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The sartorially spartan Mr. Seeger
May 4, 2009 - Bill Ackerbauer
Folk music legend Pete Seeger was honored Sunday, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, in a huge concert at Madison Square Garden. I didn't make it down there; I was content to catch a bit of the Ramblin Jug Stompers show in Gloversville.
Many of the big names in pop-rock music were at the Pete Seeger bash, including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp. Apparently a few less famous semi-folky singer-songwriter types such as Richie Havens and Steve Earle sneaked into the lineup as well.
I'd bet that of all the superstars who performed at the MSG event, Pete Seeger is the only one of them who lives in a house he built himself, by hand. Does Dave Matthews chop his own firewood? Has even The Boss had the brass to stand up to Congress, on pain of incarceration? Pete did: Pete Seeger's statement to the court, 1961
Take a look at the photos I've posted at right. One shows Pete yesterday in New York City, and the other shows him a week ago in New Orleans. Notice anything? He's wearing the same faded shirt, and probably the same grandpa bluejeans.
I understand Pete only agreed to do the big hoopy-do at Madison Square Garden if it was conducted as a fundraiser for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the environmental advocacy and education group he founded. Hopefully it made a ton of dough.
I recently read in New York magazine that Mr. Seeger -- one of the world's most beloved banjo pickers -- only owns one banjo. Even I, the world's least-loved banjo player (especially in my own household), own two of them.
Every celebrity pays lip service to saving the environment, trying to stay humble and "keeping it real," but Seeger has been walking the walk since before World War II. How does he think the world will remember him when he's gone? He told Billboard the following:
"My family will remember me, and a few others. I'm one of a lot of songwriters. There'll be more important things to think about."
I think I speak for any of us who ever strummed a banjo or sang a folk song, either around a campfire or at a protest rally: We're not worthy!
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(AP Photo/Evan Agostini) Pete Seeger performs at the benefit concert celebrating his 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden on Sunday in New York City.