Arts and Entertainment

A sing-a-long for Pete Seeger’s 90th in Freeland

Richard Hughes, Lynn Cantwell, and Neal Sims perform at Rockhoppers in Clinton. The three musicians will join a larger group in a celebratory event honoring the songs of 90-year-old Pete Seeger at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Freeland on Friday night.  - Doris Newkirk photo
Richard Hughes, Lynn Cantwell, and Neal Sims perform at Rockhoppers in Clinton. The three musicians will join a larger group in a celebratory event honoring the songs of 90-year-old Pete Seeger at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Freeland on Friday night.
— image credit: Doris Newkirk photo

Not every birthday is special, but this one will have lots of Americans singing their hearts out.

Singer-songwriter Pete Seeger will celebrate his 90th birthday on May 3 and Whidbey Islanders can celebrate along with him.

The great American songbook would be much thinner if not for the contributions of Seeger.

His songs are seminal works in the folk-music canon of the last century, and have had, along with those of Woody Guthrie, one of the greatest influences on the history of folk songs.

Songs such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Little Boxes,” are recognizable to most Americans, even if those Americans weren’t hippies protesting the Vietnam war in the 1960s and ’70s.

The Rev. Kit Ketcham of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Freeland wanted to honor the great songs of Seeger, who for most of his life was a Unitarian and an avid peace activist who stood by his principles, even through years of being harassed for his beliefs in communism.

Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Bash concert is at 7 p.m. Friday, May 1 at the church. The concert will benefit Hearts & Hammers, an organization dedicated to providing housing improvement for those in need on the island, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island.

Ketcham, a singer, will be just one of many performers who will pay homage to Seeger and his songs.

“My devotion stems very much from what Pete stands for,” she said.

“The first music I ever became enamored of was folk music. The songs were so accessible and had such depth. It was the 1970s,

I was just out of college and we were all concerned about the Vietnam war.

I got swept up in all of it,” Ketcham said.

Ketcham noted that when she first became a Unitarian, she saw a similarity between Seeger’s music and the meaning of her relationship to the church.

Honoring Seeger — while raising funds for Hearts & Hammers and the church the day before the nonprofit’s workday — seemed like a great idea, Ketcham said.

“I’d always wanted to create a tribute to Seeger and his music and decided his 90th birthday was my chance.

I said, ‘Let’s put on a show!’

“It’s been wonderful planning it,” she added, noting that the concert has been in the planning since last October.

Several local musicians will be performing a program of Seeger’s songs. The performers include the band Bayview Sound, consisting of Lynn Cantwell (guitar and banjo), Debbie Hellund (fiddle), Richard Hughes (dobro and mandolin), Ketcham (vocals) and Neal Sims (guitar). Also performing will be Greg Deer, Barbara Dunn, Linda Good, Karl Olsen, David Vergin and Evan Welch, Vern Olsen, Joanne Rouse and Steve Showell. Jim Freeman will emcee the event.

Some songs guests can look forward to hearing are “John Henry,” “Union Maid,” “Deportee,” “Guantanamera,” “Old Devil Time,” “Turn Turn Turn,” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” plus the singalong favorites, “Hammer Song,” “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” and “We Shall Overcome.”

“Although many of the performers and organizers are alumni of the ’60s folk scene, it is a tribute to the influence of Pete Seeger that performers whose background is principally rock, jazz or pop are also fans of Pete and have come together to honor his 90th birthday,” Hughes said.

On Sunday, May 3, a special Pete Seeger retrospective will take place at the church in the morning.

“Pete is a longtime Unitarian and a supporter of many of the same social activism causes that are dear to our hearts,” Ketcham said.

The church is at 20103 Highway 525 in Freeland.

Tickets are $12 for adults, and children younger than 5 are free.

Tickets are available at Murphy’s Floor Covering at Ken’s Korner, One Angel Chocolate in Langley, Open Door Gallery + Coffee in Bayveiw, 1504 Coffee in Freeland and at the door.

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