Pete Seeger’s musical legacy touched many lives, including those of many folk singers across the region. North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley spoke with a few this morning about his influence on their music.
Many of the region’s troubadours have met and sung with Pete Seeger, some forming long-lasting friendships. Adirondack folk singer and songwriter Dan Berggren says he was steeped in Seeger’s music from his youth, listening to records that his older brother played.
"When I started playing the guitar, it was only natural that Pete's songs, the ones he had popularized and shared, would be part of my repertoire and still are," Berggren says.
Berggren interviewed Pete Seeger and created a tribute to the singer for his 85th birthday.
"The most recognized folk singer in the world: blacklisted, picketed, cheered, revered, and recipient of numerous national awards," Berggren says. "The writing on the head of his banjo says this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender. Pete Seeger"
Berggren found that Seeger always engaged the audience and used his music to draw people together.
"It wasn’t about him. It was about the song and what it had to say, and how music can pull people together," Berggren says. "One of my first experiences seeing him live was at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, when I was a teenager. The best lesson that I could ever have learned came from Pete. The feeling you get when an audience sings along. It’s not about you the performer, it’s about the moment you’re creating as people join their voices together in harmony because that is a living symbol of what we need to do in this world."
Adirondack singer, songwriter and storyteller Chris Shaw was in a folk trio in college when they were invited to perform on the Clearwater.
“That’s when I first met him. He was obviously on the sloop, he was always on his sloop it seemed like,” Shaw says. “And he was just such a charismatic figure on stage, and when he got off stage, the attention that he paid to every single person he spoke to was phenomenal. You felt like you were the only person in the world, and he was just that fantastically charismatic figure.”
Appalachian bluegrass and Adirondack folk musician Lee Knight was a Saranac Lake high school student in the 1960's considering becoming a Methodist minister when he first heard of Pete Seeger. Seeger did more than influence Knight’s music.
"I read an article in time magazine that he was being investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee and I decided I needed to learn more about him," Knight says. "He influenced not only my music, but also the way I looked at different things and different people. I became an activist in the Civil Rights movement, I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He influenced the way I looked at different types of people. Widened my scope and the songs that he sang and the things he talked about had me ready when I moved out into a wider world to see things a little differently than I might have otherwise."
Chris Shaw says Seeger’s legacy goes well beyond his music.
"You never knew where this guy was going to turn up with that banjo," Shaw says. "Could be a 'No Nukes' rally, it could be a 'Save the River' rally, it could be something here at the capital in Albany. You never knew where this guy was going to turn up. And he used the music as a vehicle to reach out to people to get his message across."
Lee Knight says one of his greatest honors was singing with Pete Seeger.
"We did a concert together in New York City to raise money for food for AIDS patients," Knight says. "I had the opportunity to go to his home; we shared a love for the Adirondacks. I have three heroes in my life; Jesus Christ, Henry David Thoreau, and Pete Seeger. And Pete I got to know a little bit and it was an honor to have been able to spend time with him, and I will miss him badly."