Walkabout Coffeehouse Continues to Provide Music With a Purpose

Legendary folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger once said, “The key to the future of the world is finding optimistic stories and letting them be known.” True to his words, Seeger spent his entire life educating and enlightening generations of fans by writing hundreds of songs about peace, justice and the environment.

Today, Seeger’s legacy lives on through Walkabout Clearwater Sloop, Inc., an organization he helped to establish, which takes Hudson River issues inland and promotes social action through music. One way it does this is with monthly concerts (October through May) hosted by its Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse.

While the Coffeehouse hosts a wide variety of performers with musical styles that range from country and blues, to Cajun and hip-hop, it is most common for guests to hear traditional folk singers. In fact, prior to the evening’s performance, the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus leads the audience in an informal sing-along of folk songs old and new.

According to Mike Lavery, the Coffeehouse’s emcee and sound operator: “We have a new generation of performers, but we make sure we stay on track with our mission to provide music with a purpose. We want the music to say something, and our audience appreciates that.” The next generation of performers includes Lindsey Wilson and Kristen Graves, two singer-songwriters who recently played at the Coffeehouse.

Wilson, a Brooklyn native who writes passionately about social issues, has a soulful bluesy sound. “When I first started out, I wrote love songs,” said Wilson. “But over time, I began to write about the social injustice and the inequalities that I see. I want to give a voice to those who are oppressed, while offering hope for a brighter future.” One of the highlights of her performance was a song called “Fight Back,” in which Wilson calls for community action against persecution. “You’ve got to fight back when you’re being attacked,” she sang.

Graves, a Seeger enthusiast from Fairfield, CT, blends the storytelling roots of folk music with upbeat, modern lyrics. Writing catchy and often witty songs, she is inspired by the people she meets and the circumstances surrounding them. In “Soldier,” a song about people putting aside differences to come together in peace, she sang: “my weapon is my song.”  In traditional folk style, she ended her set with a sing-along of the Seeger classic “If I Had a Hammer” and the inspirational hymn “This Little Light of Mine.”

Through their songs and messages, both singers captured the essence of what folk music, and Seeger’s legacy, is all about – creating a positive tone for cultural change.

Jean Havens, the Coffeehouse’s coordinator who, along with Lavery, has been a volunteer almost since its inception thirteen years ago, has seen the Coffeehouse evolve over the years. She finds that in troubled times, folk music still resonates with people: “Folk music helps to make sense of the world. We have a real feeling of community here at the Coffeehouse.”

Another recent Walkabout performer included blues musician Guy Davis, who performed songs from his latest album as well as classic blues and traditional folk numbers. “For me, folk music was the doorway that I came into the blues from,” said Davis, who performed with Seeger on his last official tour. “I want people hearing the song to know that life is precious.” The son of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis has carved a name for himself in the blues community worldwide with his blending of modern and traditional blues and his highly accessible songwriting.

On April 14, Sonia De Los Santos and Rachel Kilgour will perform. De los Santos, who specializes in family and children’s music, performs songs in both English and Spanish that explore her Mexican heritage. Kilgour’s emotionally sincere lyrics are the base for her singer-songwriter performances with themes of love, loss and resilience. Rounding out the season will be Emma’s Revolution on May 12.

The Walkabout Clearwater Coffeehouse‘s performances take place at the Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains.


Katherine Doherty is a writer, graphic designer and travel enthusiast from White Plains, NY. A former magazine editor, she currently manages corporate communications for a global logistics company. She holds a BFA from Rochester Institute of Technology where she majored in fine arts.

Ambassador’s Corner: This blog post is written by one of ArtsWestchester’s Arts Ambassador volunteers. As part of the Arts Ambassador Program, volunteers observe, and participate in the support of, innovative programs, cultural activities and events. This actively assists ArtsWestchester in maintaining its mission to ensure the ever-growing cultural enrichment of Westchester County.  For information, contact Judith at jweber@artswestchester.org.

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