Sing Out for Pete returns to scene of historic show
May 1, 2014 12:00 AM
Pete Seeger is seen her performing during a concert marking his 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First Unitarian Church in Shadyside holds a special meaning for longtime Pete Seeger fans.
It was there in April 1962 that the troubadour and activist performed when concerts booked by WQED and the Young Men's and Women's Hebrew Association were canceled due to a public outcry over his prior Communist activities.
Sing Out for Pete
Where: First Unitarian Church, 605 Morewood Ave., Shadyside.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Admission: Free; goodwill offering will be collected.
The American Civil Liberties Union, seeing an obvious First Amendment issue, stepped in and moved the shows to the church, where he did two spirited performances to capacity crowds.
"It was one of the first things I did at the ACLU," recalls Marion Damick of Squirrel Hill, who worked in union with Roz Litman and the late Tom Kerr. "We had no intention of not having him play, no matter who turned him down, and we were definitely going to find some place, and we did. It was very well attended and it really helped people in Pittsburgh become aware of what was going on and how attitudes were affecting what you could hear and how people could perform. And it went over beautifully. Uh, it was so good."
On Saturday, on what would have been his 95th birthday, a diverse group of Pittsburgh musicians will assemble in that same congregation to pay tribute to the folk legend.
"Sing Out for Pete" was organized by local singer-songwriter/activist Ginny Hildebrand. "As soon as Pete Seeger died in January, I went to the [Thomas] Merton Center and I called Anne Feeney and Mike Stout. At first, we wanted to do it right away, but they were touring, and Anne said, 'Why don't we do it on what would be his 95th birthday?' "
Those three musicians will be joined by Tom Breiding, Miguel Sague, The New Landers, Vanessa German, Tracy Drach, Nelson Harrison, Raging Grannies, Boreland Green and more.
"None of the 'big time' Pittsburgh musicians could be there, because they are all out of town or have shows that evening," Mr. Stout says, "but Tom Breiding, myself and a host of others will give the hundreds attending a taste of Pete over the decades."
Mr. Stout, who shared a stage with Seeger on a few occasions, will be doing a number of songs, but jumped on a few favorites.
"I'll be doing the powerful civil rights/Weavers song, 'Eye on the Prize,' and Tom will be doing 'We Shall Overcome' -- both staples of Springsteen's Seeger tours a few years back. All the standards, including 'If I Had a Hammer' and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" will be performed, as well as 'Pittsburgh's a Smokey Old Town' by Gerard Rolf and the New Landers."
Activist Mel Packer will do a dramatic reading of Seeger's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, spoken word artist German has written a poem wrapped around "Turn! Turn! Turn!"and Seeger will lead them via YouTube in "If I Had a Hammer."
Brad Yoder is playing out of town Saturday, but hoping to make it back for the conclusion of the show. If so, he's hoping to grab "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"
"That's a song I related to, growing up Mennonite and hearing it as a kid on 'Saturday Night Folk Music' on the local college radio station," he says. "I think that, being raised in a pacifist tradition, that song was a reminder that different kinds of people were opposed to war."
Ms. Hildebrand says the musicians will pretty much be doing one song. "We told them, 'This isn't a teach-in or a sleepover. It has to be a reasonable length."
She says the Feeney-Stout combo is the core of the program, "but it's much more diverse than the two of them. I think it's going to be very interesting."
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