Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Belated Happy Birthday, Pete!

It's great to see that Pete Seeger is performing at Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival festival this weekend -- an event he founded back in the 1970s. I'm half tempted to jump in the car and drive the nine hours or so up from Virginia... Alas, at today's gas prices, that would be a pretty expensive nostalgia trip.

I talked about Pete in my last journalism class of the semester -- to which I brought my own banjo for a glorified sort of show-and-tell.  I sang the class a song that reminded me of local journalism, including hours sitting in planning and zoning commission meetings trying to uncover behind-the-scenes details like the ones in Hank Bradley's song, "The Mayor Is a Good Old Boy."

I hadn't intended to talk about Pete or how he had inspired my interest in folk music and the banjo back in the 1960s. But while showing the class my old Fairbanks Electric, I mentioned that a previous owner (or a fan of his or hers) had drawn a small kangaroo in pencil on the banjo head, with a cartoon word balloon saying "Hiya, Slim!"

Having mentioned that bit of personal trivia, I asked how many students knew what Pete Seeger had written on his banjo... and we were off into folk-music anecdote land, mentioning Woody Guthrie, Peggy Seeger (who autographed a banjo instruction book for me) and Bruce Springsteen, among others.

Two days later, I saw in my Twitter feed that Pete celebrated his 94th birthday that same weekend... and was singing with Peggy at a concert a few days later. It just shows what a job it is to keep up with the news! (Bill Moyers did a better job than I did that week, pulling out a 1994 interview with Pete for his blog. He also did a great web page about protest songs last year.)

I did get to tell the class about Pete and show them my earlier blog posts here and there on "Newspapermen Meet Such Interesting People" (a song I don't know well enough to sing, fortunately) and related issues:

I also got to tell them that you don't have to rely on me for updates about Pete. Here's where to find him online:

That's when I started writing this blog post... the weekend of his birthday. The "belated" headline is even more true now, a month later: I went back and added the Clearwater links and other information after noticing that I never did hit "Publish" on the original version in May.

Perhaps I was distracted by my other two blogs, or by preparing for class, or for retirement, or even giving the students final grades and writing the after-class updates to my other blog post about teaching journalism. In any case, I'll take it all as a fine excuse to publish a few more links about Pete and music, and to revive this old blog as my space for writing about music, mostly.