Paying it forward
Boo Reiners and Elena Skye of the Demolition String Band lead a tribute concert to folk music icon Pete Seeger in Jamaica on Aug. 15.

Paying it forward

Vermont musicians honor legacy of Pete Seeger with a benefit concert in Jamaica

JAMAICA — Elena Skye first met American folk singer Pete Seeger when she was a small child.

Her parents had been aficionados of the folk revival music during the early 1960s, and some of the first albums to which Skye listened were Seeger playing with the Weavers and Almanac Singers. Although she doesn't remember the incident, her parents insist that, at a concert, Seeger patted Skye on the head.

Skye and her partner Boo Reiners, who together front the Demolition String Band, will be hosting a tribute to Pete Seeger at the Jamaica Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m.

This benefit for Neighborhood Connections will feature a variety of singers and players, all performing songs made famous by Pete Seeger. Along with Elena and Boo, performers will include Hungrytown, The Bondville Boys, Jon & Deena of The Cucumbers, Patty Carpenter, Melissa Shetler, as well as other special guests to be announced.

The suggested donation is $10. Light food and refreshments will be sold at the event.

“We had done a Woody Guthrie event last year at Jamaica Town Hall, and it was such a great night we felt we had to do it again and this time honor Pete,” says Skye.

She said she believes that the social impact of the music of Guthrie and Seeger has become particularly relevant again in our troubled times.

A prolific songwriter, Pete Seeger is best known for his songs “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” But Seeger also was a dedicated activist. At the height of The Weavers' success in the early 1950s, he and the rest of the group were blacklisted for their outspoken stands on social and political issues.

Seeger reemerged during the folk boom of the early 1960s, and was a prominent singer in support of international disarmament, civil rights, counterculture, and environmental causes. He was one of the folksingers most responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” that became the acknowledged anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Pete was such a charismatic performer,” says Skye. “His spirit was so strong that it was infectious and inspiring. His influence was to teach us to all to love music. He would play anywhere. He was not concerned about becoming a big pop star. He would perform for anyone who was musically engaged, no matter if they were a sophisticated crowd or impoverished kids from the ghetto or at a benefit to clean up the Hudson River. Into his 90s, he was still giving himself through his music and activism.”

Skye and Reiners are also socially committed musicians. One of their special concerns is mountain-top removal. Their music is used on the soundtrack for Burning the Future: Coal in America, a 2008 documentary film produced and directed by David Novack that focuses on the impacts of mountain-top mining in the Appalachians.

As the Demolition String Band, Skey and Reiners have released five albums and toured the United States and Europe.

“Our music is a mixture of traditional American, mountain, and rock, all with a bluegrass edge” says Skey. “Boo calls it twangedelic.”

Their latest release is an Elena Skye/Woody Guthrie collaboration on the Grammy-nominated album, “My Name Is New York, Ramblin' Around Woody Town.”

Primarily New Yorkers, Skey and Reiners have made a second home for themselves in Williamsville for the past 11 years.

“We spend about a couple of months a year there,” says Skye. “I go every at least a few days every month, during all the seasons. A lot of the music on my last couple of albums was actually recorded up here, using house-recording Pro-Tool on my computer.”

Skye first fell in love with Vermont when she went to Bennington College.

“That was a kooky, crazy place the time I was there,” says Skye. “I also had a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson. So I felt myself drawn to the state.”

This concert is their way of giving back to this community, she says.

“Our love of folk, bluegrass, mountain, and classic country, and of bringing communities of musicians together, was our inspiration for doing this Pete Seeger night,” says Skye. “It is our way to meet and see fellow musicians perform. As full-time musicians, we usually can't go to each other's concerts because we're off doing our own.”

Many of the musicians who joined last year for the Guthrie concert are returning for Seeger.

“Jon & Deena are a husband and wife team who fronted the very popular band The Cucumbers and now work together behind Deena's musical projects,” Skye says. This includes her most current CD, Rock River, named after the beloved river that flows through South Newfane and Williamsville.

“Hungrytown is another wonderful husband and wife team based out of Townshend, whose latest CD is entitled Further West,” Skye continues. “We're also excited to have Patty and her Dysfunctional Jazz Band on board. She did a great job at our Woody Guthrie night.

“Rounding out the roster will be the Bondville Boys - they're local favorites - which includes Laura Molinelli, who was the one that first turned us onto the Jamaica Town Hall that is such a great venue to perform in.”

Molinelli also introduced them to Neighborhood Connections, the grassroots organization for which the concert is a benefit.

Founded in 2009, Neighborhood Connections offers preventative health care, health education, and social services to Jamaica and its surrounding towns. The nonprofit assists people as they navigate through the social service system, and connects them with the resources they need, including health education, counseling, and crisis management.

“It's a fantastic organization that has had an immediate impact on the community,” Skye says. “They will be bringing hot dogs and drinks to the event, which the audience can buy, and all the proceeds go to Neighborhood Connections, as does the concert itself.”

The suggested admission is $10, but Skye says people can pay what they can afford.

“If it is like last year, some will pay more, some less. Don't let the price keep you away. We want everyone to come for this really fun evening of music.”

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