Matthews, Springsteen, Mellencamp and More Wish Pete Seeger Happy Birthday

More than 40 performers gathered to honor Pete Seeger and wish him a happy 90th birthday in Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sunday. The massive concert, which stretched for over four hours, raised money to help the preservation of the Hudson River, and featured some of rock’s most concerned citizens, including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, and John Mellencamp. But the focus remained on Seeger, and his incredible body of songs. Said Springsteen of the still-spry Seeger: “He’s gonna look a lot like your granddad that wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He gonna look like your granddad if your granddad can kick your ass. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.” President Obama sent a letter lauding Seeger for voicing “the hopes and dreams of everyday people.”

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The evening plugged along without a pause, with performers backing each other up as often as possible. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman joined Bruce Springsteen for “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Tom Paxton for “John Henry,” and Taj Mahal for “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” Kris Kristofferson and Ani DiFranco joined voices on the children’s song “There’s A Hole In My Bucket.” Banjo greats Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka paid tribute to Seeger’s instrument of choice, ending their banjo duet with a rendition of “Happy Birthday To You.”

John Mellencamp performed “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song),” telling the crowd it “was the very first song I learned how to play on guitar.” Dave Matthews, a whiskey buff, tackled “Rye Whiskey.” Richie Havens revisited the spirit of Woodstock by performing “Freedom/Motherless Child.” Even Oscar the Grouch was there, dueting with Tom Chapin on the eco-friendly “Garbage.”

In an updated version of the 1930s labor anthem “Which Side Are You On?” Ani DiFranco sang, “Now there’s folks in Washington that care what’s on our minds.” Bruce Springsteen told of rehearsing for the recent presidential inauguration with Mr. Seeger, who had relayed the story of “We Shall Overcome,” crucial to both the labor and civil rights movements. Watching the transfer of presidential power, Mr. Springsteen said, “was like, ‘ Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man.’ It was so nice.”

The all-star cast joined Seeger at the end of the evening for an extended runthrough of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” “There is no such thing as a wrong note,” Seeger said earlier in the night during a mass sing-along of “Amazing Grace,” “just as long as you’re singing along.”

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