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Peggy Seeger to hit W.Va. on last U.S. tour

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Peggy Seeger's show March 25 at the Culture Center may be the last time fans in West Virginia will have the chance to see the 77-year-old folksinger.

Seeger said, "It's not the last time I'm coming to the States, but it is the last time I'm doing a tour."

The travel, she explained, just isn't much fun anymore.

"The thing I'm getting tired of is trudging through the airport concourse," she said. "I'm getting tired of lifting luggage onto the shuttle buses."

Back home, in England, her tours are much smaller. Seeger packs a van with her things and schedules tour stops just a few hours apart. She travels alone (by choice), without a road crew or even a manager, and if she wants to stop and get a bowl of soup at a pub, there's nobody to tell her no.

"Now, that," she laughed, "is touring."

At Seeger's age, it might be understandable that someone would want to slow down, but Seeger really isn't. She's still writing songs, still performing and still standing up for what she believes in.

Seeger's career in music and social justice goes back almost to birth. Her parents were noted musicologist, composer and teacher Charles Seeger and composer and folk music specialist Ruth Crawford Seeger.

She is the half sister of American folk icon Pete Seeger, a tie that's been both kind of a blessing and a curse.

"Even as late as 10 years ago," she said, "when I was giving a show as the headliner, there it was on the poster: 'Pete Seeger's sister.'"

Pete Seeger, she said, has always cast a mighty big shadow.

"But Pete, himself, helped me," she said. "My God, he did. He taught me the banjo. He taught me songs and had us [her brother, Mike Seeger] on stage with him."

But Seeger had to strike out on her own. She had to leave the country and come back. Otherwise, she'd never have made it as a songwriter and performer.

She said, "It was kind of like my leaving home. If I hadn't lived and worked and loved a person like Ewan MacColl, I reckon I might not have been a songwriter."

MacColl was a prolific British folksinger, record producer and playwright, often still remembered for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," a song he wrote about Seeger, covered by singer Roberta Flack. The song earned Grammy Awards for both MacColl and Flack.

MacColl and Seeger met in 1956 and married in 1977. The pair lived together in England until his death in 1989.

Seeger returned to the United States afterward, lived in Asheville, N.C., for years, and then moved back to the U.K. in 2010 to be closer to her children.

Seeger credits MacColl with severely influencing her songwriting method and style.

"Ewan was a really strict songwriter," she said. "We really studied songwriting, and we studied it in the theatrical way, as well as the musical way."

Writing in a theatrical way, she said, pushed her out of her comfort zone. It made her consider her audience more.

"For me to hold an audience for an hour and 45 minutes of actual singing, you need a theatrical approach," she said.

The other way she knew was to simply stay in her comfort zone, to stick with her favorite modes of singing.

"But I'd put everybody to sleep," she added. "You have to know how to write those songs, how to choose them and how to sing them."

Not being comfortable has been part of who she is and is more than just a songwriting method. It extends to the kind of material she writes about. For a folksinger with a political bent, there is seldom a time when she can find nothing to write about, and right now there is plenty wrong with the world.

"Everything is breaking down," she said.

And Seeger said the problems could all be tied to overpopulation, stretched resources and the building disaster of global warming, which is a lot bigger than just the decline of spotted owls and polar bears.

"People won't try to save the polar bears or the spotted owls," she said. "But they will try to save their jobs. They will try to save their land and their children. Human beings will save themselves."

This, Seeger explained, is what she thinks is the root of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is now an international phenomenon. The system is coming apart. Jobs, homes and ways of life are being lost and so people are starting to push back.

"It's become much more than the brown-rice-and-sandals people," she said.

Seeger said she was looking forward to coming to the United States for a visit. She misses a lot of what's good about the American people.

"I miss the American accent," she said.

She's also looking forward to visiting Charleston. In 1972, future (hired in 1982) Charleston Gazette reporter Paul Nyden contacted MacColl and Seeger to write a song about the Buffalo Creek Disaster.

In 1972, an unsafe coal slurry impoundment dam burst and flooded the town of Buffalo Creek, killing 125 people.

"The song was based on a recording of the words of a woman named Lucy Chapman," Seeger explained. "I'm really looking forward to singing that song there in West Virginia."

Want to go?

FOOTMAD and "Mountain Stage" present Peggy Seeger

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 7 p.m. March 25

TICKETS: $20 at 800-594-TIXX; www.mountainstage.org; Ellen's Ice Cream, Charleston; or Fret-n-Fiddle, St. Albans

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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