Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

I went to see a movie and a hootenanny broke out.

That was the idea that kept rolling through my head last Saturday night as I watched the documentary Pete Seeger: The Power of Song on the penultimate night of the Green Mountain Film Festival. Do you remember how I mentioned in my review of I'm Not There that I'm uncomfortable with people applauding at the end of movies? Well, imagine how I squirmed as people clapped throughout the film, sang along to the songs and even talked back to the screen. Yeh, it was a weird night in Montpeculiar.

The film was a straight forward documentary of Pete Seeger's life. A very traditional looking doc and I enjoyed it. However, what I hadn't counted on was the reaction the rest of the audience had to it.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Montpelier, it's a place where activists from the 50's and 60's go to die. The town is populated with Raging Grannies and dudes with long gray ponytails who spent their youth in folk clubs and now dutifully protest the Iraq War every Friday since the war began. I should have connected all of it before the film and expected such a crowd but it didn't click for me until I heard the first round of clapping and singing.

It started quietly with just a few people singing along to the movie. Just enough such that it was noticeable but I wasn't sure if the film had suddenly popped into stereo or if folks were stretching their vocal chords in the theater. But then it grew and grew with each song until the crowd was louder than the soundtrack. Then people were so overjoyed with themselves that they began applauding at the end of the songs they sang. It was like being at Rocky Horror.

The kicker for me though was when people started yelling at the screen. "Yes! Pete!" "Oh my God!" "We need more songs like that these days!" At that point, I had slid so far down in my seat my shoulders were touching the armrests.

Oh, did I mention that they had the cinematographer for the film there to answer questions afterwards? However, people didn't really have any questions. They just wanted to talk about their personal experiences with Seeger.

"I went to college in the East Village and, in 1957, we booked Pete Seeger to play our school. However, due to the blacklist, he was banned at the last second from coming on campus. So, we all organized a caravan and drove Pete and everyone up to Columbia University and oh what a hootenanny we had up there. It was wonderful."

Or "a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine played at a folk festival and Pete asked them if he could sit in with them. He was just that kind of a guy! So wonderful!"

Perhaps I'm just a shallow cold person who doesn't relate to anything on such a devotional level but I found the crowd's overall rapture with Seeger and, quite frankly, themselves to be a bit creepy. Everyone was having a good time and nobody was being hurt (except for my neck from
slouching down in my seat) so it sounds petty to complain or mention all of this but it does speak to the wacky community in Montpelier and their love for the ways of their youth.

Oh, one last was a big night out for the politicians too. I saw Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Secretary of the Treasury Jeb Spaulding and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker. Vermont politicians love their protest songs.

Pete Seeger | Turn, Turn, Turn | Buy


Neil Cake said...

That's pretty funny.

I understand where you're coming from there.

Justin Snow said...

That's hilarious. I get really upset when people go crazy like that. I work at a movie theater that does Rocky Horror once a month and the people are always nice, but extremely annoying.

Anyway, I heard about this doc the other day and thought it sounded cool. I'm glad you got a chance to see it.

Jeff said...

that sounds horrifying. I would have vomited in the aisle.

yankunian said...

As someone who was raised in Central VT by Seeger-lovin', Savoy-hauntin' parents, this made me laugh, sigh and feel extremely homesick all at once. Sometimes I forget what a weird little world I come from. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

this is one of your best posts ever. you described the essence of your experience so well, i almost feel like i was there, slumping down in the seat next to you.

Chuck said...

If you didn't experience Pete Seeger in his heyday, you just don't get it. And clearly, you just don't get it.