×

Friends to remember Pete Seeger in sing-along March 3

  • “He was always this magical figure,” Lorre Wyatt said of Pete Seeger in a 2013 Recorder interview. “It’s rare you find someone who, when you know them offstage, lives up to everything you’d hope they’d be. I’ve wished more people realized again about Pete, how creative he is, how much he’s been a part of American society, getting people involved in the music, getting them harmonizing and singing.” Submitted Photo

  • Dozens came out to celebrate the life of folk musician Pete Seeger in the First Congregational Church of Ashfield in 2014. Some brought their instruments, some shared Seeger stories, and others came just to listen. Recorder File Photo/David Rainville



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

ASHFIELD — The night folk music icon Pete Seeger died in 2014, Sarah Pirtle of Shelburne Falls pulled together a musical tribute to her mentor — and has been doing that ever since.

“When Pete did a concert, it was like a prayer for the world,” Pirtle remarked.

And so the fifth annual Pete Seeger Sing-along, organized by Pirtle, takes place on Saturday, March 3. It will be led by 11 local musicians — many of whom worked with Seeger and were his friends. This celebration of song and story begins at 7 p.m. in the Ashfield Congregational Church, 429 Main St.

“The song leaders will be leading us in singing along to songs Pete wrote, songs he loved to sing, and songs about him,” Pirtle said.

The musicians include Ben Grosscup, Annie Hassett, Charlie King, Sue Kranz, Yosl Kurland, Jay Mankita, Sarah Pirtle, Elias Stegeman, Ben Tousley, Lorre Wyatt and Tom Yeomans.

Pirtle said she taught herself to play guitar using Pete Seeger’s “Folksinger’s Guitar Guide,” and her goal in life was to be like Pete Seeger.

Pirtle later met Seeger at the People’s Music Network in the early 1980s. The People’s Music Network, co-founded in 1977 by Seeger and singer-songwriter Charlie King of Shelburne Falls, is a nonprofit organization that provides networking opportunities and workshops for musicians who use music and culture to promote progressive values.

Pirtle went on to earn several national awards for her children’s songs. Pirtle also performed at the Hudson River Clearwater Folk Festival when her first recording, “Two Hands Hold the Earth,” became the favorite of Pete Seeger’s grandson. Later, as the principal founder of the Children’s Music Network, she got to know Seeger and got his encouragement for her songwriting for adults as well as children.

Ben Tousley, a singer/songwriter, now living in Greenfield, also met Seeger through the People’s Music Network.

“As a child, I had pretty much soaked up Pete Seeger’s folk songs, and when I started going to the People’s Music Network, I got to know Pete,” Tousley said. “Pete encouraged me to keep playing and performing. One of the ways he inspired me was to go out into the community to bring music to schools, to camps, to the elderly and to nursing homes.”

Tousley pointed out that, when Seeger was blacklisted during the 1950s, his wife, Toshi, encouraged him to take his music out into the community — to libraries, camps and colleges.

“That inspiration led me, in 1984, to do that work myself,” Tousley said. “I’m just one of many that he encouraged.”

Tousley said many folksingers, including Seeger – and Seeger’s inspiration, Woody Guthrie – “hold true to a role as a cultural worker.”

Tousley said a cultural worker/artist is interested in sharing their art or music with the community, rather than just being in the spotlight.

“They like to share with others. They’re concerned with the making of music in communities, of helping people to do art. (Seeger’s) idea was not to be a star — he shunned that,” Tousley said.

Musician Lorre Wyatt, of Greenfield, knew Seeger for about 50 years and collaborated with him on his last album, “A More Perfect Union.” For Wyatt, the album — two years in the making — was the first recording he had made since a devastating stroke in 1996 left him unable to sing or play guitar.

“He was always this magical figure,” Wyatt said of Seeger in a 2013 Recorder interview. “It’s rare you find someone who, when you know them offstage, lives up to everything you’d hope they’d be. I’ve wished more people realized again about Pete, how creative he is, how much he’s been a part of American society, getting people involved in the music, getting them harmonizing and singing.”

Wyatt said he’d met Seeger at civil rights rallies and anti-war protests in the 1960s and at fundraisers for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater in the 1970s.

During their two-year collaboration, Wyatt talked with Seeger by phone about the unfinished songs they had written together.

In 2008, when the Connecticut River Watershed Council sponsored its first songwriting contest, Wyatt tried submitting a river-related song he and Seeger had worked on together. “Don’t tell them I had anything to do with it,” Seeger advised Wyatt before submitting their entry.

The song, which became “Bountiful River,” didn’t win the contest, but it was the final song on their collaborative album. “Pete said this is one of the favorite songs he’s written, so it’s good enough for me,” Wyatt said in the 2013 interview.

Among Seeger’s most famous songs are “Where Have all the Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

But along with the songs that made Seeger famous, there will be a few new, original songs, Tousley said.

“As we continue to commemorate him, this will evolve,” he said of the musical tribute. “That’s what he would want. If we continue with this, it will be going in that direction.”

The program is free, the church is wheelchair accessible and all ages are welcomed. Any donations are welcome and would be accepted for the “Carry It On Fund,” which Seeger helped to start, and which supports Seeger concerts and other progressive causes. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Staff reporter Diane Broncaccio has worked at The Recorder since 1988. Her beat includes west county. She can be reached at: dbronc@recorder.com or: 413-772-0261, ext. 277.