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Answer Man: Seeger traveled the world but didn't make it here

Did Pete Seeger ever perform in the Rochester area? He lived long enough that I assume he did. For a world-traveling folk singer who lived to be 94, it seems impossible that Seeger didn't pluck his banjo in Rochester...

Folk singer and political activist Pete Seeger in his prime. Seeger died at age 94 last month.

Did Pete Seeger ever perform in the Rochester area? He lived long enough that I assume he did.

For a world-traveling folk singer who lived to be 94, it seems impossible that Seeger didn't pluck his banjo in Rochester at some time or another, but I can't find evidence that he did.

Seeger, one of the most influential American artists of the century, died Jan. 27 in New York. A few days later, I was trading notes with Steve Schmidt, who heads the city of Rochester's music department and the Riverside concerts. He hadn't heard that Seeger was ever here, either.

Steve should know — he's a big Seeger fan and knew Pete well about 20 years ago, when Steve was a board member for Sing Out! Magazine. The magazine was the bible of the folk music movement in the early '50s and continues to publish today.

"Sing Out! is a magazine that Pete started in the '50s and it was there at the start of the folk revival — it embodied that spirit of revival," says Steve, who's a musician and was invited to join the board from 1991 through 1994. "Pete was the heart and soul of that organization" and Steve got to know him well during those years, he says.


Seeger "didn't get too involved with the day-to-day management" of the magazine, but "there were some meetings where people around the table would start getting a little hot, and Pete, being a very gentle soul, would take a breath and bring us down to earth."

He describes the legendary singer and political activist as "a gentle soul, but he had a commanding spirit. He was able to lift us up and organize us to keep us going in a common direction, be that a protest against the Vietnam War or a magazine that was in trouble."

Steve, who's 59 and has been with the city music department since 1989, is working on an album of his own — his first recording since making a recording on vinyl long ago. He learned how to play guitar with some help from the vinyl 45s that were inserted in Sing Out! magazine, and "the whole folk music thing did inform and inspire the stuff I do today."

If you know of a bandstand in the area where Pete did his thing, let me know and I'll add it to the history books.

Dear Answer Man, you had an item on the Chardonnay house last week. I've heard that the Gift of Life Transplant House is interested in that property for a parking lot. True or false?

I've heard the same thing, and I'm waiting for a callback from the Gift of Life people. The topic first came up recently at the P-B Dialogues event at the public library a few weeks ago, when historic preservation advocate Kevin Lund said he wouldn't be surprised if the grand 120-year-old house was gone in 90 days.

I talked with Curt Schuster, who owns the house at 723 Second St. S.W., and he said, "There are no immediate plans to knock it down in the next 90 days." He and his wife operated a restaurant there a few years ago, and it was the Chardonnay restaurant for many years. While he's not "actively marketing it for sale, everything's for sale for the right price."

Kids used as bill collectors


My fiery comment in Wednesday's column about how it's grossly inappropriate to put a sticker or a stamp on a kid when his school lunch account is low drew this comment from Tony Smithson, of Rochester:

"Who among us would not reach in his/her pocket to pay for a child's lunch if that child was in front of us in the lunch line? Why can't the school districts allow parents to contribute to a fund to pay for lunches of the kids in need at the same time they pay for their own child's lunches? Also open it up to those, like me, whose children are no longer in school.

"This is a community problem best solved in the community."

Right on, Tony.

How did I miss this?

A P-B reader who's way smarter than me called this week and said, to paraphrase: If Block E in downtown Minneapolis is about to become Mayo Clinic Square, does that confirm that E = MC Square?

Everybody's an Einstein after reading the Answer Man. Send questions to P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903 or answerman@postbulletin.com.

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