On his 90th, Pete is toasted in big towns and small

SEQUIM, WA. — “For Pete Sake, Sing!” celebrations of Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday were held across the U.S. and around the world Sunday May 3, with a throng of 20,000 at the jam-packed birthday party at Madison Square Garden. That concert featured Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, a dozen other superstars and Pete Seeger himself.

This little town had its own “For Pete Sake” concert, and it would have been sold out if it had not been free. A standing room crowd packed the Garden Clubhouse in Pioneer Park on Sequim’s east side for a hootenanny featuring several local folksingers. They were backed up with banjos, guitars, two fiddles, a bass fiddle, a Bodhran the Celtic drum and an autoharp. Carlyn Syvanen, a leader of the Green Party of Clallam County, organized the event.

As is the custom in a Seeger concert, the crowd joined in, lifting the roof with song. Steve Koehler led the crowd in “Guantanamera” and “Oh Had I A Golden Thread.” Howly Slim played the guitar and sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and his own song “Along This Highway.”

Rick Marschall sang Seeger’s ode to the infirmities of age, “Get Up and Go” with the lines, “How do I know my youth is all spent? My get up and go has got up and went.”

The Raging Grannies stole the show singing a song with the refrain, “Where did all the money go? For missiles, weapons, and war.”

It was a diverse crowd including activists who helped carry Washington State for Barack Obama last Nov. 4. Also present were members of the Stop-the-Checkpoints Committee fresh from a rain-drenched May Day-Cinco de Mayo march through nearby Forks in support of immigrant rights.

The Master of Ceremonies was PWW writer, Tim Wheeler, who urged the crowd to sign the petition calling for Pete Seeger to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. “No one is more deserving of the prize than Pete Seeger,” Wheeler said, “Pete has devoted his entire life to the struggle for world peace.”

Wheeler told the crowd his younger sister, Susan, developed a teenage crush on Pete Seeger back in the mid-1950s when she was 15 years old living on a dairy farm just outside Sequim. She wrote a fan letter to Seeger. She was stunned when he wrote back telling her he would come if she organized a concert.

“So we organized a concert for Pete at the Port Angeles High School auditorium.” There was a left in Clallam County in those days, loggers, mill workers, farmers,’ Wheeler said. “There was a Communist Party and it played a major role in organizing that concert.”

Seeger was so enchanted by the beauty of the North Olympic Peninsula and the solid, working-class people that he returned the following two years performing to ever-larger crowds.

Pete Seeger’s principled stand for union rights, equality, the environment and world peace, planted the seeds for today’s progressive upsurge, Wheeler said. “Look around you folks. Every seat in this hall is taken, a standing room crowd! Happy birthday Pete!” The crowd sang a rousing, “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”