I think Pete had a good time that day and naturally you wanted to join in that joy. Of course, Pete led his audience in song, singing about Bread and Roses. Then, he asked another staffer to go to the main tent and get a box of bags, since something had caught his attention. The bags were handed out. Then Pete told the folks gazing up at him from their blankets that it was a beautiful cause that brought them all out, a beautiful day and a beautiful park. Please pick up the trash, he said, and help to keep it beautiful.
I remember two more of his signature songs sung that day about the working poor (John Henry), the nonworking poor (Rock Candy Mountain). I’m sure the rest of the concert was filled with his trademark populist Americana, gospel, simple songs commonly sung in the 19th and 20th centuries, tales of trains and cowboys; and of course his other signature songs of the cause, such as “We Shall Overcome.”
Back in the day, the Bread and Roses festival had a lot of great performers: Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Livingston Taylor, Odetta, Tom Rush, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Pete Seeger was unique: He sang, he whistled, he yodeled and he showed why he was near the center of grassroots movement for peace, justice and equality.
Pete, you taught us this land is our land and that we shall overcome. So long, Pete, it’s been good to know you. Very, very good.
Dan Cahill is a third-generation Lawrencean. He is a consultant and currently lives in Providence.