A party for Pete

Yes, I’m talkin’ Pete Seeger. No, I’m not talkin’ about the Communist Party or the Wobblies or any of those sorts of parties and movements. I’m talking about how there will be a movement of about 19,000 people into Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 3, when dozens of great musicians will gather to celebrate the amazing Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday!

Some of the performers who will be on hand to honor Pete:
Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack, Richie Havens, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Dar Williams, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tom Paxton, Toshi Reagon, Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger…and, of course, Arlo Guthrie.

Limited ticket sales began today (March 23) and general ticket sales begin next Monday, March 30. Tickets are pricey — the good seats are hundreds of dollars and even the cheap seats are $90 each (for Pete’s 90th birthday). But proceeds from the show will benefit a great cause — the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which set sail more than three decades ago — stewarded by Pete Seeger — to protect and restore Pete’s beloved Hudson River and other waterways.

Here’s a video of Arlo singing Pete’s great song “Golden River:”

The Clearwater movement’s close to my heart since I grew up on the New York side of the Hudson River. As for Pete, one of the highlights of my life was meeting Pete years ago and having the honor of hosting him as he performed two benefit shows — about 10 years ago, when he was a young buck of about 80 years old — to raise money for a charity I’d started called the Delaware Valley Holiday Fund. Pete, grandson Tao and Pete’s beautiful wife Toshi drove all the down from Beacon, N.Y., to western New Jersey, put on a show in a packed high-school auditorium, then drove right back home to Beacon, and the only compensation they received was a basket full of sandwiches and fruit and cakes to sustain them for that long drive back to their home up on the Hudson. A year later, Pete and Toshi were back, doing another benefit show for our charity, this time outdoors, once again free-of-charge, at a park in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River.

This is what Pete Seeger’s been doing for 90 years. Helping people, fighting for justice, singing songs of peace, dispelling hate and spreading love. Happy birthday, Pete!


A sensitive matter

I recently strolled around the magnificent grounds of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and there were many things worth remembering: the garden filled with each and every plant mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays and poems (apparently donated by Henry C. Folger, he of the Folger Shakespeare library); the incredibly old bonsai trees; the Japanese meditation pond filled where turtles sunbathed on the stones; the greenhouse filled with rain forest plants, the lily pond and the rock garden. and the Celebrity Path with its paving stones engraved with the names of famous Brooklynites (including Joe Torre, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Jackie Gleason, Bill Gaines of Mad magazine, Marianne Moore, Mae West, Henny Youngman and Harry Houdini!).

But best of all was my discovery of a plant called the Sensitive Plant, which is found in the tropics and semi-tropics, and which has leaves that curl up and droop when touched. The scientific name is mimosa pudica mimosa is from the Greek word for mimic and pudica is from the Latin word meaning bashful or reticent.

Here’s a photo of the Sensitive Plant:

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Did I touch the leaves of the Sensitive Plant? Yes, I did, and, yes, the leaves did curl slightly. Did its reaction remind me of some people I’ve known?  Did I think of people I’ve known who couldn’t let down their guard, people who were unreachable and prickly and defensive? Yes, I did, and I even saw a few of them, prickly and threatening, when I went from the rain forest greenhouse to the desert greenhouse, and strolled amongst the somber and silent cacti.

Ghost-hunting on Phila Street

Visited Saratoga Springs this weekend with my son. On Saturday night, we stopped by the famous Caffe Lena on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs, which I’m assuming isn’t much different than the way it was when it opened more than forty years ago — it certainly had that feel. We heard a performance by singer/guitarist Laura Vechionne. We drank coffee and tea. And we checked out the walls, which are filled with an impressive array of photos of the likes of Arlo Guthrie, Dave van Ronk, Nanci Griffith, Don McLean, Ani DiFranco….and scores of others, including very young Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo and Lena Spencer sit at a table in Caffe Lena. The photo was taken in 1961 by Joe Alper.
Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo and Lena Spencer sit at a table in Caffe Lena. The photo was taken in 1961 by Joe Alper.

Speaking of Caffe Lena, good friend and very good novelist Christian Bauman performed there in his previous incarnation as a very good singer/songwriter/guitarist. There’s a link to his Web site listed on this page under friends. Chris sometimes share some tidbits from his traveling folkie days — like the time he dueted with Pete Seeger on a Woody Guthrie song — and those days even inspired his most recent novel, In Hoboken.

Speaking of Bob Dylan and Saratoga Springs, it just so happened that His Bobness was performing on Sunday in that very town — and my guitarist/Dylan fan son and I just happened to have orchestra tickets for the daylong music festival held at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 

Speaking again of Bob Dylan and Saratoga Springs,  someone was there outside SPAC selling a new book of amazing photos taken by the late Joe Alper — dozens of candid shots he took of young Bob back in the day. Check out  www.bobdylanphotobook.com