What could be more perfect than singer/guitarist Michael Friedman performing at a Pete Seeger tribute concert? After all, Friedman has known Seeger since he was two years old.
“Way back in the 1950s, my father had a little folk group and my parents helped organize concerts for Pete Seeger, Earl Robinson and others from the United States folk movement. Pete and Earl were blacklisted under the House Un-American Activities Committee, so our house became sort of a whistle stop for travelling musicians,” Friedman recalled in a phone interview.
“I used to get kicked out of my bedroom so my Uncle Perry, a folksinger and aspiring banjo player, could cop some banjo licks from Pete.”
In celebration of legendary folksinger and activist Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday, the Winchevsky Centre in Toronto is hosting a gala concert – For Pete’s Sake Sing! – featuring Friedman on Saturday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m.
The program includes a sing-along hootenanny by musicians of the Camp Naivelt community. The music program at the labour Zionist Ontario summer camp was instrumental in the development of folk music in Canada and some of the country’s best known musicians got their start there.
Seeger, an ambassador for peace and social justice, turned 90 on May 3. Through timeless songs, he engaged people in causes to end the Vietnam War, ban nuclear weapons and promote ecological responsibility and international solidarity.
“Pete was one of my biggest inspirations – aside from rock ’n’ roll – in the ’60s. He had the amazing capacity to bring multiple generations together in song. Seeger was a bridge builder,” said the Vancouver-based musician. “I don’t think there’s a single act on the musical stage that I’ve seen more than Pete – whenever he came to town, we were there.”
When Seeger toured countries like Turkey or Nigeria, he would sing in the audience’s native language and later perform their songs in North America for audiences to learn.
At the upcoming concert, Friedman will perform Seeger’s greatest hits, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, If I Had a Hammer and We Shall Overcome, a song Seeger co-wrote.
“We’re living in interesting times, so Seeger’s songs still ring true,” Friedman said.
Friedman will also perform some of his own songs using his “new” acoustic guitar approach of altered tuning, picking, strumming, harmonics and tapping – techniques advanced by renowned guitarists Michael Hedges and Leo Codkey.
Currently, Friedman performs both as a solo act and with band members Mark James Fortin and Don Alder, and with British Columbia’s Corbin Keep, who is known as the Wild Cellist because of the diversity of his music. When on tour, Friedman plays with German cellist Jens Naumilkat, who arranges Friedman’s songs for his performances with philharmonic and chamber orchestras. Friedman’s latest CD is Diamond Space (2006), and a new CD is in the works.
In 1992, Friedman became the music director of CBC’s Front Page Challenge when the Toronto-based production moved out west. He wrote 120 music compositions for it.
“I had done some film work, but there I wrote instrumental underscore for one-to-two-minute mini-documentaries about surprise guests like Maggie Trudeau, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Sylvie Fréchette. Each week, I had a few days to get the music ready. That did wonders for my song writing – it was an amazing three years,” he said.
Tickets for the performance are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, with reduced rates for members. Winchevsky Centre, 585 Cranbrooke Ave. Visit www.winchevskycentre.org or call 416-789-5502, or go to –www.michaelfriedman.ca.