When I was nine or ten I spent my first summer at sleep-away camp. Camp Quannacut was a lazy, farm-like space in Pine Bush, New York. It had a big farmhouse with a huge back porch overlooking a valley. It was there, one magic afternoon, that we gathered to hear a couple of singers who had come to teach us a new song. Long before Peter, Paul and Mary changed the tune, Pete Seeger taught us If I Had a Hammer. When I returned to camp a few years later, as a counselor in training, we sat on that same porch, singing You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley as we waited for our final reviews.
I feel like Pete Seeger has always been part of my life. In college, we sang What Did You Learn in School as we became involved in the Civil Rights movement and sent classmates to aid in voter registration. We Shall Overcome and Where Have All the Flowers Gone were part of our political lives.
For many years, I’ve met the same group of friends at the Clearwater Festival along the Hudson. It will feel different without Pete popping up in unexpected pages. The Hudson River is better because of Pete Seeger. Many of us may be better as well. He’ll be missed, but he’ll never be gone.
The photos, from Clearwater, 2010, were taken by Patricia Neil.