RIFFS AND VARIATIONS
(Alternate Takes, Live Versions, and Early Mixes)
Pete Seeger - “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep (Live At 1964 Newport Folk Festival)”
Mentioning the late, great Pete Seeger in a post from last week inspired me to revisit some of my favorite tracks of his. So, I thought I’d share with you my all-time, #1, absolute, total, supreme, A-1, premier, top, super-duper, mega, ∞ favorite recording of his. It’s a live recording of him playing a gospel song called “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep" at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.1
On one hand, I love it as a document of Seeger as a live performer. He has such an effortless ease and earnest charisma on stage. You don’t even have to have been there (or at any concert of his): you can hear it right on the record. He uses gentle prodding and a gentle kind of kidding to draw in the audience and put them at ease about joining in the singing. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a crowd so enthusiastic and committed to singing along at any show I’ve ever attended.2 And, wow, that high note he sings over the crowd singing the chorus on their own. Goodness. That’s just fantastic.
I also love this recording because it perfectly captures how transcendent simple, direct music can be. Though we music fans often tend to celebrate experimental abnormality, or dazzlingly intricate technical proficiency, there’s an undeniable power in simplicity. No matter if it’s a huge four-to-the-floor drop at a disco, or a clap-a-long church hymn, or Marcus Mumford’s unyielding kickdrum, stark, straightforward rhythms and choruses can be utterly entrancing. Just listen to people clapping and singing along with Pete on this track. Is there any question that they’re having a transcendent musical experience?
I suppose what I’m saying is that we should all remember to enjoy the simple pleasures of life now and again. And that we should all remember to enjoy Pete Seeger now and again, too.
1. It was the year before Dylan went electric.
2. The closest moments of audience participation I’ve personally witnessed were Jeff Mangum playing “Holland, 1945”, Blitzen Trapper playing “Furr”, and the Pride of the Southland Marching Band playing “Rocky Top” after the Vols scored a touchdown.