I’ve written before about Pete Seeger. In a previous article I called him “My greatest teacher” and he was that as well as an endless source of inspiration and ideas. Yesterday I watched the concert at Lincoln Center as a part of Seeger Fest laughing, crying and singing along and just immersing myself in the amazing “Pete-ness” of the whole event. I was particularly struck by the words from Harry Belafonte when he asked who would be the next Pete Seeger. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this idea. In the worlds of music, art, dance, or any creative venture there’s always a thought about what or who will be the next big thing. I believe there will never be another Pete Seeger. That’s partly due to the amazing range of his accomplishments but also due to a realization that the world has changed. Pete began his musical seed sowing when the recording industry and radio were still relatively new. When the Weavers sold a couple of million records that accounted for a huge percentage of the record buying public, when they appeared on radio or TV with the small number of networks available, a large portion of the country listened. While most of us hold in our hands devices that can literally broadcast around the world via social media the sheer number of people doing exactly the same thing means that the chances of any one voice, idea or song being heard by most of the population is decreased. The media landscape that Pete walked through most of his life was such that when he spoke it often carried more weight. What would be the modern day equivalent of his performance of “Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers show? A You Tube clip? Today’s version might reach several million but would it have the same impact? I don’t think so. Pete’s regular column in Sing Out! magazine might not have reached the same number that see one of today’s popular bloggers but the audience that was reading was really paying attention. In the grand scheme of things, the readership of the “Appleseeds” column might not have been large, but the percentage of readers who started writing their own songs, became activists or joined political movements was huge.
There may be others who will work as tirelessly as Pete Seeger at cleaning up rivers, opposing wars and violence and pushing for civil rights and they may be every bit as good a musician as Pete (although that would be quite a challenge!) but it will be different. As much as he would try to deny it, he was a star, a major star, a super star, coming from a time in the world of commercial music making where stars were made. That star power is something we’re not likely to see again.
Of course if Pete was anything it was optimistic. I often heard him talk about the boundless opportunities that existed for reaching out and sharing with others. Will there be another single individual who will be connected to most, if not all of the major figures in American folk music, introduce audiences to songs from all over the world, record multi-million selling records, write songs that are covered hundreds if not thousands of times in every language, invent essential language for music notation, write the first important book on playing the banjo, influence millions of young songwriters, musicians and activists through his endless travels? No, most likely not. But, there are thousands and maybe millions of people doing amazing and creative work that speaks to the essential beauty of human dignity and they are sharing that work around the word right now. Rather than wonder who might be the next Pete Seeger I would suggest that we all have a part to play in carrying on his work. The next Pete Seeger would not be recognizable if we’re looking for anything like what we’ve seen before. We are all Pete Seeger now, and have been for some time, perhaps the fact that Pete was still here might have blinded us to that fact. We are all the seeds he planted and we are the gardeners tending the fields for the future generations.
Here's a couple of photos I took of Pete over the years at People's Music Network gatherings.