RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Lifelong Ridgefield resident Barry Finch says he is "feeling sad but glad" after the death of folk singer Pete Seeger, who died Monday at the age of 94.
"I'm sad to lose Pete but glad to have known him and glad for all he did," said Finch. "I'd always been a fan of Pete Seeger. He was a great influence on me personally, on my music and on formulating my own life philosophy."
But it was through two casual happenstances that Finch, a retired Realtor and youth advocate, got to know Seeger, who was known throughout Westchester for his efforts to clean up the Hudson River.
Finch was watching the classic PBS documentary about the Weavers and another about Seeger's life when he was inspired to write a song using a line from one of the shows. He recorded it and, on a whim, sent it to Seeger.
"He sent it back to me with notes all over it," Finch said, laughing. "I was getting a one-on-one songwriting lesson from Pete Seeger. He said, 'Editorial and verse is not a folk song." .. I worked for weeks to try to rewrite the song to please my new mentor, but the song wouldn't let me."
At about the same time, a man from Seeger's hometown of Beacon, N.Y., invited Finch to meet up with the Beacon Sloop Club.
The group meets once a month to sing folk songs and to support the work of Clearwater, Seeger's environmental organization and the name of one of his sailing ships.
"Pete built the Clearwater, then built a smaller version called the Woody Guthrie," Finch said, saying that it takes a lot of work to support the sailing vessels. "I arrive at the Sloop Club, and I join up and it's great. And every once in a while, I would see Pete. And every once in a while we would talk about something important."
One of Finch's greatest memories is of sharing the bill, "with Pete at the top and little old me at the very bottom," at a victory party for President Barack Obama in 2008 in Beacon.
Finch performed "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," made famous by Seeger, to huge applause.
"As I'm packing up my guitar, Pete taps me on the shoulder and says, 'Are you the young fellow who did the Ed McCurdy song? You did a great job!'" Finch said, thinking to himself, "I can die now!"
Finch continued to be inspired by Seeger, and in 2010 wrote a song he called "Ole Pete," which he never played for his friend and now considers it a memorial to him. Here are the lyrics:
"We are the legacy Ole Pete will leave behind, as we sail the Clearwater's tides of hope and heartfelt pride
"From now until the end of our time, in harmonies and rhyme, we'll sing the songs and we'll dance the dance that give us all the chance
"To take our place, in this world and times, to do the good and prevent the crimes, of the cruelty of war and selfish greed, to love Mother Earth in thought, word and deed.
"Ole Pete, you are the seed, and we are the legacy you will leave behind. We are the legacy Ole Pete will leave behind as we sail the Woody's tides of hope and heartfelt pride."