We Need Some Pete Seeger Right About Now
At the opening to this year’s Great Hudson River Revival, a music festival an hour north of Manhattan that was founded by the late Pete and Toshi Seeger 40 years ago and emphasizes environmental activism, I think it might have been either folksinger Josh White Jr. or Tom Chapin who invoked the words “a musical antibody for a political virus” while leading a few thousand people in song. Participatory group singing has always been the calling card of the Seeger clan and their extended family, and that spirit continues.
Pete Seeger had said that “No one can prove a damn thing, but I think that singing together gives people some kind of a holy feeling. And it can happen whether they’re atheists, or whoever. You feel like, ‘Gee, we’re all together.’ I like the sound of average voices more than trained voices, especially kids singing a little off pitch. They have a nice, rascally sound.” (New York Times)
June 18, 2018: McAllen, Texas — Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets. More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. The cages in each wing open out into common areas to use portable restrooms. The overhead lighting in the warehouse stays on around the clock. Stories have spread of children being torn from their parents’ arms, and parents not being able to find where their kids have gone. A group of congressional lawmakers visited the same facility Sunday and were set to visit a longer-term shelter holding around 1,500 children — many of whom were separated from their parents. (Associated Press)
Throughout Father’s Day weekend as I wandered through the festival grounds, it was hard to tamp down the taste of bile emanating from the actions of a despicable and morally bankrupt administration that has ripped to shreds the values and morals of our great land. And yes, while a folk festival is indeed a clustered group of mostly white progressives, and despite the shortcomings of inclusion, it still felt like a better place to spend a hot summer day. As the sweet sounds came pouring from the stages, there were many musicians raising their voices and sharing their anger and frustration, occasionally tempered with hope. At a small workshop beneath a tent, Rhiannon Giddens spoke a harsh truth: “If you want to know what’s happening today, don’t read newspapers. Read the history books.” This song seemed fitting for the day: “Mal Hombre.”
Willie Nelson has issued a statement on the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The country-music icon and Texas native ripped the Department of Justice’s policy under President Trump. “What’s going on at our Southern border is outrageous. Christians everywhere should be up in arms. What happened to ‘Bring us your tired and weak and we will make them strong?’ This is still the promise land,” Nelson says, citing lyrics from songwriter David Lynn Jones’ “Living in the Promiseland.” (Rolling Stone)
Willie does not stand alone.
Singer Sara Bareilles wrote: “I am so sad and feel so helpless about the families being separated. This is beyond inhumane … I am just appalled. I am grateful for those sharing how to engage and help, thank God for you. The idea that there is anyone who believes this is justice is simply heartbreaking.” When House Speaker Paul Ryan sent out a “Happy Father’s Day” message, singer John Legend replied: “Seriously, f**k you. Reunite the families at the border and we can talk about father’s day.” (Channel 3000)
I imagine that many of you would rather read about the Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore set at the festival — it was better than I could possibly have imagined, and the new album has been No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart since its release. And there were a few dozen other singers and bands I had been looking forward to hearing that didn’t disappoint. And maybe I could have shared a little about the concert I saw earlier in the week with Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and Dwight Yoakam. It could have been a great week for music, but much of it was buried under sadness for the families torn apart.
June 19, 2018: A group of more than 600 United Methodist clergy and church members are bringing church law charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration crackdown. The group accuses Sessions, a fellow United Methodist, of violating Paragraph 270.3 of the denomination’s Book of Discipline. He is charged under church law with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.” (NBC News)
“The world is like a seesaw out of balance: on one side is a box of big rocks, tilting it its way. On the other side is a box, and a bunch of us with teaspoons, adding a little sand at a time. One day, all of our teaspoons will add up, and the whole thing will tip, and people will say, ‘How did it happen so fast?’ ”
— Pete Seeger
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed.