Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Photographing Pete Seeger

I photographed Pete Seeger at Merlefest in late April of 2006. For photographers like me that have tired of big stages and media restrictions, the circumstances were remarkably back to basics. Seeger played a show on the children's stage just after noon on Sunday, the last day of the festival. No rules, just get as close as you can, and shoot away. I found a space near the side of the stage that was slightly behind a tree, but meant that no one was behind me. Seeger set up in front of the stage, preferring to be closer to the kids he wanted to entertain. 

Yes, there were a number of kids at the show, but the kids were outnumbered by their parents, and other adults. However, when Pete began to play, we were all like kids. Excited to see our hero performing up close. Seeger, who had just turned 87, was remarkably animated. He gestured with his hands, and at one point walked and played through the crowd. He mixed some of his better-known songs with African folklore tales. In the end, it all seemed to go by so quickly, and Seeger was off to another event. 

For me, the shoot yielded two published photos. Mojo Magazine published one of my photos of Pete's animated performance. Seeger had played Merlefest the same week that Bruce Springsteen had released his Seeger Sessions CD, and Mojo was eager to show what Seeger had done that week. During Seeger's show at Merlefest, I snuck a few photos of Sara Lee Guthrie (granddaughter of singer and onetime Seeger collaborator Woody Guthrie) sitting in the crowd with her own daughter. Sara would later use this photo in a CD that she released on the legendary Folkways recording label. When I found out later, I was thrilled. My photo in a Smithsonian Folkways CD, released by a Guthrie, that also featured an appearance by Pete Seeger himself. The man that started so many things, for all of us.

Thanks, Pete. For everything.
-Daniel Coston
January 28, 2014
photo copyright 2006 Daniel Coston

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