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‘Green’ Festival Will Feature Activist Pete Seeger

June 21, 2008

By Mark Zaretsky, New Haven Register, Conn.

Jun. 21–CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — Let it never be said that the Clearwater Festival — subtitled “Great Hudson River Revival” — isn’t an event that puts its commitment where its mouth is.

Clearwater, America’s largest and one of its oldest “green” festivals — founded by 89-year-old folk icon and activist Pete Seeger, who still performs there — is all about music, art, crafts and fun.

It features big-name roots entertainment, from Seeger to world music groundbreaker David Amram, Jamaican reggae and ska pioneers The Skatalites, cajun/zydeco stars The Bluerunners, leading Native American flute player R. Carlos Nakai, singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler, Happy & Artie Traum, turbocharged Americana upstarts The Felice Brothers, groove jammers Entrain and the eclectic Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams.

The festival, which runs — rain or shine — today and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., unfolds in Westchester County’s Croton Point Park.

But behind all that, the Clearwater Festival is about achieving Seeger’s vision of education and activism through song.

It’s about raising money to fund the work of its namesake organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., also cofounded by Seeger, and, perhaps even more so; raising awareness of all things environmental, from clean water to recycling waste to alternative fuel and power sources to keeping a vigilant eye on the Indian Point nuclear plant, which is located just across the river.

For years, the Clearwater Festival, presented jointly by Clearwater and Westchester County, has led by example, using the sun to power its stages.

“What I think is new is that our intentions and goals of moving towards a zerowaste festival are continuing this year,” said Ron Aja, Clearwater’s outreach events director.

“Last year, we composted 2 1/2 tons of food waste off-site,” Aja said. “We’re looking forward to increasing that … We’re asking food vendors to only use recyclable and compostable products — no Styrofoam this year.”

While much of that will happen in the background, it is v e r y m u c h characteristic of the festival, which sprung from the idealistic folk and environmental movement of the 1960s, to use it as a jumping-off point for further consciousness-raising.

“What we’re doing is, we’re setting up interpretive tents,” Aja said. “Shabazz Jackson, who is our composting guru, is going to set up tents. He has convinced us that that is the single most important thing we can do is managing our waste stream.”

So if you want to learn about composting or solar power or biofuel — Clearwater had vehicles running on recycled cooking oils at the festival before most people had ever heard the term — it will all be there for you.

Clearwater has been credited for helping to pass some of the country’s most influential environmental legislation, including the Clean Water Act.

Then again, you may just want to lay back, enjoy a beautiful day on the river and listen to some great music. “The actual site, as you know, is just about the most beautiful site on the whole Hudson,” Aja said.

New this year from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. today is a Seeger pet project, the “Circle of Gospel,” which will feature three area gospel groups and the audience trading songs and answering each others’ refrains. Seeger also will do a full hour set on Sunday at noon, as well as a live one-hour radio interview that will be recorded Sunday from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m., Aja said.

The festival will also feature a full crafts area and plenty handson environmental education workshops and exhibits, including the Green Living Expo, where companies, firms and organizations showcase green products or services. There also will be an activist area where visitors can get information on many of the community’s environmental groups.

Tickets are available at the gate for $40 for the day or $55 for the weekend. Children under 12 are free. Membership discounts are available instantly to those who become Clearwater members.

For a detailed schedule, go to www.clearwaterfestival.org or call 1(800) 67-SLOOP.

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Copyright (c) 2008, New Haven Register, Conn.

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