By Phil Ciganer
In the early ‘70s, when I came to the Hudson Valley to open the Towne Crier Café, I heard Pete Seeger lived nearby, in Beacon, and I hoped to meet the great man. Sure enough, when one of our first scheduled performers was detained by car trouble, Pete showed up and volunteered to “fill in.” That, I soon came to learn, was “typical Pete.”
It was the beginning of a relationship that spanned four decades. As we got to know each other, I became involved with the Clearwater organization and Pete’s passion to reclaim the Hudson River. “Phil,” he said, “if you want to change the world, you start at home.” My role for the next four years was to help turn their annual folk picnic into what has become the Clearwater Festival—Great Hudson River Revival.
One year, I was instrumental in booking Pete at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. As we landed in New Orleans, I worried that I had blundered by bringing a folk icon with his banjo to a loud party of a festival. But sure enough, Pete charmed them immediately with his spirit and won them over with his songs. That’s when I realized how much he had come to mean to us all.
Pete graced our stage many, many times over the years, sometimes on behalf of a specific cause—but always in the name of music and its power to build community and change the world.
It’s no exaggeration to say Pete was a major reason we moved to Beacon, and he made us feel right at home with his neighborly visits. In fact, Pete “played” the Towne Crier even before we opened, setting up an impromptu stage outside with some musical friends during our annual Spirit of Beacon Day.
Although he was ailing, Pete took to the Towne Crier stage in November for “The Weavers at 65,” a fundraiser for the Beacon Sloop Club. He seemed genuinely joyful that night, in his hometown, among friends, never tiring in his mission.
We knew then, as Pete knew, his time would not be long, that this day would come. Like all of you, I mourn his passing, deeply. But I celebrate his long, vibrant, meaningful and fruitful life.
Pete was that rare person who lived up to his ideals. Ever humble (“I don’t like ‘big’,” he once told me), unyielding in his convictions, he had a song to sing, and he sang it. It was about the hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, and the love between his brothers and his sisters all over this land.
Peace on Earth.
Ciganer is the owner of the Town Crier Cafe in Beacon.