Folk legend Pete Seeger, dead at 94, played free Stanley Park concert 28 years ago

Folk legend Pete Seeger, who died Monday of natural causes in New York at the age of 94, headlined a Stanley Park concert in Vancouver almost three decades ago.

The May 25, 1986, outdoor gig with fellow folksinger Arlo Guthrie (with whom Seeger was performing at Expo 86) at Malkin Bowl also featured local punk heroes D.O.A. in their first (albeit unplanned) acoustic show.

At the time, evictions of hundreds of longterm residents from downtown hotels trying to cash in on Expo visitors had become an issue for city council, landlords, activists, and the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association. DERA asked Seeger and Guthrie if they would play a benefit for the evictees while they were in town, and they agreed. (Two months previous, Seeger had played a Vancouver legal-aid benefit concert for Haida elders arrested at a Lyell Island antilogging blockade.)

Fraser Institute economist Michael Walker at that time famously told the Vancouver Sun's Terry Glavin of the evictees that they could "save everyone a lot of trouble if they were all put on buses to the Kootenays".

DERA leader and housing activist Jim Green, later a Vancouver city councillor and mayoral candidate, asked D.O.A. if they would play as well, and frontman Joe “Shithead” Keithley agreed.

The City of Vancouver (under then-mayor Mike Harcourt) and the park board, in cooperation with the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, decided on a free Sunday event. The park board, though, objected to D.O.A. being on the bill, ostensibly because the band’s amplified guitars would disturb the resident’s of the since-dismantled park zoo. (Keithley later said the board was afraid that D.O.A.'s fans would run out of control and trample the park's floral beds.)

An eventual compromise saw amplified drums and bass allowed but the two guitars restricted to acoustic versions (which were cranked up at the event anyhow).

Seeger—a renowned Woody Guthrie protégé, antiwar protestor, 1950s and ’60s U.S. blacklisted performer, and environmentalist who is probably best known for cofounding folk groups the Almanac Singers and the Weavers and penning such folk classics as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “Turn, Turn, Turn!”, and “If I had a Hammer”—performed with Arlo, Woody’s son, and the concert reportedly raised $10,000 in donations from enthusiastic audience members in the packed Malkin Bowl. (Local performers Bim, Bob Bossin, Connie Kaldor, and Katari Taiko had been added to the bill as well.)

Seeger personally dedicated the show to the memory of Olaf Solheim, an 87-year-old Vancouverite who had become a symbol of the anti-Expo sentiment when he died shortly after being evicted from Hastings Street’s Patricia Hotel, where he had been a resident for decades. Then-chief medical health officer Dr. John Blatherwick said at the time: "The spark went out of him after the eviction. He just stopped living."

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