Pete Seeger, the 90-year-old folk icon and veteran activist for anti-war and environmental causes, thrilled a group of his younger, starry-eyed fans Monday afternoon in a Mill Valley performance alongside his grandson.
Those fans weren't much younger - and some were a bit older. The private performance was organized by Bread & Roses, which puts on shows throughout the Bay Area for isolated individuals who live in places such as nursing homes, prisons and hospitals.
Seeger was in the Bay Area to attend his granddaughter's wedding and for two larger shows this weekend. When Bread & Roses learned of his plans to be in the area, the group reached out to him, hoping that his anti-war beliefs would lure him to perform at the Redwoods retirement home in front of members of Mill Valley Seniors for Peace.
"He knew that you folks are his peeps - you're people like him and of his generation," Cassandra Flipper, executive director of Bread & Roses, told the crowd of about 250.
Among them was 82-year-old Martye Kent, who brought flowers to present to Seeger and waved them in his direction after several songs. She'd been listening to the singer since the 1960s and said she was overjoyed to see him again, especially in the intimate confines of the Redwoods' auditorium.
And Barbara Shalen, 86, who said she'd been listening to Seeger "forever" and had seen him many times over the years, particularly when she lived less than two hours from Seeger's hometown of Fishkill, N.Y.
And then there was Rolly Mulvey, an 82-year-old musician who leads the weekly Mill Valley Seniors for Peace rally outside the Redwoods, often featuring Seeger's songs. Mulvey, who'd seen Seeger play at least a dozen times over the years, called the hourlong set "one of the great highlights of my 10 years at the Redwoods."
Seeger was joined by his 37-year-old grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, a longtime collaborator and an accomplished musician in his own right. The pair kicked off the set with the traditional folk song, "Midnight Special," before diving into "Blue Skies," an Irving Berlin song from the 1926 musical, "Betsy." Seeger dedicated the song to the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, an organization he co-founded in 1966 to clean up the Hudson River.
On each song, the pair encouraged the crowd to clap and sing along, and the attendees obliged, including "Turn! Turn! Turn!," which Seeger wrote in 1959 but was made famous by the Byrds in 1965. Another song, "My Get-Up-and-Go Has Got Up and Went," seemed to connect with everyone in the audience, drawing loud cheers, laughter and affirmations. The song's lyrics take a whimsical look at aging: "How do I know my youth is all spent / my get-up-and-go has got up and went / but despite it all, I'm able to grin / And think of the places my get-up has been."
Rodriguez-Seeger, son of Seeger's daughter Mika, sings in both Spanish and English, and brought a Latin flair to the performance with two classic Cuban songs, "El Carretero" and "Guantanamera." On the former, he even gave a quick language tutorial in leading the sing-along. The intimate setting allowed the crowd to hear the between-song dialog between the pair, revealing Rodriguez-Seeger to be patient and doting as his grandfather retuned his banjo.
By the time Seeger wrapped up his rendition of "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," the anti-war song penned by Ed McCurdy, the crowd seemed downright gleeful. Even Seeger's elders said they looked up to him.
"I consider myself an activist, but not nearly the activist that Pete Seeger is," said Bill Usher, the 92-year-old facilitator for Seniors for Peace. "It was an absolutely wonderful experience to see him perform."
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