Celebrating a River

Folk Music, Family Fun, and Environmental Awareness at the Clearwater Festival
As a college student, I overhear a lot of conversations regarding music festivals. Talk mostly centers around the big names (Lollapalooza in Chicago, Coachella in California, Bonnaroo in Tennessee) and related music activities (I don’t think I need to elaborate here). But there are a lot more music festivals out there than just the big names. And there are more reasons than just good music and good times to attend a multi-day fest.

In addition to great folk music, the Clearwater Festival (also known as the Great Hudson River Revival) at Croton Point Park in New York on the shores of the Hudson River June 16 and 17 offers environmental education, connection and history. The festival’s roots began in the mid-sixties when the Hudson River was declared “dead” due to many years of sewage pollution and industrial toxic chemical dumping. Pete Seeger, a well-known folk artist and activist, sought “to build a boat to save the river.” In order to finance the building of this boat, Seeger held fundraising concerts throughout the Hudson River Valley. The Clearwater, a replica of the type of sloop that sailed the Hudson during the 18th century and a beauty, attracted people to the river. The sloop was to act as an on-site classroom to educate people on the Hudson ecosystem. Once aboard, the river’s destruction was evident and motivated people to anger and action. The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc., the organization that runs the boat and the festival, has played key roles in the passing of environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act.

Today, rides aboard the Clearwater still offer many people their first glimpses of the intricate workings of a river ecosystem. As in the past, the Clearwater and the festival remain closely tied, but the sloop is now joined by a companion, the Mystic Whaler, a schooner. Both vessels take festival-goers on two-hour sails, where you can learn about the surrounding ecosystem, how to sail or just sit back and listen to live music.

In addition to learning about the interactions between bird, fish and river, festival-goers can also learn about humans’ place in the environment back on land. At the Green Living Expo, booths covering everything from growing a garden without chemical fertilizers to insulating your home with recycled material to using photovoltaic solar cells provide workshops and information to curious individuals. You can also find new job opportunities in the green industry, take your kids to a puppet theater production or a storytelling, visit the Activist Area to learn about various causes, or buy some tasty food from local producers and farmers. The festival is also aiming to be zero waste, with aggressive composting and recycling initiatives.

And then, of course, there is the music. This year’s line-up includes Ani DiFranco, Martin Sexton, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Arlo Guthrie & The Guthrie Family, Joan Osborne, and Tom Chapin, along with more than 60 other performers. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this festival is the ability to connect with others of similar interests. In the words of Ani DiFranco, “Clearwater is everything a folk festival should be; good music, good people and good fun. You’ll find your community is bigger when you leave than when you came.”