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Jerry Ashton Headshot

Finally a Huge And Magical "First Time Ever" Musical Event, and You Can Be There

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(But, Alas, Not the Honorees, Pete and Toshi Seeger)

Are you a bit like me, in wondering what it would have been like to have been there at something "first-ever?" You know, actually being in the audience at Woodstock. Or, the very first jazz festivals at Montery and New Orleans. Perhaps, Michael Jackson's debut concert, or The Byrds or The Beatles. Or, at Pete Seeger's first Carnegie Hall appearance. If only.

How I have envied people with that experience and those memories. I could only listen to the vinyl, or the tapes, or the LP or the CD. They had the real experience!

Let me now implore you to not let this one get past you -- Seegerfest

A full five day festival celebrating the lives, work, activism and music of Pete and Toshi Seeger will take place from July 17 through July 21 throughout upstate New York and New York City. And, get this -- all free! (Pete & Toshi would have loved that part.)

Over 200 performers! 80 different performing groups!

The brainchild of Kitama Cahill-Jackson, the grandson constantly underfoot at the Seeger household and now all grown up and maturing into his grandparents' fiercest advocate, it can be honestly advertised as the first of its kind -- an inaugural public and private friends-and-family tribute to the Seegers.

As Kitama described it to me, it was a puzzle and a delight to put together. He instinctively found himself following his grandfather's wisdom, as described in "Turn, Turn, Turn"... "a time for all to take their turn." Everything and everyone needed and deserved their turn to pay tribute to this man and his wife. Thus:

It had to be intimate, and this is found in a memorial service at the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie for invited family and friends.

It had to be huge, as Pete Seeger's audience was certainly that. This called for an out-of-doors concert at Lincoln Center featuring performers such as Judy Collins, Tom Chapin, Peter Yarrow, Holly Near, Michael Moor, Dar Williams and others.

It had to have square dancing, as this is how Pete and Toshi met, and the Ashokan Center in the Catskills was chosen for that purpose.

There had to be internationalism and film, else there would be no recognition of the Hispanic roots of "Guantanamera" and La Quinte Brigada and Pete's affect in Europe and the Americas. El Taller Latin Americano will host a small exhibition of rare and never before seen photos of the Seegers, including home movies and family candids.

There had to be musical and cultural inclusion, because no one is excluded from Seeger's embrace and love for mankind. Janae Desire (pronounced des-ir-ray), who is helping Kitama produce the event, offered a quote from Chuck D of Public Enemy, who said:

"The musical fighting chord for human rights is threaded through Pete Seeger and the legacy of his stand up work. Regardless of what genre you're into."

There had to be a documentary, and that need is to be filled by a screening of "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song." This Emmy-Award winning documentary will be shown on a Hudson River pier.

There had to be water, as this life-long sailor was famous for his role in organizing a massive cleanup of the Hudson River from his beloved boat, Clearwater.

There had to be an inter-generational element, and that is where legacy meets with today's artists and musicians. Gina Belafonte took on this challenge by co-creating "New Songs of Justice: An Evening Honoring Pete Seeger." Herself of famed lineage (her father is Harry Belafonte), Gina of co-produced this evening with Music Activist/Record Producer Jason Samel to acknowledge Pete Seeger and Gina's own father's work in promoting justice.

Jason Samel declared: "Pete Seeger has left a legacy, a torch for the world of musicians and activists to carry forward. Pete has inspired nearly every genre under the sun to create socially conscious music, to speak truths about society, the environment and so many other issues that can be amplified to so many through the great Power Of Song."

He added, "This is what Movement Music is, every culture, every genre, from every corner of the earth." That is exactly what the final evening of Seeger Fest at Central Park Summer Stage is all about.

And, what an evening that will be, the night of Monday, July 21, in Central Park when hip-hop, Indie-rock, punk and folk musicians come together to demonstrate their own commitment to using music as a tool for change.

Artists include Amanda Palmer, Anti-Flag, Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root, Steve Earle, Rebel Diaz, Tonie Blackman, James Maddock, Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion and so many more...and even sets by DJ Kool Herc.

Now, back to my question. Wouldn't it be better -- this time -- to be able to look back and say "I'm glad that I was there," rather than, "I wish..."