Berkeley turns out to honor Pete Seeger at concert

At the end of the concert, Ronnie Gilbert, Holly Near, Country Joe McDonald and others sand "Goodnight Irene." Photo: Colleen Neff

At the end of the concert, Ronnie Gilbert, Holly Near, Country Joe McDonald and others sand “Goodnight Irene.” Photo: Colleen Neff

Hundreds of people waited hours in line Monday night to get into the Freight & Salvage for a free, all-star tribute to Pete Seeger, who died Jan. 27.

The singers who crowded on stage included Ronnie Gilbert, who formed The Weavers with Seeger in 1948, Holly Near, Barbara Dane, Johnny Harper, Country Joe McDonald, Wavy Gravy, Vicki Randle, Lichi Fuentes, Fernando Feña Torres, Joel Rafael, Evie Ladin, Keith Terry, Erik Pearson, Gerry Tenney, Bill Amanteek, Robin Flower, Barbara Higbie, Shelley Doty, Roy Zimmerman, and Blame Sally. There were so many of them on stage at the same time that their guitar and banjo necks touched.

“Pete’s life has touched us all,” the Freight wrote on its website. “We are all acutely saddened by his death and at the same time, deeply grateful for what he has given us. We expect many people will want to come together here at the Freight, to honor this beloved man and folk hero. We’ll put out as many chairs as we can, and will accommodate as many people as safely possible. Some may have to stand, but at least we’ll be together to say our ‘goodbyes’ to Pete.”

People started lining up at the Freight & Salvage on Addison Street by 1:30 p.m. —  six and a half hours before the 8:00 p.m. concert was scheduled to begin. The staff handed out vouchers for those who waited.

People waited for hours outside Freight & Salvage for a free tribute concert to Pete Seeger. Photo: Ted Friedman

People waited for hours outside Freight & Salvage for a free tribute concert to Pete Seeger. Photo: Ted Friedman

Photo: Ted Friedman

Photo: Ted Friedman

Photo: Ted Friedman

Photo: Ted Friedman

“It was so Berkeley,” said Ellen Koch, who got in line at 3:45 p.m. “People were singing and playing banjos while waiting in line. There were protesters with their signs — mostly against the Keystone Pipeline. The street was closed so people who couldn’t get inside could still be a part of it. It was a sweet and emotional tribute.”

Those who couldn’t get tickets to the show were invited to the East Bay Media Center, where they could watch a live stream of the concert, and it was broadcast live on KPFA. The KPFA broadcast will be archived online for two weeks, through Feb. 17.

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  • Aaron Priven

    Audio from the concert is available from KPFA:

  • emraguso

    Thanks, Aaron!

  • BerkeleyMom

    It was a great night. We can now say we sang “Good Night Irene” with Ronnie Gilbert. And Holly Near was the most wonderful and generous host for the festivities. Thanks to the Freight & Salvage for this inspiring event.

  • djoelt1

    Commenter saying “we can dismiss his life’s work because he was a communist” in 3…2…1…

  • Charles_Siegel

    I never knew that Pete Seeger was responsible for the version of We Shall Overcome that we all know.

    The NY Times obituary said that Seeger wrote We Shall Overcome. The Chronicle obituary said that he adapted an old spiritual to create We Shall Overcome. Both were wrong.

    I found an interview where Seeger says that he adapted a labor song to create We Shall Overcome. The original was very different from the version of We Shall Overcome that we all know, as you can see at so he deserves a lot of credit for creating the song that did the most to inspire the civil rights movement.

  • David Horne

    Nice video excerpt posted by Philip Gangi on YouTube at

  • thomas Jr.

    I love the Almanac Singers version, surprisingly it’s not on youtube. It’s much more of a JAM!

  • Bryan Garcia

    I happened to be in the area around 5:30 and there was a HUGE line already going down Addison, turning onto Milvia, and starting to wrap around Center. This was a big crowd and it looked to be 100% white baby-boomer-aged Berkeleyans. I guess Pete Seeger + free is like catnip to that crowd. You’re right, it was SO Berkeley. It just made me chuckle is all.

  • Shutter

    All those people standing in the street, lined up on the sidewalks, gathered in front of the Freight… to honor Pete Seeger — and no fistfights, no violence, no gunplay, no hassles of any kind.

    Yes, very Berkeley. Thank you Pete for showing us the way.

  • Ellen

    It is interesting to me that there were no African Americans in the audience. The comment “So Berkeley” was not made in conceit of Berkeley, but rather a response to the typical Berkeley folks out that evening. Singing. Dancing. Protesting. Laughing and crying together. While the concert was free, most people gave generous donations to the Freight. Pete was one of the biggest advocates of civil rights in our history. As a US born straight while male, he didn’t need to fight for himself. One of Pete’s most famous songs (Good Night Irene) was written by Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter, an African American blues singer. We Shall Overcome became a key anthem of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. It is sad that there were no African Americans paying tribute to this wonderful man who dedicated his life to peace and justice for all.