It’s Not All Clear Sailing for the Clearwater

The Clearwater (photo: Anthony Pepitone)
The Sloop Clearwater (photo: Anthony Pepitone)

Interview and story by Rudy Lu

Back in January, it was announced that Clearwater’s annual Great Hudson River Revival was cancelled. The festival – a two-day Hudson Valley music and environmental festival that was founded and hosted by American music legend and environmental activist Pete Seeger since the ’70s – had been the primary fundraiser for the maintenance of the Sloop Clearwater and the Clearwater organization.

In lieu of the festival, Clearwater is organizing a number of smaller benefit concerts throughout the Hudson Valley. From 2-6pm on Sunday (March 20), The Linda in Albany will host one of them, the Clearwater Tribute to the Memory of Pete Seeger, a benefit concert for the restoration of the iconic Sloop Clearwater.

Hosted by WAMC-FM’s Wanda Fischer, the concert will feature an array of musicians performing music from Pete Seeger’s extensive songbook. Among the performers are the Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family Band, Marc Black, Elizabeth Straton, Lecco Morris & Jeff Nania, Folding Sky, Big Creek, Bare Bones Project, the Bounce-back Reggae Band and more. Tickets are currently available for $35, $50 & $100.

We talked to Stephen Smith, organizer of the benefit concert at the Linda and a member of the Bounce-back Reggae Band to find out more about Sunday’s concert and the Clearwater:

Q: Is the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater in need of major repairs?

A: That is an interesting question. The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater is a wooden boat, built in 1969 by Pete Seeger and friends. Obviously, when wood is placed in water for an extended period of time, it is highly susceptible to deterioration, so such boats seldom last more than 20 years without extensive and continual upkeep. Even the interior timbers are prone to dry rot. Each year the Coast Guard inspects Clearwater and determines which timbers need replacement. This year we are conducting a mandated major restoration during which nearly all of the below-waterline timbers that were not restored last year will be replaced.

Q: Why a series of small concerts to raise money for the Clearwater? Didn’t the festival raise enough funds?

A: Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival is intended primarily as an outreach and educational experience. It is often profitable, but this is highly dependent on the weather. For example, last year’s Revival was on track to be the most financially successful ever until late weather reports were issued indicating that there would be rain and lightning at Croton Point on festival Sunday. Ticket sales immediately dropped off. Clearwater was further left in a difficult position when the event insurer disputed whether or not there was sufficient rain for them to honor the rain insurance policy. While there was indeed significant rain, those that did attend the festival on Sunday had a great time, and there was no lightning. Unfortunately, many, many people did not show up that day.

Add to that, the cost of mounting Revival increases each year. The fees charged for parking, policing and the use of the park have soared. With the extensive restoration work required on the sloop this year, it did not seem feasible to the event coordinators that the Revival could be mounted this year. So instead, we are working to replace badly needed funds by holding a series of smaller concerts.

Q: You have such a variety of performers listed for the concert at The Linda on Sunday (March 20). Could you tell me a little about each of the performers?

A: Recently, at a benefit concert held in Rosendale, I performed songs that had been written and/or performed by Pete Seeger with my reggae band. After the performance I received a somewhat testy e-mail from a purist who stated that Pete Seeger’s music should only be performed in the style in which he originally played it. I could not have disagreed more.

In fact, Pete Seeger himself was a world traveler with respect for many different cultures and styles of musical expression. Consider his songs “Guantanamera,” “Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the wonderful “Raghupati raghava raja Ram” (which will be taught to the audience and performed by the noted sitar player Noe Dinnerstein on Sunday). Pete did not limit himself to one style of music only. For that reason especially I wanted this performance to incorporate as many styles of musical performers as possible, all playing songs sung or written by Pete Seeger.

So without wishing to pigeon-hole anyone, we have wonderful Americana performers Jay Ungar & Molly Mason with family members (and performers in their own right) Mike and Ruthy in the Jay Unger Family Band. We have an excellent folk-rock solo performer Marc Black. We have the truly inspiring jazz duo of Lecco Morris & Jeff Nania. We have the local blues great Mark Emanatian, the ethereal and somewhat Celtic strains of Elizabeth Straton performing on the acoustic grand piano, Noe Dinnerstein’s Hindi sitar, the Bounce-back Reggae Band and a wonderful vocal performance provided by Aldo Lavaggi and his students.

Interspersed throughout the live performances, we will show video clips of Pete Seeger performing with kids and speaking at his various recorded performances. We also have a tribute video, “High Over the Hudson,” featuring an original song written and performed by Daniel Messina. So we have jazz, blues, reggae, folk and Americana, folk-rock, Celtic and Hindi performers all in one show, and all expressing their music with songs popularized by Pete Seeger. Take that purists!

Q: You mentioned that your band, the Bounce-back Reggae Band, is playing. Could you tell me a little bit more about them?

A: Well, in actuality, the Bounce-back Band is on a temporary hiatus. Bass player Norm Nilsen, saxman John Biancouli and trumpeter Kevin Hendrick have all moved hundreds of miles away for reasons of health and employment opportunity. However, with the great original member Terry Hampton on drums and the amazing Bill Imperial joining us on bass, it will be fully possible to resurrect the band for this show. I am currently auditioning musicians for the Bounce-back Band and hope to have it up and running again soon. Of course, I continue to perform solo and in the acoustic duo As-Is. I will be performing at the Towne Tavern in Averill Park on Friday, April 22.

Q: Do you anticipate the various musicians sitting in with each other? Perhaps some unexpected collaborations?

A: Actually, I do. Wanda Fischer will be collaborating with Marc Black on “Guantanamera,” and all of the performers are invited to sing and play live along with Pete Seeger on video for our grand finale. There will be many sing-a-long performances for the audience to participate in and with such a collection on talent in one room, you have to expect that there will be more spontaneous collaborations.

Q: If I can’t attend the performance, how can I make a donation?

A: Absolutely. To donate to Clearwater go to Click on the “DONATE” button at the upper right corner of the screen and follow the prompts. You can choose either Float the Boat to contribute toward the Sloop Restoration Project or General Operating to support Clearwater as a whole. If you would like our event to get credit for the donation you can choose “In Honor Of” and write in “Albany Tribute,” but the important thing is just to support Clearwater now. Any assistance in this difficult time is greatly appreciated. You can also simply write a check and send it to Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, 724 Wolcott Ave., Beacon, NY 12508.

And there are several other Clearwater benefit concerts and other fundraising events in the works. Check in on the Clearwater website or Facebook page for more information.

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