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by Donald S. Unger


Forty years ago, aghast at the condition of the Hudson River, singer, musician, and political activist Pete Seeger resolved to “build a boat to save a river.”Given that musicians often have to sing for their suppers,a concert to raise money for the project seemed a natural.The first Folk Picnic on the Hudson was held in 1966.Three years later, the boat, a replica of the sort of sloop that sailed the Hudson carrying cargo in the 18th and 19th centuries, was launched and christened the Clearwater.

This Father’s Day weekend (June 17-18) marks the 40th anniversary of what has become Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival”, or just the Clearwater Festival to regulars.Dozens of musicians, entertainers, artists/artisans and political activists will converge on Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, supported by an army of some one thousand volunteers.Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 for the role that it has played in the history of the American Environmental Movement, the sloop Clearwater will be there as well.

While the festival was born of a series of Folk Picnics, it has grown in scope as well as size.Folk, as a musical genre, is broadly construed at Clearwater. Typical acts over the years have run the gamut from politically rooted singer/songwriters like Tom Paxton, Holly Near and Arlo Guthrie, to Native American drumming and chanting, to the Canadian band Moxy Fruvous whose music has sometimes been referred to as Trip Hop Bluegrass — all spiced with a good helping of Blues, Zydeco, Appalachian fiddle music, and a little Rock, Jazz, and Funk on the side. This year’s lineup includes Peter Seeger himself, Janis Ian, The Mammals, Michelle Shocked, Dan Bern, Black 47, Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka, Guy Davis, Holly Near and Vance Gilbert.

The festival runs from 10am to dusk on both Saturday and Sunday; single day or full weekend passes are available, and there is on-site camping available for festival volunteers.There are six performance venues, spread throughout the park, including a dance tent and, with a little down time here and there for setting up and re-tuning the sound systems, entertainment is pretty much continuous in all of them.

The music and entertainment are supplemented by a food court, a crafts and folk arts bazaar, an activist area (disproportionately populated, as one would expect, with environmental activists), educational displays (many focused on the Hudson River and related watersheds and ecosystems), and a Green Living Expo.In keeping with the latter two sections, and with the larger mission of the Clearwater organization, the festival runs — literally — on renewable energy: for several years now, the performance stages have all been powered by a combination of solar power and biodiesel generators.

The festival is family-friendly for all ages: There is a family stage, reserved for kid-centered music, a story grove, and a community stag. The park itself has multiple playground areas and a swimming beach with a lifeguard; and the sloop Clearwateris on hand for rides on the river and environmental lectures and demonstrations. Since its launch, it has welcomed more than 400,000 children aboard to teach them about the river and its history. The park is patrolled by Westchester County Police and by Clearwater volunteers, the latter with the word “Peacekeeping” emblazoned on their backs. Hard liquor is banned and beer and wine typically are not much in evidence.

For older or disabled festival goers, there is a sign language interpreter at every performance; clearly marked and policed lanes to allow transit for people in wheelchairs at every stage, plus wheelchair areas up front, near the music; and a cohort of volunteers to support those in need of assistance (this group with the tag “Access” on their backs).

All revenue from the festival goes to support Clearwater’s ongoing efforts to keep the Hudson River clean and accessible, to teach children and adults about the history of the river — recent and more distant; and to reconnect them to the pleasure of one of New York State’s great natural treasures.The festival is a great opportunity to feel good while doing good.It shouldn’t be missed. 


Where: Croton Point Park, Croton-on-Hudson

When: Father’s Day Weekend: Saturday,June 17 and Sunday, June 18; 10am to dusk

How much: $45/day; $60 /whole weekend; kids under 12 free.Discounts for tickets purchased in advance, seniors and students, Clearwater members, and people on limited incomes.

Parking: $5 at Croton Point Park.Free parking at Metro North train station, from which Clearwater runs a continuous free shuttle service. 

Package deals (festival and train tickets) available for people traveling to the festival on Metro North trains: 1-800-METRO-INFO or www.mta.info/mnr

For more info: www.clearwater.org

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