The chorus of the 1973 song, “Well May the World Go,” by Pete Seeger concludes, “Well may the world go/ When I’m far away.”
Seeger passed away in January at the age of 94. This summer, the world will turn its attention to Seeger, himself.
On Wednesday, Seeger’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, announced that a free, five-day festival will be held in July to celebrate the lives of his grandfather, the legendary folk singer and activist, and his grandmother, Toshi Seeger, who passed away last year. Known as Seeger Fest, the event will feature performances from a diverse group of musicians as well as community activities in the city and upstate. It will also include the only official memorial service for Pete Seeger, which will be held in Poughkeepsie.
“It’s amazing to see tributes all over the world, in towns I’ve never even heard of,” Cahill-Jackson said, adding, “He wrote, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn.’ There’s a time for everything; so this is the time for the family to bring the Seeger community together.”
Seeger is considered a seminal figure in American folk music. In addition to “Turn, Turn, Turn,” whose lyrics were taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes (and which became a rock ‘n’ roll hit for The Byrds in 1965), Seeger penned dozens of beloved tunes, including “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” He co-wrote the widely-known “If I Had a Hammer.”
Seeger was also a noted activist who used his music to battle for the rights of others, as well as the environment. During the civil rights movement, he helped popularize the song “We Shall Overcome.” Upon Seeger’s death, President Obama praised him for his activism and said Seeger believed in the power of music.
“But more importantly, he believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be,” Obama said.
Seeger Fest opens on July 17th with a screening of the documentary “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” at Pier 46 on the Hudson River. His memorial service will take place on July 18th in Poughkeepsie. The festival concludes on July 21st with a concert at Central Park’s SummerStage featuring folk, hip-hop and indie rock artists.
“My grandfather touched more people in more different ways than could fit into a traditional environment,” Cahill-Jackson said. “So I had to figure out something that fit him.”
Tom Chapin, a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter who performed with Seeger multiple times and knew him for more than 50 years, said Seeger showed others how music could be a bully pulpit, drawing energy and money to worthy causes.
“Pete totally believed a song can change the world, and he proved it,” Chapin said. He recalled hearing Seeger’s band, The Weavers, play for the first time on their album “The Weavers At Carnegie Hall.” Picking up a banjo, Chapin launched into the up-tempo opening riff from “Darling Corey” and said the album “changed my world.”
Eli Smith, who plays banjo with the Down Hill Strugglers and is not involved in Seeger Fest, said in a phone interview that he first met Seeger backstage at a concert when he was 14. Now 32, Smith said Seeger briefly schooled him in playing the banjo and the two later corresponded by mail.
“He was such a supportive person for so many people,” Smith said. Though he thinks Seeger Fest is a great idea, he said Seeger “was a very humble guy” and “probably wouldn’t want to be overly-honored.”
Ultimately, Cahill-Jackson sees his grandfather’s legacy as inspiring others. Chapin, who will perform during three days of the festival, said the singer’s reach was vast.
“This one guy touched so many people,” Chapin said, “so hopefully this will as well.”
Seeger performs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism graduation in 2011.