Paying forward Pete Seeger’s legacy

Jeff Haynes will perform his tribute “Pete Seeger: The Storm King,” May 13 at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.
Jeff Haynes will perform his tribute “Pete Seeger: The Storm King,” May 13 at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Submitted

The late Pete Seeger was one of the fathers of the folk music revival that happened around 1960. With Woody Guthrie, Seeger founded The Almanac Singers, and he later founded The Weavers. He was an advocate for environmental causes and civil rights, and his many songs — “If I Had a Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” — became anthems of the civil rights movement and of their time.

Seeger also collected many stories during his travels. Those stories are at the center of percussionist and producer Jeff Haynes’ multi-media touring show “Pete Seeger: The Storm King,” which comes to the Arts Center in Carrboro Saturday, May 13. “Storm King” has excerpts from the many interviews with Seeger that Haynes recorded during their friendship and years together as musical collaborators. It also has photographs and film footage of Seeger that Haynes took. Haynes plays percussion and reads some of his poetry in his tribute to Seeger. Joining him on this tour are Sara Milonovich on vocals and fiddle, Richie Stearns on banjo, Sean Harkness on bass, and Timothy Hill on vocals.

Haynes met Seeger after he and his family moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Beacon, New York. Haynes’ wife “ran into Pete. They had a long conversation, and she told him about me,” Haynes said in a phone interview. “That night he called me and we were on the phone for about an hour.”

They reconnected about a year later when Haynes, who was taking a break from touring, was teaching music workshops in schools. At one school, “the music teacher came from upstairs and said, You have to come downstairs and meet Pete Seeger,” Haynes said. “Pete continued to come to my house once or twice a week just to talk to me.”

They made a CD of children’s songs, and Haynes began recording Seeger telling his stories, about his friendship with Guthrie, and his many travels. “I compiled so much material that I asked him if I could do something with it,” Haynes said. Seeger gave Haynes his blessing to put music to his stories. He later met Beth Terrill, his manager, who helped him shop the idea as an audiobook. Hachette Book Group has released two volumes of “Storm King,” the first of which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

In 1953, Seeger was blacklisted because of his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although he could not perform on television or radio, he continued to tour college campuses and traveled to many countries, sharing and collecting songs along the way. “He traveled and influenced people all around the world ... and he was also influenced by the music he heard,” Terrill said. “Storm King” reflects that cross-cultural exchange, she said.

Haynes has toured with many artists: He mentions Cassandra Wilson, Herbie Hancock, Cindy Lauper and Wayne Shorter. “I’ve been blessed to play with a lot of different people,” he said. He describes “Storm King” as “a Broadway show slash concert. It’s a very educational piece. I’m trying to educate people about this legend. He’s not just a musician; he’s an activist, an environmentalist. He’s a teacher.”

In one of his spoken poems in “Storm King,” Haynes calls Seeger “an elder, channelling among the souls... reminding us that there will be a day when the mountaintop will be crowded with dancing feet, and outstretched arms.”

This is the third tour of “Storm King,” and people who are familiar with Seeger’s songs and work “will get a different version of him,” Haynes said. “There are a lot of people in this generation who do not know of Pete, but there are a lot of younger people [whose parents] have actually schooled them about Pete,” he said. Students at college performances “were really moved by Pete. It’s very emotional.You feel like you are hearing Pete and like he’s in the room with you. There’s something for everybody to see, listen and feel.”

More tours are in the works, Haynes said. “As long as there’s a want for it, a passion for it, I’m going to be there. He bestowed all this information on me not to hold on to it, but to pay it forward.”

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

Go & Do

WHAT: “Pete Seeger: The Storm King”

WHEN: Saturday, May 13, 8 p.m.

WHERE: The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro

ADMISSION: Tickets are $35. To purchase, call 919-929-2787 or visit www.artscenterlive.org.