Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hootenanny !

I don’t go to concerts any more – that excellent book Shouting Won’t Help used the right word – orchestras now sound like “cacophony”.  But guitar is another story, and the names Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger stood out in boldface from the list of What’s Doing Today.  Who, I wondered, would attend?  who would perform? who remembers the Depression, the Labor Movement , the Vietnam War?
Well – the church sanctuary was filled.  Those pews were just right for an audience of more than 500, average age probably near 70.  I’m used to older groups these days, but not to at least half of them being men.  Lots of grey and nicely trimmed facial hair in evidence, both audience and performers.  If you want a clue to the generation represented – every fourth musician was named Dave.  And why had I bothered to change out of dungarees (okay, blue jeans) just because I was going to a concert?  I'd say maybe 300 people were wearing them.  Some on stage.

We had it all – Union Maid, Deportees, Hobo's Lullaby – and the old men in the audience knew all the words and sang along.  We had a mandolin, an autoharp, banjo, harmonica, lots of mikes, cords, wires and speakers, and a stunning collection of guitars.  When they started Where Have All the Flowers Gone I thought – well, that was a popular hit, they could have skipped it.  And five seconds later,  surprised myself by bursting into tears -- nothing like music to bring back old emotions.

And we ended – of course – in old-fashioned hootenanny style, with all the performers on the platform (one hesitates to call it the stage in a church) and the number that’s always sure-fire for group singing – This Land is Your Land.  Then it was We Shall Overcome, which evidently involves grasping the hands of those next to you and swaying back and forth ( I guess I’m behind the times.)  That would, I thought, have been more effective if there’d been more than one black person in the place.  But it meant everybody's heart was in the right place, so what the hey.

The best thing that happened all day came after that, in the sunshine of the parking lot.  One of the women singers came up and asked wasn’t I the person who’d heard them sing Pete Seeger’s Get Up and Go at the Farm Market and asked for the words?  That must have been six or seven years ago – and what followed was even better:  She said she remembered my sister.  She’d been in the chorus of the early Gilbert & Sullivans in the troupe Esther founded – a thriving institution that has already survived my sister by more than 20 years.  I smiled all the way home.


  1. Sounds like a great, wonderful time. Thanks for the report. And I believe if you look into it, you will find that Pete says he got the lyrics for "Get Up And Go" from an article in the feature section of the old Milwaukee Journal, although I was never able to confirm that from either the archives or talking to reporters who were there at the relevant time.

  2. Your vivid description indicates a great concert and a splendid time--especially the encounter with the person who knew your sister. (This prompted me to Google Esther's name, and I found the wonderful tribute to her on the Off-Monroe Players website.)

  3. Hey hey hey! Great that you got up and went!
    And that it worked out so well!