In all my years of living in the South, I’ve never seen a banjo manage to quiet and captivate an entire audience within the space of a couple of seconds, but Randy Noojin’s Seeger had the audience under a spell before he had even said a word. It was a show quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen; unassuming and easily lovable Noojin weaves the narrative that he is Pete Seeger, dedicated activist and beloved folk singer, and that we are attending a concert to benefit US-Cuban normalization.
In between sharing with the audience some of Seeger’s most beloved songs, our protagonist shares with the audience memories and anecdotes about everything from his family life to the causes he held dearest. “I know you must be thinking, what would I know about the struggles you all have faced?” he asks of the audience, launching into the story of the Peeksill Riots of 1949, the decade and a half he spent blacklisted for being a communist, and his crusade to clean the Hudson River. These anecdotes, sprinkled throughout with self-deprecating jokes — “What do you call a banjo player with half a brain? Gifted” — are set to the backdrop of a photo slideshow of Seeger’s family life and the causes he dedicated his life to.
It is, essentially, a well-deserved love letter to one of America’s favorite folk singers. Noojin is a talented musician, and both his banjo-strumming and easygoing narration resurrect the spirit of the late singer. He urges the audience to sing along with any of the songs that they know, or like, or remember, and that one phrase, “singing along is always welcomed,” was the only encouragement anyone needed. The theater was packed with those who had grown up on the folksy twang of Seeger’s banjo and who jumped on the chance to sing along. While he focuses on the events of the past and the causes Seeger held personally close to his heart, the show alludes to the fact that our struggle as a nation is far from over. The show comes at an interesting time in the heated political climate, and serves as a reminder that we have struggled through dark times and have always managed to overcome. His opening monologue comes full circle at the end of the play as he urges everyone in the audience to do their part towards fixing the problems they see, comparing the uphill climb to the act of filling up a bucket with teaspoons.
“Every letter you write, every protest you attend, that’s another teaspoon,” he reassures his audience. “And one day, the bucket will be full, and everyone will be wondering how it will happen.” We might not be fighting for the same causes anymore, but Seeger brings hope and the reminder that it’s never wrong to stand up for your beliefs.
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