50 years with Pete

Odd coincidence. I received this email on the very day I was about to go to a rare screening of the 1972 film “Pete Seeger- a Song and a Stone”. I’d never even heard of it and although it was rather crudely made and poorly shot it was nonetheless very moving.

When I arrived at Northwestern University in the fall of 1954 I knew The Weavers from their hit records but I didn’t know Pete’s name. But he gave a concert that year or the next on campus and someone knowledgeable said I ought to go. (Someone else said to me “I hope ya know where yer money’s going.”) I went. I was enthralled. I’d never been so moved, so thrilled by a live performance. My feelings about Pete have never changed to this day other than to increase in admiration and respect. I saw him again a number of times over the years including when he was touring with Arlo Guthrie. And one final surprise time in July 2008 when at 89 he turned up here in Toronto for a two night appearance at a club, part of a 3 city Canadian minitour benefiting an organic farming project in northern India. When he walked into the packed club the first night, accompanied by grandson Tao and blues artist Guy Davis, the audience, including many Toronto folk musicians, Sylvia Tyson among them, gave him a 5 minute standing ovation. He didn’t sing a lot, but he talked, played some guitar and banjo accompanying the others and involved the audience of course, but I think we’d all have been happy to have him stand there and read the phone book.

I do remember one incident from back at Northwestern in the 50s. He returned to campus one afternoon and showed up at the Hillel Foundation where he wanted to sit with students and exchange songs. Seeing him up close in a small room my 5 foot 6 inch self was staggered by how tall and thin he was. Unfortunately the students who showed up were expecting a mini-concert. Pete was there to learn some songs from them. Nobody had any ideas – they just sat there, waiting expectantly. Pete was polite and he did offer a couple of songs. But when he was saw that nothing was coming back at him he finally got up quietly and left.

Pete was my last hero. He may also have been my first.

Sam Levene.

1579 Total Views 1 Views Today