The man who wrote some of the most powerful songs that are now engrained in American culture and the world’s consciousness has asked an award winning Minnesota songwriter and community builder to help him blow out the candles at his 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden May 3, 2009.
Peter Seeger, the iconic folksinger who has inspired world class artists from Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez and countless others, has asked Smithsonian Folkways’ recording artist and south Minneapolis resident Larry Long to join him, plus more than 50 other performers such as Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ani DiFranco, Michael Franti, Springsteen and many others for the big event.
“I'd be proud to be known as 'the Larry Long of New York,'" Seeger recently said of Long in a story in the Star Tribune Lifestyle section about Long’s “Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song” ™ program run through Long’s nonprofit organization, “Community Celebration of Place.
The Minnesota troubadour has been doing similar events in communities all across America and abroad in countries such as Scotland, South Africa and Brazil for more than 25 years.
“The guy has never been recognized for a long life of wonderful work…" added the man who’s penned such classic tunes as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn Turn Turn”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and many others… "He [Larry] has done decades of wonderful things and rarely got any publicity about it."
“Pete Seeger is like the Abe Lincoln of the American folk community,” Long says. “He casts a huge shadow. It's a great privilege to have lived in his time. And it’s a great honor to play for his birthday. He’s always been a mentor to others both as a musician and an activist. He’s the best kind of teacher, too: He teaches by doing. If you take all of the musicians who will be on stage at his 90th to honor him, and combine them into one, they would almost come close to the man Pete Seeger is."
When Seeger Met Long…
Long has known Seeger as a friend, fellow musician, environmentalist, educator and activist since the ‘70s. Seeger played and sang on Long’s 2000 album Well May the World Go. He is also featured on the Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Music Collection with both Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others. They met while Long was helping, traveling with and singing for the nation’s farmers during the famous farmer’s Tractorcade to Washington, D.C., in 1979.
Through the years, Long also helped Seeger to raise awareness, funds and greatly improve water quality in the Hudson River for Seeger’s Sloop Clearwater project (proceeds from the Madison Square Garden event will go to the Clearwater effort (www.clearwater.org). Long piloted a similar project along the mighty Mississippi River during the ‘80s, the “Mississippi River Revival.” And his community building efforts — taking a page or two from Woody Guthrie’s songbook and Seeger’s activist life — have earned him prestigious international recognition, including the Pope John XXIII Award, the Leadership in Neighborhood Fellowship Award, In The Spirit OF Crazy Horse award, a Parent’s Choice Award for producing with the Southern Poverty Law Center, I Will Be Your Friend, a songs and activities book for young peacemakers that teaches tolerance (SEE BIO at www.larrylong.org).
…and Long Reintroduced Woody to His Hometown
He was also instrumental in re-establishing Guthrie’s name in his own home town. After decades of shunning its native son, Long helped change the attitudes of people living in Okemah, Oklahoma. He organized with area school children the first hometown tribute for Woody on December 1, 1988, in what became an annual event that was eventually covered in 1990 by The Wall Street Journal with the telling headline: “This Is the Way the Cold War Ends, as a Hootenanny.” The Guthrie tribute was likewise featured on NBC’s Today Show with Lucky Severson and released on a sound recording entitled It Takes a Lot of People (Tribute to Woody Guthrie).
The success of Larry’s work in Okemah has now evolved into a yearly festival for Woody Guthrie. (www.woodyguthrie.com). On July 11th as part of WoodyFest Larry will be performing for the 20- year anniversary reunion of bringing Woody home to Okemah.
Looking forward to the Madison Square Garden birthday bash, Long adds, “Once you meet Pete Seeger, you end up doing a whole lot of more for other people than you ever imagined. He makes you feel like you can change the world, and before you know it, that’s exactly what you’ve done. May his spirit and tradition live long for many years to come. In times like these, we need that more than ever. ”
For more information about Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday celebration, see www.Seeger90.com