The Complete Bowdoin College Concert
If it was a difficult year for Sing Out! magazine co-founder and longtime columnist Pete Seeger, you’d never know it from the buoyancy of this March 13, 1960, performance in Maine. We’re told that this is his oldest complete concert recording and the only entire recording of the “community concerts” he was then doing as the ongoing pall of McCarthyism kept him from many venues and major TV networks. At the time under federal indictment for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify in an anti-Communist witch hunt. He would stand trial 12 months hence and receive a 10-year prison sentence, though the U.S. Court of Appeals would later toss out the entire indictment.
Campus radio station WBOR recorded and broadcast the show (tickets cost a whopping $1.25). The audio quality is surprisingly clear, as are Seeger’s confident tenor as well as his banjo and 12-string guitar.
The repertoire: political altruism, trad folk with an international consciousness, American history through the eyes of the underclass and staples from his time in the blacklisted Weavers – typical Seeger. Two songs reportedly are on no other Seeger disc: bluesman Big Bill Broonzy’s composition “I Had a Dream” and “Al Smith Holds the Bottle” (a 1928 presidential campaign song for Smith, who advocated the repeal of Prohibition). Prolific topical songsmith Ernie Marrs (1932-88) is represented by “Quiz Show” (on the then-current scandal of TV quiz programs feeding answers to favored contestants) and sarcastic “What a Friend We Have in Congress” (based on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”). Like so many other songs here, “Congress” still rings all too true. — Bruce Sylvester