Clearwater Festival 2014: Paying Our Last Respects
For the past five years, I’ve provided a recap here of the annual music festival that takes place at the park in Croton-On-Hudson, N.Y., that most call the Clearwater Festival but is really named the Great Hudson River Revival. It’s two days of great music on multiple stages with hundreds of musicians, storytellers, dancers, activists, and craftspeople, sometimes occurring around the solstice and sometimes on Father’s Day weekend.
About 25,000 people show up from morning to evening. Being so close to NYC, the ‘burbs, Jersey and several million people, it’s a commuter’s delight. Just a few minutes from the train station, handicap accessible, the food is healthy and relatively affordable, everything is recycled and getting in and out is a breeze.
You probably have heard the story before, but for those who don’t know it I’ll share it again:
Clearwater is an organization founded in 1966 by Pete Seeger who, along with other like minded people, decided to build a sloop to sail down the Hudson River, which was a toxic stew disaster. They wanted to shed some light, press, and publicity on the environmental disgrace of one of our nation’s greatest resources, and help to bring the people back to the river.
The sloop, which is also named Clearwater, launched in 1969 and was ‘“among the first vessels in the United States to conduct science-based environmental education aboard a sailing ship, creating the template for environmental education programs around the world.”
The music festival came out of nomadic riverside concerts throughout the Hudson Valley, where Pete would pass his banjo among the crowd and ask for donations to build that boat. In 1978, it set down roots in Croton Park, only to be chased away ten years later because of pollution seeping up through the landfill. After a decade inland, they moved back in 1999.
According to the newspapers and radio and magazines and television shows and social media, this year was different than all others. This year Pete and his wife Toshi had passed. This year there was a change in the storyline.
-Pete and Toshi Seeger may be gone but their legacy continues to live…
-Well-known musicians paid a special tribute to Seegar, a Beacon resident, and his wife Toshi…
-Music luminaries honored Pete Seeger on the shore of the Hudson River at Saturday’s Clearwater Festival…
To many of my generation, as well as the one before and the one after, Pete Seeger is an American hero. Period. He’s an icon, whose face and image, actions and ideals, are indelible in our minds and memories. He’ll never be forgotten — at least not in my lifetime, my kids’ or their kids’.
I can imagine that the organization, which counts on the money that the festival raises to finance all the great work it does, will likely have to make a choice as time goes by. They can keep doing this wonderful weekend in the park the way that Pete and Toshi and all the other Clearwater volunteers who started out and have worked tirelessly at it have done; or they can turn it into an annual Seeger memorial — an ongoing tribute. A living legacy.
I hope not.
For me, this past weekend had the feeling of paying our last respects. And while we’ll never forget the work, contributions and lives of Pete and Toshi, the Clearwater storyline for next year and beyond needs to be again focused on environmental activism and the efforts of an entire community. We had two glorious days in the park remembering the Seegers; now it’s time to move on and let them rest in peace.
The music was simply exceptional this year. Some of my favorite sets were from Richard Thompson, John Fullbright (especially when David Amram sat in on keyboards), Buckwheat Zydeco, Houndmouth, Toshi Reagon, Delhi 2 Dublin, Work O’ The Weavers, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, and Lucinda Williams.
Here’s some links you might want to check out:
-Brooklyn Vegan posted some outstanding photos from Chris La Putt. Here’s Day One and Day Two.
-Andrew Revkin’s NY Times blog.
-A pre-festival piece in the Poughkeepsie Journal.