Singalong concert pays tribute to Pete Seeger

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WEST BRATTLEBORO — Emma's Revolution, the award-winning activist duo of Pat Humphries and Sandy O, will perform in Brattleboro for the first time at the Pete Seeger 100th singalong concert set for May 12.

The duo had many connections with Seeger, a friend and mentor, during their career, as did the other performers scheduled for the concert, including Peter Siegel, Sally Rogers, Annie Patterson and Peter Blood. The concert will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 12, at the West Village Meeting House.

Pete Seeger would have been 100 years old this year. Many are reflecting on the impact he had on American music and American politics.

In an interview on NPR years ago, Seeger said, "The powers that be can control the media but it's hard to stop a good song. [Humphries'] songs will be sung well into the 22nd century."

Thinking about the upcoming concert, Humphries reflected on her 30-year friendship with Seeger.

"I met Pete at a songwriters' gathering in 1985. I had written my first song 'Keep On Moving Forward' (then called 'Never Turning Back') the year before and had just finished leading it in a song circle," she said. "I saw this hand come around from behind me, holding a small scrap of paper. Pete had notated my song while I was singing it. He asked, 'Is this how it goes?' I don't read music so I asked him to sing it back to me. He had it all right.

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"Pete later said `Keep On Moving Forward' was the best song he'd heard in 50 years and he and I remained friends for the rest of the nearly 30 years he was alive."

Over those years, Humphries performed with Seeger in places as varied as Symphony Space's stage in New York City to the dockhouse in his hometown of Beacon, N.Y. She worked for the Sloop Clearwater, Seeger's environmental project which successfully cleaned up the Hudson River. She also helped gather sap from the maple trees on his property, visited, shared meals and swapped stories with Seeger and his wife, Toshi. She also sang at Toshi's memorial and with Sandy later sang at Seeger's memorial service.

Remembering Seeger's last days, Humphries said, "When I heard he was in the hospital, I drove up to New York from the [Washington D.C.] area, instinctively bringing my banjo, even though I hadn't been playing it much. At the hospital, a steady stream of family and friends were coming through to see Pete and sing his songs back to him in gratitude for all the times he had left home to sing to us. The day and evening wore on, until just a small circle of family and friends remained. As we sang our last songs to Pete, we sent him off onto his next adventure with our love and blessings.

"The family stayed at the hospital and I went up to Pete's house to make sure everything was okay there. I turned on the lights and lit the fire from the neatly arranged pile of kindling and firewood Pete had cut and placed in the wood stove, just the week before.

"On the drive up to the house, I had been thinking of all the remarkable ways Pete had touched my life. I took out my banjo and began writing `Sing People Sing.' Pete taught us how to sing together. But he was never satisfied with us singing in unison, he wanted us to sing in harmony. And, if we weren't picking up on a part, he would teach us one. He knew the metaphor of a room full of people breathing in sync and singing in harmony wouldn't be lost on his audiences and that we would take that sense of hope and community out into the world and put it to good use."

Tickets are available at Everyone's Books on Elliot Street and online at www.riseupandsing.org/events/petes-100th-brattleboro and at the door if there are any seats left.

George Carvill is a member of the Social and Environmental Justice Committee at All Souls Church in West Brattleboro.


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