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A song is more than just a song: Larry Long gets the Seeger call

Minneapolis troubadour Larry Long has given his life to the art of the folk song, and now he’s being recognized by the godfather of the genre himself.

Long has been invited by Pete Seeger to perform at Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration May 3 at Madison Square Garden, a bash whose impressive 40-act line-up includes Bruce Springsteen, Michael Franti, Billy Bragg, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco, Emmylou Harris and the Preservation Jazz Hall Band. (Bob Dylan, who notoriously “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival to the chagrin of Seeger, is performing in Edinburgh, Scotland, the night of the MSG party.)

“I’ll be there, but there are hundreds of others who could be,” said Long, 57. “That’s what Pete Seeger has been all about. He’s a teacher who teaches by example, and his main message has been, ‘You can do this,’ from the littlest-known folk singer to Springsteen.”

Long met Seeger in the late ’70s, and the two have had something of an artist-mentor relationship ever since. (In a recent Star Tribune story Seeger opined, “I’d be proud to be known as ‘The Larry Long of New York.’ “)

Monday afternoon, Long fondly recalled one of their first meetings. The two songwriters went for a walk along the Hudson River near Seeger’s home in New York. As the folk legend told a story about standing up to the Ku Klux Klan in concert, he started picking up trash.

“He didn’t even say anything; he just started doing it,” said Long. “And pretty soon I was doing it, and pretty soon all these fishermen put their poles down and started picking up trash, too. It was very impressive, he didn’t say a word, and the river bank was clean by the time his story was finished. [Long’s ‘80s river clean-up project] ‘Mississippi River Revival’ was a direct result of that moment.”

The Seeger birthday celebration will be a benefit for Seeger’s Sloop Clearwater project, and, in true folk tradition fashion, all performers will be making their way to New York on their own dime. But from the sounds of it, Long might even considering paying to play.

“It’s such an honor, he’s such a great example of so many things,” said Long, of the man who wrote such American folk staples as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn Turn Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “Pete Seeger is like the Abe Lincoln of the American folk community. If you take all of the musicians who will be on stage at his 90th to honor him, and combine them into one, they would almost come close to the man Pete Seeger is.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Richard Parker on 04/01/2009 - 01:31 am.

    Just pointless name-dropping here, but I remember meeting Larry Long when he dropped in at the Tribune newsroom in the early 1970s. He was trying to get some publicity for an antiwar or environmental activity, as I recall, and met with limited success. I sure didn’t have any clout to get something in the paper.

  2. Submitted by Richard Parker on 04/01/2009 - 01:36 am.

    Further namedropping… I met Pete Seeger in a Northrop Auditorium dressing room after a concert in 1964. I posed as a Minnesota Daily reporter (I was a St. Thomas student), but couldn’t think of an intelligent question to ask him. He was as nice as could be. I suspect Dylan would have had me thrown out.

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