“Well I’m gonna get through this world
the best I can if I can.
And I’m gonna get through this world
And I think I can.”
The Clearwater Revival Concert was held this past weekend in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, and as usual, it did not disappoint. Inspired by Pete Seeger’s desire to clean up the once-declared “dead” Hudson River in the 1960’s, the festival has grown into the country’s largest environmental festival, which showcases incredible musicians, storytellers, activists and artists. All proceeds go directly to support Clearwater’s environmental research, education and advocacy efforts to preserve and protect the Hudson River and its tributaries and well as communities in the river valley .
Pete Seeger is always a presence at the festival. Last year we stood about 5 feet from him as people gathered for a blessing of the river. That year he sang with Arlo Guthrie, Taj Mahal and other musicians in the final act of the evening. This year we saw him talking to one of the men working the grounds. He blends in and never calls attention to himself.
My husband and I went on Saturday, although the festival runs both weekend days. Among the performers were The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Joan Osborne, The Holmes Brothers, banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie Family. It was the Woody Guthrie Centennial so there was a special feel to the festival, at least for me. When I was a teenager living in Los Angeles with my Dad, I went through a Woody Guthrie “phase,” in which I read his biography (procured from the local library), learned his songs on guitar and dreamt of being a roaming activist / musician / hobo. I was 15 at the time.
Woody Guthrie (photo by Lester Balog, circa 1941)
Hands-on art booth
The final performers on Saturday were Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie Family, including children. Arlo sang “Pretty Boy Floyd,” which, like so many of Woody’s songs, is timeless:
If you'll gather 'round me, children,
A story I will tell
'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw,
Oklahoma knew him well.
It was in the town of Shawnee,
A Saturday afternoon,
His wife beside him in his wagon
As into town they rode.
There a deputy sheriff approached him
In a manner rather rude,
Vulgar words of anger,
An' his wife she overheard.
Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain,
And the deputy grabbed his gun;
In the fight that followed
He laid that deputy down.
Then he took to the trees and timber
To live a life of shame;
Every crime in Oklahoma
Was added to his name.
But a many a starving farmer
The same old story told
How the outlaw paid their mortgage
And saved their little homes.
Others tell you 'bout a stranger
That come to beg a meal,
Underneath his napkin
Left a thousand dollar bill.
It was in Oklahoma City,
It was on a Christmas Day,
There was a whole car load of groceries
Come with a note to say:
Well, you say that I'm an outlaw,
You say that I'm a thief.
Here's a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.
All I could think of as I was listening to him was the big banks bailed out on Wall Street and how they have become our new robber barons.
For me, the most moving and haunting song was performed by one of the Guthrie women (sorry, I didn’t get her name), entitled “Gonna Get Through This World.” I will include a version of the song as performed by the Klezmatics, who appeared at the festival on Sunday. The lyrics speak to everyman/woman: a message of hope and strength in difficult times. Keep your tissues handy.
God bless Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger (turned 91 this year)!
For more information on the festival, go to this link: http://www.clearwater.org/festival/aboutfestival.html