Seeger sing-along a fan pleaser

Seeger sing-along a fan pleaser

BRAD WHEELER
Globe and Mail Update

July 7, 2008 at 10:41 AM EDT

Pete Seeger At Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Sunday

A rumoured appearance of Gordon Lightfoot failed to materialize, but folk music fans at a Toronto dinner club were hardly disappointed. A concert, one of two at Hugh’s Room that sold out within days of their announcement, featured the scheduled show of Pete Seeger, the 89-year-old banjo-toting troubadour who performed as part of a trio that included acoustic blues artist Guy Davis and Seeger’s grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger.

Although the three alternated lead vocals and presented two sets of acoustic blues, folk and gospel as a trio, the reverential audience’s attention was clearly drawn to the still-spry balladeer, who earned a standing ovation before he’d even sung a note. Dressed as a contemporary of Woody Guthrie and protest-music pioneer would be – plaid shirt and blue jeans, with a red hankie poking out from a back pocket – Seeger took the second verse of the opening Midnight Special, an amiable ditty sung from the point of view of the imprisoned. Davis updated a lyric to mention Guantanamo Bay.

Seeger played his banjo but seemed more comfortable in the roll of a sing-along leader. “This is an old song, and I’m going to sing it slower than you’ve ever heard it,” he said, introducing a lung-stretching version of Amazing Grace. “The advantage of going slow is that if you hit the wrong note, you have time to slide over.”

The first set ended with the appearance of Canadian folk legend Sylvia Tyson, who added her voice to If I Had a Hammer, controversial in 1949, but now pleasantly communal.

A second set was highlighted by Seeger’s Turn! Turn! Turn!, an enduring plea for world peace that was a hit for the Bryds in 1965.

The concert was one of five in benefit of the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada’s Seeds of Survival program, dedicated to marginal farming communities in developing nations. After a second show Monday night in Toronto, Seeger moves to the Grand Theatre in Kingston Tuesday before heading to Ottawa’s National Library Theatre on Wednesday.

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