Event: “The secret in inve$ting in art” at the Chali-Rosso Gallery

Vancouver has the Vancouver Art Gallery, Bill Reid Gallery, Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery, and numerous art studios and galleries all around town. Periodically we have events like the Vancouver East Cultural Crawl, where artists open their studios to the public and we can meet the artists and enjoy their work. So far as art goes, even if Vancouver is not quite London or New York, we are quite lucky.

Everyone dreams of stumbling across an immensely valuable artist’s work in their attic or at a rummage sale, and it might be more probable than winning the 6/49, or at least more so than PowerBall. But what if you want to buy some art of your own? If you are thoughtful and do good research, art can be as good, or better, an investment as standard blue chip stocks. And, while stocks are not exactly gorgeous to look at, the right art can really enhance your home or office.

In order to aid potential art investors, Chali-Rosso Gallery offered an evening soiree, with the theme “The secret in inve$ting in art”. First, attendees were invited to peruse the lovely collection of limited edition works of European masters such as Picasso, Dali, Matisse, Chagall, Miro, Renoir, and others (the gallery has over 500 pieces of art). I can’t think of any other gallery in Vancouver which focuses so much on these established Masters.

Besides the framed works, there were some lovely sculptures. We had some nibbles and wine while perusing the art, and then settled down to hear the speakers.

Peter Szeto, of the Peter Szeto Investment Group, is a financial advisor. He focused on the performance of fine art in the market over the past few decades. In short, based on several fine art indices (like the Mei Moses Fine Art Index), art has outperformed stocks, and is somewhat less volatile. Of course, art is not without risk, and it is illiquid, meaning not instantly salable (unlike, say, Apple stock). Szeto clearly stated he is not himself an artist, nor does he feel himself qualified to speak on the artistic side of things, but he did provide the numbers to demonstrate art is a reasonable choice to include in your investment portfolio. Significantly, considering supply and demand, when there is great demand for an artist who is dead with no more discoverable works, the price will surely go up.

peter.jpg(Peter Szeto in front of some great art. Photo credit John Gurcharan Nijjar)

Andrew Fisher, founder of Fisher Fine Art and International Fine Art Acquisitions, has been in the art business since the 1970s, and has a specialty in the work of 19th-century and 20th-century masters. His expert advice is highly sought by art dealers, and he finds himself unable to actually retire. Fisher pointed out that although he comes to art with a different perspective than Szeto, they essentially arrive at the same conclusions: art can be a good investment, and it has many positives that go beyond the strictly financial.

andrew.jpg(Andrew Fisher explaining Warhol’s genius. Photo credit John Gurcharan Nijjar)

If you are interested in current contemporary artists who are not well-known, and possibly on an upswing of popularity, your purchases are more risky, but also potentially more rewarding. Fisher emphasized the importance of learning the market thoroughly if you want to buy cutting-edge art. I am sure there are many Warhol contemporaries who wish they had been a bit more prescient.

Given the importance of Chinese investors in the local economy, the speakers had Mandarin translators. I definitely feel like I am missing out by not knowing Mandarin, so maybe now is the time to start learning! Westerners know about Sotheby’s and Christie’s as well-known art auction houses, but what about Poly Culture, which is China’s largest auction house? I enjoyed this Financial Post article about Poly Culture (but note it’s almost 2 years old).

Still unconvinced about the importance of art as an investment? Consider this statement by Larry Fink, chief executive at BlackRock, the world’s biggest investor with $4.6 trillion. “The two greatest stores of wealth internationally today is contemporary art….. and I don’t mean that as a joke, I mean that as a serious asset class,” said Fink. “And two, the other store of wealth today is apartments in Manhattan, apartments in Vancouver, in London.” (Quoted by Bloomberg.)

Once the lectures had concluded, we were treated to some door prizes. My friend won a ticket to Miss Asian Vancouver beauty pageant. Here’s event hostess Alice Zhou with a prize bag:

az.jpg.jpg(Photo credit John Gurcharan Nijjar)

And here’s a photo of many of the people who made the evening possible:

group.jpg.jpg(A good-looking group, I must say. Photo credit John Gurcharan Nijjar)

The Chali-Rosso Gallery is open to visitors and potential purchasers, and I have no doubt they will work with you to help you make an art investment choice that works for you. Despite the value of the art on the display, it is a friendly and approachable gallery. Visitors are welcome, and group tours are offered (art students and seniors are among those who have taken these tours).

C H A L I – R O S S O
549 Howe Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 2C2

Review: Huff, Firehall Arts Centre until Feb. 6

First, buy your tickets now, as Huff has been selling out. This is another excellent PuSH Festival production.

Huff is about young boys dealing with solvent abuse, parental alcoholism, and various forms of abuse, on what seems to be an isolated northern reserve. Huff is visceral and raw and real. The audience participates, wittingly or not.

The playwright, and actor of this one-man show, Cliff Cardinal was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, but his Canadian First Nations mother is Tantoo Cardinal, an acclaimed actor whom I saw several years ago in a Firehall production of God and the Indian. He stated in a CBC interview that he considers himself neither Canadian nor American, but “Indian”. Although I thought of this show in the context of the stories of the reserve at Davis Inlet, the place could also be Pine Ridge or any of a number of Canadian or American First Nations communities. Cardinal specifically decided to be generic with the placement.

cc(Cliff Cardinal in Huff – photo credit akipari)

In interviews, Cardinal is cagey about how much of the play represents personal experiences, or those of his friends or relatives. But the story and the characters ring true. In this story, you witness the death of youthful innocence. How can such terrible things happen? Why is life so difficult for so many? How can children be at once playful and joyful, but also recipients of so much torment? How can there be so much tragedy, but yet the play has so many humorous moments? Is Trickster evil? Cardinal is a youthful 30, but has written a play with incredible depth and nuance. Cardinal skillfully cycles through an incredible emotional range and 10 characters, with rapid switches between them.

The saddest aspect of this show was thinking about the news stories I have read (like this one about Davis Inlet) and the shows that I have seen which feature the suicides of young Aboriginal people. A couple years ago, I saw Night, another PuSH festival production, about a young Inuit girl’s suicide in the Arctic. I feel like I cannot bear to see another show on this subject without doing something about it.

In the truest sense of the word, the play’s main character, Wind, is a survivor. The play could have taken an utterly nihilistic approach, but hope remains.

Public Salon returns in 2016 (review from Jan. 27)

Sam Sullivan and his partner Lynn Zanatta keep hitting home runs with their public salons. They bring together a group of interesting people, each of whom is given 7 minutes to speak. The Jan. 27, 2016 edition (#24 in this continuing series) maintained the same standard that I have come to expect from these evenings.

Each salon begins with a musical group playing as people find their seats. This edition was fully booked, a credit to the interesting speakers and the networking possibilities available afterwards. This time the group was The Straight Jackets.

sj(Photo credit: John Gurcharan Nijjar)

Sam Sullivan as host is always good-humored and upbeat. He talked a bit about learning an indigenous language (the trade language Chinook Wawa), gave us a sample of what he has learned (the words rolled off his tongue quite fluently) and urged us to participate also.

The evening began with Brett Finlay, a microbiologist talking about how excessive hygiene may be causing the high incidence of allergies, asthma, and other disorders in current Western populations. If infants have certain bacteria in their microbiome at three months, they are unlikely to get asthma. But many factors, including Cesarean births and formula feeding (both of which can clearly be life-saving interventions), can hinder the growth of an ideal microbiome.

ed2(Photo credit: John Gurcharan Nijjar)

Next up was Kedrick James, who does what I call “stochastic poetry”. He uses randomness and remixes to create his poetry. From a data science and mathematical and computing point of view, I find the experiment to be fascinating. From a literary perspective, I longed for Keats and T.S. Eliot, or even David Bowie (who did indeed use Brian Eno’s suggestions to introduce randomness into his lyrics).

I guessed that Farzana Jaffer Jeraj might be related to Senator Jaffer, and I was right (the senator is her mother, and her mother was proudly tweeting during the session). Farzana is an author and coach, and as described by tweeter @drshimikang, “#lifehappens & what matters is how we manage it.”

Scott C. Jones talked about recovery from a stroke, and his delight when he could finally manage to read sentences again. He spoke of his appreciation for the bookstores around Pender and Richards, with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Everyone knows Bill Richardson from CBC. He talked of purchasing a house in tiny Holman, Manitoba, and the pleasures he is getting from country living. He was as witty and insightful as always.

Trevor Stokes spoke about his students in the alternative Streetfront program at Britannia Secondary School. Many of his students have taken up marathoning, with incredible results, and some of them attended the salon that night too. It is always a very special thing to see a teacher who is extremely proud of his students.

Eran Sudds was struck with postpartum depression after the birth of her son. She got the help she needed, and seeks to encourage other women to do the same.

Robert Sung operates Wok Around Chinatown food tours. He spoke with pride of his father, who helped build Canada while still not being allowed citizenship. As Chinatown is my neighborhood of choice, I am certain that his clients have no shortage of great places to visit.

Once again, Sam and Lynn brought together a group of eight local people with fascinating stories. Keep your eye out for the next one happening in a few months!



Review: Kaya Bistro with YVRFoodies, January 2016

Like I did with a previous meetup at East is East on West Broadway, I had a great time with the YVRFoodies meetup group. Ricky Shetty was again a great organizer and host.

I had to arrive late, so I missed out on a course or two. But I can report that the seafood bouillabaisse was terrific. I’m sometimes skeptical of Malaysian food, as it can be very sweet, but Kaya tones down this aspect. The texture, the flavours, the combinations–I can’t remember a seafood soup I have enjoyed as much as that one.

My food photography rarely does the food justice, but I’ll give it a try again. There’s an exquisite coconut-milk base here.


I noticed Kaya was very respectful and helpful with the various dietary restrictions that my fellow diners had.

Apart from the lovely food, we had a great evening hearing from several presenters. Again, I think I may have missed someone, so I’ll just report those I heard from.

Teen Across Canada: Teenager Anastasia and her mom and dad are in the midst of a cross-Canada trip. Much of the trip has centered around food, and not surprising to me, the Maritimes including Newfoundland have provided star memories for both food and friendliness.  Read more about their adventures here at http://www.teenacrosscanada.com.

Hot Arusha (aka Iqbal Ishani): What a cool guy (to mix temperatures). Iqbal is a great drummer too, and he got us moving in between courses. He also wants to preserve the culinary heritage of his family with these wonderful hot sauces (most of which are not that hot, but very flavorful and savory). I particularly loved the garlic one, which I tried a few days later. Iqbal was born in Nairobi of Indian parents. His website is iqbalance.com/.

Feeding the 5K (with Elaine Cheng): We know a huge amount of food is wasted every year. It could make you cry to think of it. Elaine sets up a dinner that feeds thousands where all of the food would otherwise have been discarded. Read more at http://feed5kvancouver.com/.

Theresa Nicassio, Ph.D (Yum Food for Living): Theresa is a psychotherapist who focuses on eating issues and disorders. At dinner we discussed having daughters who had adopted a vegan or vegetarian diet as preteens. Theresa supported her daughter in this choice, and when Theresa later found she had celiac disease, she also had to make her diet gluten-free. But rather than be limited by these restrictions, Theresa has used them to focus on creating a terrific cookbook suitable for anyone, but completely vegan and with substitutions that allow each recipe to be gluten-free. This cookbook is available at http://yumfoodforliving.com/. It’s gorgeous with delicious-sounding recipes and I am going to try it out this weekend. Theresa also talked about emotional eating, and how it is universal and should not be a source of self-denigration. But she also suggested looking at other ways of achieving satisfaction, such as through music, art, play, and so forth.

Thanks again, Ricky Shetty, who did a great job coordinating the speakers, the music, and encouraging us all as bloggers. We had a wonderful time!



Review: The MotherF**ker with the Hat, Firehall until Jan. 30

Starting with the title, this play is upfront, immediate, and in your face. It’s very much a play about New Yorkers, several of them Puerto Ricans. It’s not about Wall Street, but about a small-time drug dealer, Jackie, who has just gotten out of prison and is trying to stay sober, get a job, and get on with his girlfriend.

Buy tickets: http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/the-motherfucker-with-the-hat/

The care and attention paid to the set really enhanced the show. Off to the side, a drummer plays. Drums are central to Puerto Rican music and dance (catch local musician and musicologist Sal Ferraras if you possibly can sometime) and this extra touch really enhances the feel of the play.

My fellow attendee and I were trying to figure out the time period in which the play is set. The musical references are 1970s, but the hair is 1980s. This was a time before rampant gentrification in New York for sure. The graffiti on the set reminded me of street art I saw in Bushwick last summer.


An almost offhand reference to Tony Orlando’s music dredged up a memory from the past. I remembered his heartwarming song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”, from my childhood, so I looked it up. Somehow as a child, I had missed the fact that the song is about someone returning to his girlfriend after being in prison three years, a storyline that echoes the play, as Jackie is returning home after being in prison for 26 months upstate.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon

Jackie starts the play with a triumph, as he has just landed a job, and brings gifts to Veronica to celebrate. Things quickly sour when he sees an unknown man’s hat on the table. Matters escalate from there.

The play, to a large extent, is about Alcoholics Anonymous. Ralph is Jackie’s sleazy sponsor, who has years of sobriety but uses his clarity of mind to hurt others. Jackie loves his sponsor as a personal hero. In a clip I found online, though, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is clear that he is not attacking AA itself, which he believes to have saved the lives of many.

The play is breathtakingly funny thoughout, even if you feel a bit guilty for laughing at times.  Campy cousin Julio is alternately wise and ridiculous. Jackie’s girlfriend Veronica has striking moments of clearness while struggling with addiction. Ralph’s wife Victoria is beaten down, but remembers who she should be. Jackie is impulsive, but he has a clear sense of moral direction despite the life he has led. Ralph is the type of sleazy guy who can command loyalty and always surprises outsiders when they see that.

Stephen Lobo and Francisco Trujillo, credit Emily Cooper.jpg

(Stephen Logo as Jackie, and Francisco Trujillo as Julio. Photo credit: Emily Cooper)

All of the characters are struggling with addiction and how to make a life apart from addiction. Hope never dies, although the future may not look too rosy.

This play is described as a “verbal cage match”, and the pace never flags. It’s an intense 100 minutes. But I expect this might be the most riveting play I see this year, and it’s only January.

(Cover image photo credit: Dan Rizzuto)

Firehall Arts Centre 2016 begins with some harsh realities – The MotherF**ker with a Hat, and Huff

The Firehall has had some hard-hitting drama productions in the past few years. The recent “Social Studies” looked at the impact of bringing a war refugee in to live with a Canadian family. “God and the Indian” was an unsparing look at Aboriginal trauma resulting from residential schools, and the well-positioned people who created and enabled this trauma. Firehall is located in the midst of the Downtown East Side, and I’ve always appreciated how Firehall works with this milieu to reflect community concerns and realities (another example was “maladjusted”, which was packed by locals when I attended a few years ago).

So it’s fitting that the first two productions of 2016 continue this realistic approach. “The MotherF**ker with the Hat” looks at what happens to a recovering addict after he leaves prison, and it will not pull any punches. I’m looking forward to seeing this show next week. “The MotherF**ker with the Hat” starts with previews on January 16, 17, 19, and a matinee on January 20, before the opening on January 20 at 8 PM and continuing until January 30. You can see the cast in the picture below. Read more and buy tickets!


(Photo credit: Dan Rizzuto)

“Huff”, which is coming up at Firehall February 2-6, is a story of “solvent sniffing, suicide and sex abuse” (as described by CBC). Written by the Cree playwright Cliff Cardinal, it looks at the bleakness faced by children after their mother’s suicide. Find out more on the Firehall site.



Canada International Film and Television Festival Awards opening ceremony

A couple weeks ago on November 6, I was lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony for the 2nd annual Canada International Film and Television Festival, held November 6 to November 8, 2015. This was a kickoff for a couple days of deliberation, which culminated in the final awards ceremony.

Canadian Senator Yonah Martin attended, and presented one of the prizes. You can see more on her website. The winners are listed here. You can see the truly international aspect of the festival from winners such as the actor Mr. Debebe Retta, whom I believe to be Ethiopian.

This posh event, held at the Marriott hotel in Richmond, was a pleasant and elegant reprieve on that very wet, dark night. After the opening remarks (mostly in English, but also in Mandarin) from several distinguished participants, including the mayor of Richmond and several internationally known members of the film industry, we partook of the delicious and well-presented hors d’oeuvres (not to mention wine).

Actor Jill Jaress was one of the speakers, and she talked about how she had maintained a career for herself as she became older and was called less often. She took on directing, producing, and scriptwriting. Her largest production is 1 Nighter, a romantic comedy for which she directed, produced, wrote, and acted (co-starring with her real-life boyfriend and Golden Globe nominee Timothy Bottoms).

(Jill Jaress speaking at CIFTA. Photo credit Raymond Chou)

I cannot find a press release for the 2015 version of this event, but this one for the 2014 event is accurate in its description. “One of the main goals of this Festival is to establish an interactive platform for film enthusiasts from both Eastern and Western cultures, and to promote the advantages of the Vancouver film industry.”

Let’s step back a bit and think about films (and television shows too, but I did feel there was an emphasis on films at this presentation). In Vancouver, and in most vibrant, multicultural cities, hearing a mix of languages in a typical day is unremarkable. If you are not multilingual (I struggle to be bilingual myself), just ask someone you know from Malaysia, India, or the Netherlands how many languages he or she speaks–I’ll bet a minimum of four. But even given the reality of a mixed linguistic landscape, many times films try to be all one language or culture (which admittedly is appropriate in some cases, but definitely not all).  The mandate of this festival, which looks at films from all around the world, is to encourage multiculturalism in film. Multicultural does not have to mean multilingual, but in many cases it will. Indeed, I have seen that a number of films at the Vancouver International Film Festival do use several languages, as that is what makes sense when the story moves through different locations and cultures.

I’m looking forward to Year 3! Here are a couple more pictures (photo credit Raymond Chou).


Review: Agnes of God, PAL Theatre until Nov. 29

“Agnes of God” opens with a backdrop that clearly suggests a religious and austere setting, with a beauty and light that are quite striking.

Play information

The three women in this play are attired in contrasting clothing: Mother Miriam Ruth in a standard black nun’s garb, the psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingstone in a brown pants suit that exemplifies 1980s power-dressing, and the young novice Agnes, dressed in white robes that suggest her purity and innocence. The clean lines of the set and the wardrobe color palette are some details that really enhance the play.


Although I knew the play featured Agnes and the mysterious birth and death of a newborn, I did not know the details of the plot. You may have seen the 1980s-era film featuring Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, and Meg Tilly, but I have not.

Agnes is a 21-year-old novice (meaning she is a relatively new resident who lives a nun’s life but has not yet taken her vows) with a mysterious past.

A ghastly scene involving Agnes on the ground, passed out from lack of blood, with a baby in the wastepaper basket under the bed, is described. Livingstone is the court-appointed psychiatrist with her own history of loss and trauma, who is far from a disinterested observer. Mother Miriam Ruth is not too interested in getting at the truth, and seeks desperately to stop the inquiries, but is she doing this to protect Agnes, or for some other reason?

As I was watching the play, I could not help but wonder what would happen now if a Mother Superior insisted on attending her novice’s psychiatric sessions, and if the psychiatrist freely shared what she had learned from Agnes with the Mother Superior. Rules were looser during the time the play was set in the 1980s, but I doubt this play should be taken as a legal guide in any event. According to Wikipedia, the play was inspired by a real-life case involving a 36-year-old nun with a somewhat similar story of concealed pregnancy.

All three women in the play have different experiences of femininity and womanhood, but all relate to womanhood through the prism of their Catholic upbringings, even when this has been discarded, as with Livingstone.

It’s hard to say much without spoilers, so I will stop here. But I will say that Annie Arbuckle, who plays Agnes, has a wonderfully lovely voice singing Latin songs. In contemplative orders, to which the nuns belong in this play, nuns often had choirs where their voices could be heard only from behind a screen. That may even still be true in a few places.

Whether or not you are a Catholic (I am not), the themes of this play are universal for anyone concerned with the plight of girls and women. The acting is compelling, and I was more drawn into the mystery than I expected.


A night at the salon: Global Civic Policy Salon, October 28

I liken the Global Civic Policy Salons to a tasting menu at a high-quality, innovative restaurant. Each course is well-prepared, and some are exactly to your taste, but the other courses are still intriguing and fun.

The salon follows a format of seven minutes per speaker. It is always astonishing how much can be said in that time with a well-prepared speaker.

At the October 28 salon, I was particularly taken by Alexander Weimann on the harpsichord. In seven minutes, he not only explained how and why he had moved to Canada, and eventually Vancouver, in his dual roles with Early Music Vancouver and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, but performed a couple of beautiful pieces on a lovely harpsichord. I am constantly encouraging people to take advantage of the great cultural opportunities Vancouver offers, rather than pining and complaining about what it does not. The music that Weimann brings to Vancouver is top-quality, and we are very lucky to have his talent in our city. I strongly recommend you look up the Early Music Vancouver schedule and attend a concert.

2015-10 Public Salon-10

Sam Sullivan, who with his partner Lynn Zanatta, pioneered this salon format which originated from personal dinner parties they gave, said that he specifically tries to avoid themes when selecting speakers, but that themes always emerge. That phenomenon was clear when we heard both from Judy Graves, a tireless and well-spoken advocate for the homeless in Vancouver, and from Bob Rennie, better known as “the condo king”. Graves reminded us how the homeless crisis has mushroomed, how we never used to see homeless people hanging around downtown, because just about everyone, save for a very few, could somehow find some room somewhere. Things have changed fundamentally, for various reasons. She urged us to consider the plight of a homeless person stuck in the rain, with wet socks and shoes. The average homeless person loses 20-30 years of life expectancy. Graves often tried to find shelter spots for homeless people, and did not always succeed. For such a complex subject in seven minutes, Graves masterfully led us through the current situation, how it got this way, and what the consequences are.


In a way, I thought Bob Rennie was brave to speak after Graves, knowing that many people blame him for the current high prices of real estate in Vancouver, and see him as an evil force of gentrification, which I consider to be a gross oversimplification. But Rennie did not mention that, nor talk about condos. Rennie was there to talk about the art he has collected, including some explosive American photographic images that make very serious points about gun violence. Rennie has a public art gallery in the Wing Sang building (which he has renovated), and is Chair of the Tate North American Acquisitions Committee (have you ever been to the Tate Modern in London — if not, go!).

Another speaker, Daniel Kalla, focused on how to have a dual career, in his case as an emergency-room physician and as a fiction author (it’s interesting that Rennie also has a dual career of sorts as an art collector and condo developer). The key, as one might expect, is not to waste time on frivolous pursuits. Kalla claims to be lazy, but his literary output suggests otherwise. It is true that emergency room physicians do have the benefit of strictly defined shifts, but that just means they have what approximates to a 40-hour work week. I am always trying to balance my cultural pursuits with my need to stay current in my technical field (which I also really enjoy), so I can relate somewhat.

Corey Ashworth talked about his campaign to help LGBT seniors who have been forced by circumstances to go back into the closet. How can this be, in 2015? Sometimes they have to rely on people who are not accepting of who they are. Take a look at Ashworth’s March Sweater Project:

Nicole Bridger spoke about the importance of fashion with a conscience, and the sadness of recently closing her Vancouver factory, although she hopes to develop some other approaches to this problem. Kevin Chong sounds like a very interesting author, and Dale McClanaghan offered us the promise of a Granville Island with a lot more creative spaces, once Emily Carr University makes the move to east Vancouver.

For the $20 ticket price, you will rarely find such a stimulating and diverse set of ideas in one evening. Not to mention, the evening started with the folk duo “No Mothers” playing some fun music. Sign up so you can be sure of finding out about the next salon in a few months time.

Review: The Incomplete Folksinger (Firehall Theatre, until November 14)

A skilled actor can sustain an illusion, and make us believe. That’s what I found compelling about Mark Hellman’s one-man show where he plays Pete Seeger, complete with banjo and guitar and his own voice. When Hellman came back on the stage for a Q&A after the show, it was clear just how well he had sustained the illusion. I could hear and see Seeger in Hellman’s performance (I have seen many Seeger performances on YouTube and elsewhere), but with Hellman on the stage as himself, it was clear just how remarkable a transformation it was.

Event information

The show takes us through Seeger narrating his life, using material from Seeger’s 1972 600-page biography, The Incompleat Folksinger.  Seeger died in 2014 at the age of 94, so this book is still far from the complete story of Seeger’s life.

As a huge Pete Seeger and folk music fan, I loved this show. But my companion, whose tastes are somewhat different, still enjoyed the show as well. The play is not just about Pete Seeger, but about politics, folk music preservation, fascinating events in American history, and finding the courage to constantly be fighting for what you think is right.

Seeger started his career as a would-be journalist during the Great Depression, and could not help but notice all of the suffering. Soon he met Guthrie, perhaps his most influential collaborator. It was Guthrie who got Seeger out to explore the width and breadth of America, starting with a car Guthrie had not yet paid for, and continuing with riding the freight trains. In the aftermath of a 1949 concert with African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson, Seeger and his family were the victims of an orchestrated Ku Klux Klan attack where stones were hurled at his vehicle as they attempted to drive away.

Seeger was threatened many times for his political activism. He was in Mississippi when the bodies of three civil-rights workers were found in 1963. He was continually being prevented from appearing on television, although sometimes succeeding too. The infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) tried to force Seeger to incriminate his friends. He waged a difficult legal battle, and fought criminal charges for refusing to speak, but ultimately prevailed. What Hellman did not dwell on, and what might be Seeger’s greatest error, was his initial support of Stalin, which lasted over a period of years, and was eventually admitted by Seeger to be an error.

All through this, Hellman would take up the banjo or guitar as appropriate, and sing another Pete Seeger song, or a song that Seeger had popularized. One of my favorites is “Lonesome Valley” (which a little online research indicates is a gospel song that predated both Seeger and Guthrie), but was popularized by both. I don’t have a video of Hellman, but here is Seeger singing it with Woody Guthrie’s son, Arlo:

The Q&A was fun. Hellman discussed the difficult process of winnowing down the 600-page autobiography to a single night’s performance. Hellman said there was more than enough material for another show. An audience member pointed out that Bob Dylan was omitted, as well as the notorious electric guitar controversy at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, but as Hellman pointed out, the book only discussed Dylan as a songwriter, and thus, to winnow the material down, the decision was made to exclude him.

I asked about when Seeger started singing Spanish-language songs. Seeger is well-known for his Guantanamera and De Colores covers, but I was unaware that Seeger’s love for Spanish-language music included a love of Spanish Civil War songs. I researched a bit, and found a 1940s-era album featuring Seeger and other folk singers, titled Songs of the Spanish Civil War: Volume 1.

Here is Pete Seeger singing one of these songs in 1993 (with translations provided by his singer grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who I have been fortunate enough to see perform in both New York and the Vancouver Folk Festival):

Pete Seeger did not seek out fame or fortune. He lived modestly, in a home he had built himself. Even into his 90s, he continued his political activism, through song and otherwise. Among the things I find interesting about Pete Seeger is how he combined his own creative genius with those of so many who came before and after him, and how he worked with others on the causes he found so important, including cleaning up the Hudson River.