Across the years he’s been carrying his music around the world, one of the things you could count on at a Pete Seeger concert was that he’d get people singing along, whether he was playing in his home turf of New York state or in Australia or Africa or Japan, whether he was playing a famous concert hall or a small gathering or teaching kids in a classroom. That is still true,, and it is likely to happen again as Seeger joins his oldest grandson, Tao Seeger, on stage at the Clearwater FestivalvClearwater Festival at Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, on June 18th and 19th.

One of Pete Seeger’s ideas has long been that to get people to make changes, you first have to inspire them to care. Some forty years ago, he decided to use that focus and the power of music to benefit the Hudson River, a place which holds much beauty along its course and much pollution in its waters. As Seeger sings in one of his songs “She’s getting cleaner now.” That is thanks in part to his efforts, and those of people he has inspired.

Seeger had an idea to build a boat, a sloop like those Sloop Clearwater by Anthony Pepitonewhich plied the Hudson’s water in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and use it as a base for educating people — children especially, adults as well — about ecology and nature and the need to clean up the river and treat it responsibly for future generations. In 1966, he began giving concerts in towns along the river to raise money to build such a sloop, and in 1969, the sloop Clearwater was launched. The sloop, and the non profit Clearwater Foundation which runs it, have become respected environmental education centers.

The Clearwater Festival, also known as The Great Hudson River Revival, is one of the ways they celebrate and continue that educational role, and also a way they raise money to keep things going. The sloop Clearwater will be at the festival, there will be a working waterfront with tall ships to see, a crafts fair, ecology exhibits and vendors, food on offer as well. At the heart of things, though, will be the river, and the music.

The festival this year is called Clearwater Generations. The closing concert each evening will be called Generations, too, celebrating the mission of passing on care for the land and waters and the passing on of music, as well. Pete Seeger and Tao will take part in the evening concerts, as will Jay Ungar and his daughter Ruthy Ungar Merenda. You may remember Jay’s music, if not his name, from the haunting tune Ashokan Farewell which he composed and which became a centerpiece for the score of Ken Burns’ television series on the Civil War. Peter Yarrow will play along with his daughter Bethany Yarrow, and civil rights activist and Sweet Honey in the Rock member Bernice Johnson Reagon will be there with her daughter Toshi Reagon. Jen Chapin will be there — her dad Harry wrote Cat’s in the Cradle — along with her uncle, Tom Chapin. These family connections will anchor the closing sets each evening, and there will be other artists on the schedule as well. Songwroter Martin Sexton, legendary Hot Tuna founder Jorma Kaukonen, high energy group The Klezmatics the trio Red Horse, whose members are singers and songwriters Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka , and Eliza Gilkyson, and The Clayfoot Strutters contra dance band are several of the acts set to appear.

Pete Seeger has been spending quite a bit of his time in the classroom these days, teaching school kids about music and the environment, and how to care for both of those and he’s recorded songs with some of those kids on the album Tomorrow’s Children. He does not tour as often as he used to, as he turned 93 earlier this year. But you can be sure he’ll be on stage and at home to celebrate with those who come to the Clearwater Festival and to help nourish his beloved Hudson River.

photograph by Anthony Pepitone

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