FEST: Clearwater Pumpkin Sail @ Rensselaer’s Riverfront Park on Saturday


Story and photograph by Rudy Lu

The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater was launched in 1969 with its mission to save the Hudson River, America’s river from the ravages of centuries of pollution. In 1971, the Pumpkin Sail was born, the sloop was used like the old sloops of the Hudson, as a cargo vessel. The cargo in this case was pumpkins, the sale of pumpkins was the center of festivals and visits by school children up and down the Hudson River, starting from Albany and ending in NYC around Halloween. The crew would also act as entertainers and educators, singing sea shanties and teaching about the Hudson.

In the ’80s, two smaller sloops, the Sojourner Truth and Woody Guthrie, accompanied the Clearwater. Full scale music festivals with guest folk singers from all over the world, often crewing on the boats and with evening concerts with Pete Seeger himself crewing alongside and singing at concerts at night. (In Albany, they sang annually at the Eighth Step, then located off Washington Park in Albany). As time went by, the festivals and the sail disappeared.

Clearwater will be starting the tradition over again on a smaller scale starting with a public sail from the Rensselaer dock from 1-4pm on Saturday (September 8), followed by a free concert from 5-7pm by the Bounce-back Band.

Here are some questions posed to Stephen Smith, Vice President of North River Friends of Clearwater and leader of the Bounce-back Band:

Q: What sort of music will we be expecting at the festival?

A: The Bounce-back Band performs a wide variety of music but, our hearts are grounded in classic, old-school R&B, funk and roots reggae. We have been known to perform funky, reggae versions of Pete Seeger’s songs, but it’s all about dancing and having a good time.

Q: I understand this event will be kid friendly. What activities are planned for the children?

A: There will be apple cider pressing and pumpkin painting for the kids along with free deck tours, which the kids really seem to enjoy. There will also be educational displays featuring Hudson River Life, demonstrating the fish and invertebrates commonly found in the river.

Q: How many people can Clearwater carry on the guest sail?

A: Clearwater can carry up to 45 guests on a public sail. These are two- to three-hour on-water events that feature an authentic tall ship sailing experience. You meet the crew, steer the ship, help raise the sail, enjoy singing sea shanties or listen to on-board musical entertainment while learning about the history and ecology of the Hudson River. Tickets are $50; $15 for kids. Registration and tickets are available here.

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OUTLAW MUSIC FESTIVAL @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, September 23

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