Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

Turn, Turn, Turn – Pete Seeger Is Gone

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014


Today we honor Pete Seeger, the first and greatest of modern folk musicians. Pete did it all. What great talent and vision. We won’t see his like again.  Included here are a few film clips of him over the years that I think are really good.  Click Here to hear an interview I did with Pete in 2007 for Down Home Radio.

Pete Seeger invented being an urban folk singer in its modern incarnation.  All the strands that we see around us today he in a lot of ways did first, the traditional, the popular and progressive sounds, the political.  Pete was among the very first (maybe first?) people in the modern era from outside the tradition to learn thoroughly very traditional banjo playing and ballads from records, field recordings and firsthand sources in the South, and although initially an outsider ultimately give back to the tradition. He also played popular and classical music on the banjo and was very well versed in African-American music and 12-string guitar playing learned directly from Leadbelly among other sources.   He built on his experience of Woody Guthrie’s songs and style to make his own protest songs in an early modern singer-songwriter style which he invented and which also paved the way for later “Folk-Rock” stylings.  And as he broke through into the mass media with his band The Weavers and as a solo performer, Pete really invented the genre of “Folk Music” as a category within the field of Popular Music as a whole.  In fact, Pete’s father Charles Seeger, a founder of the field of Ethnomusicology, wrote on the subject, saying that in the modern era, folk and popular music would meld as isolated, local and traditional communities were brought under the influence of mass communication and rapid transit.

In the many pieces now being written in the press about Pete I often see it said that he “was a champion of justice, civil rights and the environment.”  That is very true, in addition to and in conjunction with music he was a committed and extraordinary social activist.  He was also a life long socialist, and someone who had a deep sense of compassion, fairness and respect for all people and communities.

His activities in the Civil Rights Movement, Peace Movement and Environmental Movement I have seen widely discussed.  But a major part of Pete Seeger’s legacy and the foundation of his identity as a musician and cultural worker, is his crucial involvement in and commitment to folk music.  Somehow this aspect of his life, which was of a piece with his other convictions, seems to be poorly understood in the mass media and is somehow always mentioned only in passing.  Pete Seeger CARED about folk music – music with a long history, made and perpetuated by regular rural people, played in a rough style and dealing with topics and gritty realities that pop music would never touch.

["To Hear Your Banjo Play" - 1947 - narrated by Alan Lomax and featuring a young Pete Seeger and the only footage of Woody Guthrie in his prime.]

Pete Seeger personally did the fundamental work that popularized the repertoire and created the social context for folk music to persist in our modern mass culture society. For instance, in 1939 Pete operated the recording machine for Alan Lomax as he recorded the great banjo player Wade Ward, absolute bedrock recordings for anyone interested in playing real traditional old time banjo music.  But its much more than that…

First off, Pete Seeger invented the concept of “pop-folk,” with his band the Weavers, teaming up on their early records with producer Gordon Jenkins (who also worked with Frank Sinatra, etc… for Decca Records) to create a hybrid music of songs from the folk repertoire in a pop style that was usable by the mass culture industry of the time and became extremely popular. And secondly he pioneered the idea of mass group singing at concert events.  Pete literally sang together with millions of people over the course of his career.

Pete did the hard touring, taking him away from his wife Toshi and family, starting in the 1940′s and continuing for decades, that created from scratch the audience for Folk Music in modern post WWII America. Much of his work over the many years has been with children, at schools and summer camps, a field which few popular entertainers particularly in the early days, would touch.  These children grew up and became the folk music audience and folk musicians of the 1950′s, 60′s and on…

Urbanized or suburbanized people were and are used to experiencing music passively as commercial consumers of CDs, radio, etc.  Pete’s mass group singing at his concerts gave people who had lost a personal connection to making and experiencing music, a way to connect, feel good about their musical selves and be a part of a community.  He gave back to so many people, at least on a basic level, the chance to sing and make music together, a vital part of being human, even as “progress” has worked to alienate and isolate us.  Most were content to sing with Pete at the concerts but many many people also went home and picked up instruments and pursued making music themselves more proactively at different levels.


[Pete sings out against the Vietnam War on the Johnny Cash show with his song "Bring 'Em Home."]

What a talent.  That was what allowed him to breakthrough and operate in the visionary way that he did.  Pete Seeger had so much talent it was stunning.  He was completely unlike any other figure or “entertainer” in the field of American popular music.  He was and is the only person in the popular consciousness who cared about folk music, really knew what he was talking about in a very serious way and took that understanding to the stage in his performances.  He played at colleges, summer camps, big venues, benefit concerts, radio and television, everywhere.  Pete Seeger was also a founder of the Newport Folk Festival that presented so many great traditional artists and is also inextricably linked to the first and greatest independent record company devoted to American Folk Music, Moe Asch’s Folkways Records.  Without Pete, who knows if Folkways could have survived all these years?  He recorded dozens and dozens of albums for them, which remain among their biggest sellers, and have given them so much needed revenue over the years when most of their amazing recordings did not.

Pete was an intellectual and a theorist, as was his father, and was very widely read.  He also made films, field recordings and started the magazines People’s Songs and then its successor Sing Out! where he wrote columns, published songs and engaged in dialogue and journalism for years.  He produced and hosted the amazing television program “Rainbow Quest” and has also written several books, song books and banjo and guitar instructional manuals.

Pete Seeger is much more than a protest singer, although he was certainly that and in great form.  He was incredibly proactive and prolific.  When did he sleep?  In the few times that I got to meet and spend some time with him I found him totally unassuming, uninterested in stardom in anyway, without ego and yet extremely charming and compelling.  He was indeed very tall and slim, he had small eyes, a ready crooked smile, he drank buttermilk and even at an advanced age seemed youthful in a way.  You realized immediately upon talking with him that he was extremely smart, focused but also a serious dreamer, whose ideas many felt were impractical!  But a lot of them caught on in big ways… I think its possible to say that without Pete those of us working in the field of folk music today might not be here at all.  If folk music means something to you, then Pete Seeger lives on.

Here is a very good article that is worth reading from the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/a-folk-revivalist-who-used-his-voice-to-bring-out-a-nations.html?_r=0

Here is a photo of Pete Seeger with Geoff and Lynette Wiley, owners of the Jalopy Theatre, New York’s best folk music venue, and myself at a Woody Guthrie tribute event at Brooklyn College in 2012.


Here is an excellent interview with Pete Seeger on the news program Democracy Now!

Here’s  a very nice piece about Pete Seeger written by Jeff Place, the archivist at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings: http://www.folkways.si.edu/PeteSeeger


Jon Pareles wrote two very nice pieces for the New York Times:
Using His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s
Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94

And here is a good piece on the origins of the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which was another one of Pete Seeger’s great gifts to us all: https://portside.org/2014-01-29/we-shall-overcome-honoring-pete-seeger

Doc Watson Family Milestones

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Doc Watson’s daughter Nancy, Roy Andrade and others are producing an incredible 4 CD box set of recordings of Doc Watson and his family including Gaither Carlton.  They need your support right now to produce it, with less than 2 days to go on their fund drive: Click Here for the Kickstarter link.

This is a very important collection, which promises to be incredibly powerful, affecting and informative.

Here is a message about it from Jody Stecher followed by a short film about the production of the material and box set itself.  Amazing!

“Milestones” is the most moving and stirring collection of recorded music I have heard in a decade. I co-wrote the liner notes with Roy. “Milestones” is a book of Watson Family photo collages, assembled with scissors and glue over a 10 year period by Doc Watson’s daughter Nancy. And it’s four CDs of music.  The recordings are extraordinary musically but also historically as they comprise a major document of a local musical tradition that was made from within the tradition itself. Some of the music was recorded by Nancy as a girl. Her familiarity to the musicians she recorded gave her access to a side of the singers and players that a folklorist or “collector” from “outside” would be unlikely to ever see or hear.  This includes gentle loving renditions of beautiful traditional songs and tunes by her grandfather Gaither Carlton, sacred songs recorded at home prayer meetings and at Mount Paran Church, (more…)

Brooklyn Folk Festival Fund Drive!

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Hey Everybody -

We’re doing a fund drive to help produce this year’s Brooklyn Folk Festival.  Please check out the awesome silent movie (above) produced by the Jalopy Theatre for this special event!  We really need your support to help make this years festival happen.  Donations can be made through our page on Kickstarter: CLICK HERE.

Your donation gets you a variety of special items, including tickets to the festival and other special premiums!  See below for details…

Thank you.  Your host,

- Eli

Here’s all the information:

Four years ago, Eli Smith of Down Home Radio Show and Jalopy Theatre and School of Music teamed up to present the Brooklyn Folk Festival. A three-day event showcasing folk music of all styles, the festival highlights local Brooklyn musicians as well as bringing in folk music from around the world.

By the second year, there were lines down the block with sold out performances every night and it was time to expand. The festival was moved from Jalopy Theatre to the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition in Red Hook for the third year.

An unexpected loss of venue this year sent us searching for a new home. The 4th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival will be held at 345 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Your donation will help us transform this raw space into a venue worthy of the Jalopy name!

The festival is set to be better than ever with over 30+ bands, vocal and instrument workshops, film screenings, a square dance, a special program celebrating Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday year – as well as the return of the much loved “Banjo Toss” of 2011.

Jalopy and Down Home Radio Show are committed to respectfully compensating our artists while keeping the festival tickets at an accessible price range for the public. We are also inviting 100 local students to attend the festival free of charge as an educational outreach to the community. Thus, we are raising funds to help cover artist fees, advertising, space transformation, and staff.

We believe in the power of folk music to forge community. We’ve seen it happen here at Jalopy and want to expand our reach to as many people as want to listen. Your donation will greatly help us get the word out about the festival and keep folk music alive and thriving in Brooklyn for many years to come.

Thank you so much.

See you at the Folk Fest!

- The Organizers

Pledge $10 or more

Brooklyn Folk Festival postcard, pre-stamped to send to a friend!

Pledge $25 or more

1-Day ticket to the festival + poster OR a Jalopy Theatre T-shirt!

Pledge $45 or more

2-Day ticket to the festival + poster OR a Jalopy Theatre Sweatshirt!

Pledge $60 or more

3-Day ticket to the festival + poster!

Pledge $100 or more

1 VIP Weekend Pass to the festival + poster (Includes access to private pre-festival cocktail party Friday evening, May 18th, at the venue!)

Pledge $150 or more

2 VIP Weekend Passes to the festival + posters (includes access for two to pre-festival cocktail party!)

Pledge $250 or more

1 VIP Weekend Pass to the festival PLUS entrance to one show a month at Jalopy for a year!

Pledge $500 or more

2 VIP Weekend Passes (The $150 reward) PLUS free entrance for both of you to one show a month at Jalopy for a year!

Pledge $2,000 or more

2 VIP Weekend Passes to the festival + a 4-hour open bar event rental of Jalopy Theatre! (to be redeemed within the year)

Some Crazy Magic: Meeting Harry Smith As Told By John Cohen

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Hello everybody, check out this amazing film done by Drew Christie.  Its an animated interpretation of John Cohen’s first meeting with Harry Smith, the experimental filmmaker and animator who compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music on the Folkways label, probably the most influential collection of American Folk Music. Done for Greg Vandy’s American Standard Time blog.

Great job!  John Cohen says this is just how he remembers it…

Will Rogers on the Economy 1931

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Here’s a wonderful clip of a speech made by the great American comedian, cowboy and commentator Will Rogers about the state of the nation in the 1931, The Great Depression.  He could make the same speech today.

New Short Film on John Cohen

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Here’ s a wonderful film made by KEXP DJ Greg Vandy and filmmaker Drew Christie in Seattle Washington, interviewing John Cohen, legendary photographer, film maker and musician.  I was out on tour on the West Coast with John and my old time string band The Dust Busters in February, we met up with Greg in Seattle, our fiddler Craig Judelman was able to make arrangements with Greg for filming and it all worked out!  This film was originally posted on Greg’s website American Standard Time, an awesome site, well worth checking out.  Also check out Greg’s radio show The Road House on KEXP radio in Seattle, WA.  Thanks to Greg and Drew for making this very well done and informative film.

Here’s the blurb for the film from the American Standard Time site:

“While mainly known as a founding member of the seminal folk revival group The New Lost City Ramblers, John Cohen is also a musicologist, photographer and filmmaker who is responsible for the documentation and recording of many great appalachian musicians such as Roscoe Holcomb, Dillard Chandler, EC Ball, Frank Proffitt, and Wade Ward among many others. John was photographing Bob Dylan and the Beats in New York in the late 50′s and early 60′s as well as producing and directing the legendary film The High Lonesome Sound. KEXP DJ Greg Vandy and filmmaker Drew Christie interviewed John about many of these topics and this short documentary is the result. The interview spanned 2 hours so much was left out of this cut, however, there will be an animated installment of the interview pertaining to John meeting the infamous Harry Smith- so keep your eyes peeled.”

Eli Smith Interviewed on Brooklyn Independent Television

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

I was lucky enough recently to be interviewed by Jon Gerberg for the program “Caught in the Act” on Brooklyn Independent Television, and here is the result!  Thanks Jon!

I talk about what I do here in Brooklyn with my old time string band The Dust Busters, with Down Home Radio and with the upcoming Brooklyn Folk Festival, scheduled to take place June 10th – 12th of this year.  Its right around the corner!

Here’s a bit more about the “Caught in the Act” program.

“Brooklyn’s art scene is one of the most vibrant and diverse in the world. Each month, Caught in the Act: Art in Brooklyn profiles a cross-section of key Brooklyn professionals in fine art, dance, music, theatre—and new forms of expression combining all of the above. From established institutions of international stature, to the emerging artists and companies that have long made our borough’s arts scene so exciting, Caught in the Act catches them in the act of creating, displaying, interpreting—and enriching—the cultural life of Brooklyn.”