The announcement of Pete Seeger’s death was a surprise. He was 94 years old so it should not have been a shock. He was so full of energy at Farm Aid a few months ago, it was easy to think he would live for years to come. Pete has been a household name as long as I can remember.
Mr. Seeger was a surprise guest at the 2013 Farm Aid concert. It seemed to be the perfect platform to have him perform. The annual benefit has been raising money for the family farmers of America for over 25 years. This year’s benefit was held in Saratoga Springs, New York.
John Mellencamp introduced Mr. Seeger to the largest group of background singers known to man. The audience of 25,000 stood and roared at the sight of the icon. They sang in unison with Mr. Seeger "If I Had a Hammer"! Pete invited (with the aid of his notes), board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, and Neil Young on to the stage. He led everyone with exuberance to sing "This Land Is Your Land". Mr. Seeger wrote an additional verse to protest hydro-fracking. He was still relevant in his 90’s.
It was an emotional moment in an otherwise dreary, rainy day. The handkerchiefs were passed around and many felt they had experienced a historical moment.
The first time I saw Pete Seeger was at an interview during the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The interview included his great grand son, Tao Rodriquez-Seeger. He was celebrating his 90th birthday that year. He was very candid about his House Committee appearance in 1955 as well as his ‘run-in’ with congressman, Edwin E. Willis, on a visit to Louisiana a few years later. The congressman did not welcome him.
Seeger treated the audience to a song while playing his banjo. It was an intimate, rare moment when he shared his history and his ongoing optimism for the future. One can disagree with his politics throughout his lifetime. But he always did an admirable job expressing his opinions.