For the last 35 years, thousands of people have poured onto the bluffs overlooking the Hudson River in Croton-on-Hudson to hear their favorite folk musicians sing tunes of inspiration and joy on seven stages at the Clearwater Festival.
This year's event, which takes place June 15-16, will have a jam-packed roster of musicians, dancers, storytellers and other entertainers, including Mavis Staples, Kris Kristofferson, Son Volt and Judy Collins, along with the festival's founder, folk legend Pete Seeger.
Singer-songwriter Dar Williams said "he's the one that everybody hopes they'll see at least once in the day when they go."
Organizing all this musical magic is the event's director, Steve Lurie, who spoke with Newsday Westchester and gave highlights of what the festival will deliver.
How important is it to you to have a diverse roster of artists perform at Clearwater?
I think of this as a folk music festival, but in a much more global sense, where I'll bring in folk artists from around the world and really use that as a universal kind of a theme.
This year we have [an afrobeat] group called Antibalas, and we've got a group called Red Baraat, [who are] influenced by bhangra.
We have Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, which are a band of musicians that met in a refugee camp. They live over there, and they happen to be recording a record in Vermont the same week as the festival, so I was able to work it out to get them here.
So the ones I get really excited about don't actually live in this country. And I get excited about them because it's unexpected to the audience, and hopefully they'll take away some knowledge and think about things a little differently.
Which artists are you looking forward to seeing perform this year?
I'm excited to have Kris Kristofferson here this year. I presented Kris a number of times [at other events], and he played at Pete Seeger's 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden [in 2009], but he has never played the festival. So I'm excited because there's a connection there.
I'm so excited for Mavis Staples because there are certain artists that I look at from a mission perspective, and I feel that Mavis is so Clearwater mission-based. The Staple Singers, a legendary group [of which Mavis was a member], they used to open for Martin Luther King Jr., and Pete Seeger spent time with King. I just can't imagine they didn't cross paths at some point. She grew up with this gospel, sacred-style of singing, and then blossomed into this legendary soul singer.
Toshi Reagon [the namesake and goddaughter of Pete Seeger's wife, Toshi, who will perform with her band, Big Lovely] is just really inspiring to me ... Each year when she performs, if I can, I try to hide out on the side of the stage for 15 minutes ... and just listen and watch. Even though she may not be the headliner, I just have a real connection to her musically and personally.
What makes Clearwater different from other music festivals?
People come to listen to music, but a lot of people come because it's supporting Clearwater's mission. And the way that we reach people is through the artists that sell the tickets. But there's so much more to offer at the festival. Between the crafts fair and the Working Waterfront and the Green Living Expo, it's not just a music festival. We call it a music and environmental festival, of which it is the oldest in the country.
One of the hallmarks of the festival is inclusiveness. Has that always been part of the Clearwater ethos?
That is [founders] Pete and Toshi Seeger, that's due to them. They are about inclusiveness. It's not like you can't be disabled or deaf and not go to a festival. ... But we have a different level of respect and commitment to provide an environment where disabled are experiencing the festival on the same level as non-disabled people.
We have a committee that's called ACCESS, and its all about the transportation, for those in wheelchairs and those that are disabled, and we have American Sign Language translators on every single one of our stages. And that's not something you find very often.
[The event's inclusiveness] make me proud to be associated with the Clearwater Festival. This is a festival where everyone is accepted. Everybody's uniqueness and individuality is really celebrated here.
IF YOU GO
What: Clearwater Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturday, June 15; 9 a.m. to 8:15 p.m., Sunday, June 16; rain or shine
Tickets: $80-$200; children under 12 free with an adult
Parking: $10 for spaces at the park; $5 for a space at the Croton-Harmon train station, which includes free shuttle service to and from the festival
Info: Croton Point Park, 1A Croton Point Ave., Croton-On-Hudson; 845-236-5596; clearwaterfestival.org