Geoff's Notes

Fri, 24 Jun 2005

So, I really should say something about the last two days here in Ft. Worth. Two years ago at the Unitarian Universalist General assembly in Boston, Lillian Anderson asked me if I thought I could ask Pete Seeger to do a concert for a GA in the near future. That idea percolated long enough to make this event in Ft. Worth our target, and I got to work. The first step was getting Pete to agree to the idea, which was not a simple task. Everybody, including Lillian and the GA Planning folks, want to honor Pete, and he wants none of it. He's had enough honors, he says, and wants no more. But he still wants to sing; he does so at the drop of a hat. He also wants to promote the re-publication of his musical autobiography "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," royalties from which he will send to the various writers and source singers from whom he's gotten such songs as "Wimoweh." So I asked, and he agreed, as long as I'd get some other singers to be there because he can't hold notes now and wants the support. I started off with the idea of getting Tom Paxton to join us, but he was busy, and Tao Rodriquez Seeger, Pete's grandson, begged off because of his busy touring schedule with The Mammals. I redirected my efforts toward connections through the Hudson River Sloop Singers to people I knew would suit the situation, and ended up inviting Pat Humphries and her partner Sandy O., known as "emma's revolution," and Kim and Reggie Harris. At Pete's request I also asked Hope Johnson, a UU minister from NYC, who ended up creating a quartet to be part of the event. Once I had these folks on board, back in January, I started working on the set list with them and Pete. Through several e-mails to the others and a couple of trips to Beacon, NY to meet with Pete, that list got refined to my and Pete's satisfaction. Actually, he still worried that he was doing too many songs in relation to the rest of us, but he didn't argue the point. Meanwhile, lots of other details needed to get worked out, but all the hours of coordination and preparation paid off. When we finally convened in Ft. Worth, the mix was magic.

Before I get to the concert itself on Friday morning, I need to talk about the Thursday evening Opening Celebration. Part of the deal from Lillian Anderson was a request that I get Pete to perform on Thursday night. The theme of the conference was ministering to families, so she was hoping to have him do his famous children's story, "Abiyoyo." Actually, she wanted his rewritten version, "Abiyoyo Returns" where the giant isn't banished into oblivion but is accepted into the community (well, outside the town where he sleeps with his stinking teeth out on side of a barn and his stinking feet out the other, but he is helping to plant trees and reverse the ecological destruction that has gone on since his first appearance). I got Pete to agree to this as well, along with singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" to close the evening. Lillian also wanted me to sing something of my own, and I realized that a song I'd written for a Mystic Seaport project ten years ago might fit the bill. So I pulled out "Reach for the Sky," began working on a new verse to suit the occasion, and got Pete to play banjo on it.

Lillian also asked me to handle introducing Pete that evening. It's important to remember that Pete does not want to be fussed over, so when it came to our sound check and rehearsal for the program I carefully did not go through my complete intro which included a few phrases of reverence he might have asked me to leave out. At that juncture Pete let us know that he wasn't comfortable doing the newer version of "Abiyoyo" so we settle on his doing the first with some reference to how and why he did a rewrite.

So came the evening, in front of some three thousand attendees. Our part in the two hour program amounted to about sixteen minutes (my two minute intro, Pete's six minute "Abiyoyo," my four minute song and Pete's "Turn, Turn, Turn"), but it was just right. Pete actually seemed pleased with the language I used to introduce him, saying he is a man who has "sung for all ages, young and old, past, present and future," and that what he is about is "not fame and recognition, but simply singing with and for people of every age, race, creed, color and persuasion to make a better world. His music has always seemed to reflect our (UU) Seven Principles, and has helped shape progressive efforts here and around the world. But even more than that, it draws us in to become part of the solution as he weaves his magic through story and song." He then did that with "Abiyoyo." For our ending I had written a new double verse to "Reach for the Sky" which really got this audience's attention ("We live here on Earth in the Family of Man, but don't take that title to heart/For we're mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, and that is just for a start/With the creatures of earth, air, and water we share this delicate web of existence/Will we care for it or will we tear it apart, we're the ones who will make the difference"). That followed by Pete singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" with the whole audience joining in throughout was a moment I, and I'm sure most of that audience, won't forget.

So then came Friday morning. I don't need to say much more than that it was all I could have hoped for and more. My only regret is that we had to schedule the event when lots of other things were going on, so many folks who would have wanted to be there could not. Still, some fifteen hundred or more did and from Pete's first words about Martin Luther King on, it was a truly religious experience. Pete had insisted that this was not his concert, so the rest of us all did a couple of numbers, but as I had hoped, on many of those, and all of Pete's songs, we all got up to the mics and backed each other up. The power and harmonies of those nine voices, added to simple presence of Pete, his real words of wisdom, and I do not say that lightly and all that his music conveys, made for an experience I will certainly not forget, and I know from numerous comments made to me after, will stay in the memories of many others for a long time.

I write this in the Ft. Worth airport, waiting to get on a plane to Boston and then to Bangor, in order to head for the Flye Point festival in Brooklin tomorrow.

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