So how old is Pete Seeger? He’s so old that Eleanor Roosevelt did not like his music while her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, was sure no one would listen to it. He’s so old that he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He’s so old that he actually wrote the anti-war song “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.”
Pete Seeger will turn 90 on May 3rd and is now the grand old man of folk music. He was a member of the legendary folk group The Weavers and the Almanac singers before that. He has played with everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Leadbelly (or Lead Belly). The cream of American folk music will gather in Madison Square Garden next month to celebrate his birthday.
Pete Seeger has always been consistent in his anti-war positions, his support of environmental causes, and as a performer and advocate of traditional folk music.
Live In Australia 1963 finds Seeger at a transition point in his career. He had just emerged from years of persecution by The American Government and his social and anti-Vietnam War activity was in the future. He had embarked on a world tour and the core of this DVD is his 1963 performance at the Melbourne Town Hall. It should be required viewing for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the history of American music.
The concert itself may seem simplistic today and granted it is from another era. While such songs as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “If I Had A Hammer” are included; it is the simple folk songs of America and other countries that dominate his performance. “Skip To My Lou,” “Pretty Polly,” “Down By The Riverside,” “Kum Ba Ya,” “Michael, Row The Boat Ashore,” and “I Will Never Marry” among others are brought to life by Seeger and give hints of their importance to American culture.
Seeger was a concert master. He would usually perform solo with only his guitar or banjo to support his voice. He would constantly lead sing-a-longs with the audience. What would continually come through was his commitment and passion for his craft.
The bonus material was probably worthy of its own DVD. “Two Links In The Chain: The Story Of Leadbelly” was recorded in Sydney in September of 1963. He intersperses his performing the songs of Leadbelly with rare archival footage. Three songs, performed by Leadbelly, are presented. The liner notes state that these are the only known live performances by him that are known to exist. I have been a folk aficionado for a long time and I am sure I had never seen a performance. He performs “Pick A Bale Of Cotton,” “The Grey Goose,” and “Take This Hammer,” with just his 12 string guitar. It is a rare look into the sound of the southern cotton fields that formed part of the foundation for American folk and blues music.
Equally interesting is the short film about Australian bush singer Duke Tritton which explores the musical roots of Australia.
The DVD has excellent sound and picture, especially for 1963 Australia. There is a very informative booklet that gives some nice background material about the concerts and bonus material.
Live In Australia 1963 by Pete Seeger would make a fine addition to any music collection as it presents and explores a too often forgotten form of American music by one of its masters.