Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Counter-Culture Celebrates 90 Years with Pete Seeger Birthday Bash

The counter-culture stepped into the spotlight Sunday night as Pete Seeger celebrated his 90th birthday May 3, with a little get-together in his hometown of New York City. On hand at the sold-out "Garden Party" to honor the 20th century icon was a who's who of musicians that have been influenced by the gentle folk giant.

Seeger entered the collective consciousness of the nation in the 1940s and in the 50s with the Weavers scored many radio and folk standards. The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War brought him back into the spotlight in the 1960s. During this phase of his career Seeger borrowed a cue from his peer Woody Guthrie who had "This machine kills fascists" written on his guitar. Seeger had "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender" enscribed on his omnipresent banjo. The counter revolution took his words to heart and sought out the advice of his earlier recordings and many groups of the Haight-Ashbury era covered his material including The Byrds and Joan Baez.

Baez, along with Kris Kristofferson, was on hand at the Madison Square Garden show that was officially dubbed the "Clearwater Concert: Creating The Next Generation Of Environmental Leaders." They and other yippies, hippies, and singer/songwriters representing the flower power era blended seamlessly with today's counter culture vanguard led by Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Ani DeFranco and Michael Franti.

Seeger himself was originally dragged kicking and screaming into this event as he wanted no part of any plans to mark his birthday or his many other achievements in and out of the music world. He finally agreed to the concert on the condition that it would benefit the environmental group - Hudson River Sloop Clearwater - that he co-founded in the mid 60s. "It's not always the big things that make a difference," he said with regards to the environment, "but all the small things done by people who don't get attention."

Events to mark Seeger's 90th were also held across the country under the banner "For Pete's Sake: Sing!" Internationally, events were held in Scotland and Australia that included a performance of the play on the musician's life, "One Word We!"

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