Over on Star Maker Machine, We have just completed a week of songs of peace and fellowship. I originally thought of posted “Down By the Riverside” there, but, as I thought of what I wanted to say, I decided the post belonged here instead.
I went to my first peace demonstration as an eight year old, in 1968. My father took my two older brothers and me to protest the Vietnam War. No doubt, I first heard folk music and spirituals at these demonstrations, but that is not how I remember things. For an eight year old, the most memorable thing was just the hugeness of it all. I boarded the bus in a town of 800 people, and disembarked into a sea of one million. My senses were overwhelmed. We formed this giant organism that slithered down the streets of New York or Washington to some common space that was never quite large enough to hold all of us. We sang together and chanted together as we marched, and cheered speakers and musicians together at the rallies. While we were together, a million strong, we could not imagine how anything or anyone could deny our will.
It was always amazing to me to see the news coverage, and the pictures in the paper the next day. There would be overhead shots meant to emphasize the size of the crowd. I knew that viewing these images with a microscope, it would be possible to find me.
I was aware of the music as it played and the speakers as they spoke. We were raised in my family to place great importance in such things. But, as we headed home, the details would begin to blur in my mind. The information would stay lodged in my brain, and as I encountered some of the music again later in life, I would have the sense of meeting an old friend. But the next day I could not have told you who we had heard.
I am sure that I first heard “Down By the Riverside” at one of these demonstrations. It could have been Pete Seeger or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee performing it. Or, it could have been someone else.
Pete Seeger: Study War No More (Down By the Riverside)
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee: Down By the Riverside