On May 3 Pete Seeger would have turned 99 years old.
The next day a group of local musicians are coming together for a concert honouring the late folk singer and social activist, who died in 2014.
Singer-songwriter Tony Turner organized the event. He grew up listening to Seeger’s music and said If I had a Hammer was the first song he heard on the radio. He recruited Bob Bossin, the Konsorados, Leah Hokanson and Jim and Joe Spinelli, fellow singers in the folk vein, to perform together for the tribute concert at Unitarian Hall.
Turner said he has long admired Seeger’s work as a songwriter and advocate for many causes, from civil rights to labour to the environment.
“He has a really long and revered history and he deserves to be remembered and respected,” Turner said.
When Turner, a former government scientist, became the centre of controversy in 2015 for his protest song, Harperman, he said he looked to Seeger, a target of McCarthyism, for inspiration and how to respond to political backlash.
Like Seeger, Turner’s songs are “observations and reflections on social conditions” and cover issues like poverty and homelessness. Last year he penned a tune commenting on tax evasion in response to the “Panama Papers” report and he is currently working on a song in support of proportional representation in time for the upcoming provincial referendum.
He said the other artists performing in the tribute concerts are all similarly familiar with Seeger’s work, adding that Boffin’s repertoire also contains a number of socially and environmentally aware songs.
Even though Seeger’s compositions date back to the middle of the last century, Turner said their messages of peaceful resistance still resonate.
“His songs remind us of the values we should have in society and ways of advocating for things that we believe in, so they’re still relevant,” he said.
Turner said he wants to see a new generation of songwriters take up Seeger’s mantle and sing about issues that matter now, like the availability of housing and “our loss in faith in democracy.”
“There’s all sorts of things that are worthy of singing about and issues important to a younger generation,” he said.
“So maybe by having concerts like this it will just spark the interest in some younger songwriters to get involved.”
WHAT’S ON … Pete Seeger tribute concert with Bob Bossin, The Konsorados, Tony Turner, Leah Hokanson and Jim and Joe Spinelli comes to the Unitarian Hall on Friday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, available at Fascinating Rhythm, Arbutus Music and at the door.