Saturday, 5 July 2008

On a legend

I saw a living legend today. He's been a legend since before I was born. I have any number of his recordings and recordings he has inspired. And he is still inspiring people.

He is Pete Seeger.

He was performing in a church along with his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (who is two years younger than I) and Guy Davis.I was slightly embarrassed by the fact that I was in the younger quarter of the crowd. Despite the fact that it was billed as a family concert, most the crowd were old farts (i.e. my age or older). However, there was a good smattering of children.

As well, the crowd was well trained in being played by Pete. Pete is a master banjo picker but that is not the instrument he is best at. He can play a crowd, leading them through songs, old and new, like no one else I know of. This is partly a consequence of the fact that he largely lost his singing voice about twenty years ago, but also because that is part of his gift. If you listen to the CD of "We shall overcome" his 1963 Carnegie Hall concert, several times in the proceedings you can hear how he is playing the audience as well as his instruments. That was well before his voice went.

Pete has aged well, though it was obvious that he isn't as young as he used to be. However, he seemed younger than his 89 years. His songs (or at least the songs he sang) have also aged well. He, Tao and Guy started out with "The Midnight Special" as well as many other well known "Pete" songs. The three performers were relaxed and obviously in good humour. It was also evident what craftsmen the three of them were in the casual way they discussed amongst themselves what key the next song would be in. I don't think the play list had been worked out in advance, but they all knew or could adapt to one another's choices.

The lead alternated between the three performers allowing them to catch their breath in turn. However, a couple of times, when a song by some else began, there would be a light in Pete's eyes and he would get up from his chair and join in on 5-string banjo or 12-string guitar. His love of music and of playing was so obvious. I almost wish he had sung "How can I keep from singing."

After the show was over, I was walking up to the stage to try to get a "Gravity is a theory" bumper sticker, Tao came out of a side door and headed for the back of the church. I managed to shake his hand and say "Thank you".

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