff Buckley) before bringing out B3nson Family members Adam and Alex Muro and Lou Apicello to add some horn-fueled fire to the psychedelic swirl of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”