The Hudson River sloop Clearwater, launched five decades ago by the folk icon Pete Seeger, has sailed through the storm of the pandemic with plans for a streaming music festival June 20 and a future of online environmental education and activism.
One of Seeger’s greatest legacies and the flagship of one of the nation’s oldest music-rooted activist organizations, the Clearwater was created to preserve and protect the Hudson River. But it faced insolvency in March as the pandemic shut down its educational sails and other activities. Donations from supporters worldwide, and a shift toward digital events, have kept the non-profit organization afloat.
The festival, billed as The Virtual Great Hudson River Revival: An Epic Stream to Save the River, will take place from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the Clearwater’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page. Performers will include: Judy Collins; Peter Yarrow; Tom Chapin and the Chapin Sisters; Guy Davis; Kyle Tigges; The Mammals; Reggie Harris; David Amram; John McCutcheon; Jay Ungar and Molly Mason; Noel Paul Stookey; Tom Paxton and more.
“Happiness, for me, is performing at the Clearwater Revival and, for the first time, being able to actually watch all the other great artists play,” says Chapin. “Tune in and join us. Support the group that built the sloop that saved the Hudson River.”
In the mid 1960s, Seeger conceived of the Clearwater, a 106-foot-long replica of a 19th century wooden Dutch sailing vessel, as a tangible act of environmentalism and grass-roots activism. The Clearwater is widely recognized for its role in the decades-long cleanup of the Hudson, for its advocacy of environmental and social justice campaigns and for its environmental education. Its history of female captains has given it a unique role within the women’s movement. And from its mast flies a rainbow flag, a symbol of its trips dedicated to empowering LGBTQ young people. The organization this month has called for an end to systemic racism — and recalled when Seeger and civil rights activist Paul Robeson were attacked 70 years ago after performing in Peekskill, N.Y.
Since March, with its small crew self-quarantined aboard, the Clearwater has staged a series of online events to raise its profile at a time when visitors cannot come aboard to raise its sails.
During a May 5 fundraising event on Facebook, the president of the Clearwater’s board of directors, Steve Stanne, said Seeger “imbued that boat with his hopes for a cleaner river, the well-being of communities along its shore and for the health and clean environment of the whole world.”
On May 10, the sloop hosted a Facebook Live Mother’s Day concert to pay tribute to Seeger’s wife, Toshi Seeger, his de-facto manager and longtime Clearwater festival organizer, who passed away on July 9, 2013, less than seven months before the death of her husband.
“Pete and Toshi together embraced a world of people who had the same hopes and dreams, a world where people would actually work together to create a better world for everybody,” said Arlo Guthrie.
Since the pandemic began, the organization also has launched Clearwater Connects, online programs during which its crew and educators continue to host students, from kindergarteners to teenagers, in explorations of the Hudson and music sessions. A summer camp version of Clearwater Connects is underway.
Through its online activism, the Clearwater organization has continued to push for the safest possible decommissioning of New York’s nuclear power plants, including the Indian Point Energy Center, 45 miles north of Times Square, and to oppose development of a fracked gas power plant in Newburgh, N.Y..
Given the inspiring sight of the Clearwater when it is under full sail, from the Hudson River Valley to the waters around Manhattan, perhaps the most welcomed online event thus far was a three-plus-hour livestream of sloop’s first sail of the year on May 14, with only its crew aboard.
“Whereas some organizations are focusing on online fundraisers to help them through these tough times, Clearwater is taking the opportunity to add sustainable digital programs in each of our program areas — environmental action, education and celebration,” says Greg Williams, executive director of the Clearwater. “That will not only help us through the current crisis, but will serve to expand our audience and support our mission over the long term.”