While there are many artists who have been both directly and indirectly influenced by
Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen put a band and album
together in 2006 to
honor the folk legend. 2006's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions still stands
as The Boss's only album made up entirely of covers as the LP contains Bruce's
interpretations of 13 songs popularized by Pete. With this in mind we're not surprised
Springsteen has honored Seeger at his first show since Pete
passed away yesterday.
Tonight, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band returned to The Bellville Velodrome in
Cape Town, South Africa for the second show of his High Hopes Tour. The 27-song
performance contained a number of tour debuts that weren't played at Sunday's show as well as a handful that were performed at the tour
opener. When The Boss returned for the encore, he dedicated "We Shall Overcome," performed
for the first time at an E Street Band concert, to Pete Seeger by reportedly stating "Once you heard this song you were prepared to
march into hell's fire." Springsteen and his band also reprised their tribute to Nelson
Mandela by covering The Specials's "Free Nelson Mandela" to open the show.
Watch Bruce Springsteen's dedication of "We Shall Overcome" to Pete Seeger:
The Boss also shared the text of a speech he made at Seeger's 90th Birthday Celebration on
As Pete and I traveled to Washington for President Obama’s Inaugural Celebration, he
told me the entire story of “We Shall Overcome”. How it moved from a labor movement song
and with Pete’s inspiration had been adapted by the civil rights movement. That day as we
sang “This Land Is Your Land” I looked at Pete, the first black president of the United
States was seated to his right, and I thought of the incredible journey that Pete had
taken. My own growing up in the sixties in towns scarred by race rioting made that moment
nearly unbelievable and Pete had thirty extra years of struggle and real activism on his
belt. He was ao happy that day, it was like, Pete, you outlasted the bastards, man!…It was
so nice. At rehearsals the day before, it was freezing, like fifteen degrees and Pete was
there; he had his flannel shirt on. I said, man, you better wear something besides that
flannel shirt! He says, yeah, I got my longjohns on under this thing.
And I asked him how he wanted to approach “This Land Is Your Land”. It would be near the
end of the show and all he said was, “Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want
to sing all the ones that Woody wrote, especially the two that get left out, about private
property and the relief office.” I thought, of course, that’s what Pete’s done his whole
life. He sings all the verses all the time, especially the ones that we’d like to leave
out of our history as a people. At some point Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking,
singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music
and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to
push American events towards more humane and justified ends. He would have the audacity
and the courage to sing in the voice of the people, and despite Pete’s somewhat benign,
grandfatherly appearance, he is a creature of a stubborn, defiant, and nasty optimism.
Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it
won’t let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth
dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself. Pete Seeger still sings
all the verses all the time, and he reminds us of our immense failures as well as shining
a light toward our better angels and the horizon where the country we’ve imagined and hold
dear we hope awaits us.
Now on top of it, he never wears it on his sleeve. He has become comfortable and casual in
this immense role. He’s funny and very eccentric. I’m gonna bring Tommy out, and the song
Tommy Morello and I are about to sing I wrote in the mid-nineties and it started as a
conversation I was having with myself. It was an attempt to regain my own moorings. Its
last verse is the beautiful speech that Tom Joad whispers to his mother at the end of The
Grapes of Wrath. “…Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy Wherever a hungry newborn baby
cries Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air Look for me Mom I’ll
Well, Pete has always been there.
For me that speech is always aspirational. For Pete, it’s simply been a way of life. The
singer in my song is in search of the ghost of Tom Joad. The spirit who has the guts and
toughness to carry forth, to fight for and live their ideals.
I’m happy to report that spirit, the very ghost of Tom Joad is with us in the flesh
tonight. He’ll be on this stage momentarily, he’s gonna look an awful lot like your
granddad who wears flannel shirts and funny hats. He’s gonna look like your granddad if
your granddad could kick your ass.
This is for Pete…
- Bruce Springsteen – May 3, 2009
Here's tonight's setlist from Cape Town: