Monday, May 04, 2009

Pete Seeger celebrates 90th birthday with Madison Square Garden tribute concert
by Jay Lustig/The Star-Ledger
Sunday May 03, 2009, 10:55 PM

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/GETTY(L-R) Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger and Tom Morello at a 90th birthday tribute concert to Seeger at Madison Square Garden, Sunday

NEW YORK - For one night only, folk music took over Madison Square Garden, as Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Dave Matthews, Arlo Guthrie and many others saluted Pete Seeger, upon the legendary folksinger's 90th birthday.

Seeger himself made occasional appearances throughout the 4 1/2-hour show -- a benefit for Clearwater, the environmental organization he founded -- and led the crowd in frequent singalongs. "There's no such thing as a wrong note, as long as you're singing it," he said.

Springsteen, joined by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine -- they both played acoustic guitars -- sang an urgent version of his own "The Ghost of Tom Joad," after comparing Seeger to the heroic Joad.

Elsewhere, Matthews sang "Rye Whiskey" in a haunting falsetto, and Baez, her voiced deepened with age but still pure of tone, sang the anti-war song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" with stoic sadness. Kris Kristofferson and Ani DiFranco provided some comic relief by dueting on "There's a Hole In the Bucket." Tom Chapin was joined by muppet Oscar the Grouch for the equally funny "Garbage!"

Roger McGuinn sang "Turn! Turn! Turn!", which he brought to the pop charts in the '60s, as a member of the Byrds, and former Sweet Honey in the Rock member Bernice Johnson Reagon led the crowd in a celebratory "This Little Light of Mine." Richie Havens sang and played with as much raw power as ever on "Freedom."

The New York City Labor Chorus added its voices to many numbers, and members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band occasionally pushed the music in a Dixieland direction. Other members of the show's exceptionally large cast included Emmylou Harris, John Mellencamp, Taj Mahal, Tommy Sands, Toshi Reagon, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Bruce Cockburn, Steve Earle, Warren Haynes, Del McCoury, Billy Bragg, Michael Franti, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Dar Williams, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Paxton, John Hall, Tony Trischka, Guy Davis and members of the Native American Indian Cultural Alliance.

The show was taped for TV broadcast.