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6/21/10
Rockin’ on the Hudson River
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This past weekend I headed up north for the second day of Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival up in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. There was music ranging from blues, zydeco, and acoustic folk to Cajun, funk, straight-ahead rock and more (more on that later), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an up-front mention of the main vibe here: folks in headbands, overalls, Birkenstocks, beards, tie-dye, torn cutoffs, and VW microbuses. Sort of a cleaned-up, modern, older Woodstock. (Photo gallery follows.) There were lots of families (it was Father’s Day), with children from babies to grown children with fathers and grandfathers. A man with a face-covering grey beard danced for hours in front of the Rainbow Stage as if in a trance. The kids behind me at one point talked about their family’s “hippie-mobile.” A guy in a motorized wheelchair also used a wooden walking stick. A woman on stilts in a giant green dress, face paint, and gold chains danced to the music while winding her way around the park.

It was brutally hot and humid in the sun and there wasn’t much wind, and I feared some older people might be in danger of heatstroke or a heart attack. Fortunately there were lots of shaded areas—Croton Point Park has many huge old trees, including several giant willows. During a sudden ten-minute downpour in mid afternoon people scrambled under various festival tents to wait out the storm. Sailboats and kayaks made their way up and down the Hudson, as good a testament as any to the festival’s longstanding goal of getting and keeping the Hudson River clean. Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger founded Clearwater more than 40 years ago as a fundraising music event with twin causes of environmental and social justice.

On to the music. There were three main performance stages: the Rainbow Stage, Hudson Stage, and World Music Stage. Rainbow Stage had some of the biggest and loudest bands, but with the least amount of shade in front of the stage, its audience basically baked in the sun. The Hudson Stage, where more folk-oriented and acoustic performers played, had more shade and the added scenic benefit of being right next to the river. At the World Music Stage, the performers and most of the audience were under a giant yellow and white tent—standing, not sitting. Music started at 11 a.m. and continued through to 8:30 p.m.

The Lee Boys
—a sacred steel guitar family band—opened the Rainbow Stage on Sunday, playing gospel-y and R&B numbers like “Amazing Grace,” “Always by my side,” and “You’ve got to move with the Lord.” They were followed by the almost unclassifiable Hazmat Modine, a New York City band with influences ranging from reggae and Dixieland to klezmer and Tom Waits-ish and more. There were call-and-response numbers (“Mockingbird”) and wailing guitar riffs (“Love me one more time”). The band’s technical ability and range are impressive, but part of what’s so neat about Hazmat Modine is instrumentation. In addition to two guitarists (Michael Gomez, Pete Smith) and a percussionist (Richard Huntley), there’s Pam Fleming, a trumpeter/flugelhorn player who apparently can do almost anything on those instruments; Steve Elson, who plays everything from saxophone to tin whistle, klezmer clarinet and duduk); Joe Daley on sousaphone; and Wade Schuman, the lead singer, who also creates an unusual palette of sounds with his diatonic and chromatic harmonicas.

Over on the Hudson Stage, folk singer Dan Bern entertained crowds with his recently written ode to a certain lost possibility, “Jason Galarraga, Perfect Game.” Bands and audiences had the best opportunity to connect at the World Stage, where I heard the zydeco band C.J. Chenier & the Hot Louisiana Band pump up crowds with numbers like “Don’t mess with my toot toot” and “Zydeco boogie.” Later on the same stage, the Subdudes brought their Cajun-blues/gospel-funk vibe with numbers like “Love is a beautiful thing” and “If wishin’ made it so.” If accordionist John Magnie, with his inch-wide long vertical beard, seems like the musical soul of the band, it was the supremely confident lead singer/guitarist Tommy Malone wailing full-bore that made it all hang together.

Pete Seeger, now 91, was present throughout the weekend, performing on various stages. We’re now accustomed to supporting causes through big concerts like Live Aid and Live Earth, but Seeger was pretty ahead of his time with the whole “concert as cause” experience.

Activists’ Area

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VW microbus

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On the banks of the Hudson River

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Rainbow Stage crowd

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Rainbow Stage

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Hudson Stage

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C.J. Chenier & the Hot Louisiana Band

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The Stilt Lady

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Sudden downpour

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Images by Jennifer Melick.

  • Pam Fleming

    Thanks for the great review! It brought it all back for me. Wonderful Festival. Hazmat Modine had a fine time playing for you! We love you, Pete Seeger! -Pam Fleming (trumpet)

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.