When Sean Wilentz, one of the country’s most eminent historians and the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton, invites you to do a program with him with an intriguing title such as Plagues and Pandemics: A Musical Tradition to benefit the Arts Council of Princeton – the only acceptable answer is YES!
“I was flattered, honored and intrigued, and instantly said yes,” recalls John Weingart, Associate Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, and the host of WPRB’s “Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio”, one of the nation’s foremost eclectic folk music broadcasts.
On Saturday, July 25, John Weingart and Sean Wilentz will join forces for a listening tour and lively discussion of a unique musical tradition: the Plague Ballad. The two will play and discuss some of their favorite songs of despair and perseverance, take questions from the audience, and open up a conversation that will help us all face the continuing health emergency. Get your tickets here.
“I first met Sean in 2001 when he came on my radio show to discuss Bob Dylan’s then-new album Love and Theft. Sean was a fan of my show which is how he knew me. I knew of him because he’s famous and an immediately likeable guy”, says Weingart. Wilentz is the author of, among other notable works, the New York Times and national bestseller, Bob Dylan in America. Wilentz is also a two-time Grammy nominee for Best Album Notes, including The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964 – Concert at Philharmonic Hall.
We had a chance to check in with John Weingart to learn what life has been like during these unique times:
JW: My wife and I have been enjoying working from home and not missing the 2-hour round-trip commute that used to set boundaries on our days. I’ve been enjoying long walks in our neighborhood while listening to podcasts of Pod Save America and recordings of new music. I’ve also been spending time learning how to broadcast a radio show from home rather than from the basement of a Princeton University building where WPRB is located. Finally, my daughter initiated a weekly Zoom family call with cousins I love and haven’t spent nearly enough time with before.
John adds during this time he and his wife have watched all 10,000 episodes of the TV series Doc Martin, and he enjoyed the new movie, Palm Springs. He also learned a lot about the 1918 pandemic reading John Barry’s book The Great Influenza and has done a reasonably good job limited his daily intake of news.
In the midst of this global health crisis, John Prine, one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters, died at 73 due to complications related to COVID-19.
JW: I was a fan of John Prine’s from the release of his first album a long time ago and feel like I appreciated his music during his lifetime, but I have been so much more deeply drawn to it since he died,” says Weingart. “I listen to songs and whole albums I didn’t really appreciate and watch YouTube programs and clips with so many musicians and others speaking of how much his music and life meant to them. I know his life had its difficulties but it seems that he lived pretty joyously and transmitted that joy to so many others.”
Weingart looks forward to the day when it’s safe to gather again so he can visit friends and family in Massachusetts, travel with his wife to a least one or two of the many countries that they haven’t seen, play tennis, and invite friends over to drink a toast to a new president. Above all, he looks forward to the day he can hug his wonderful daughter who lives by herself in Philadelphia.
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In addition to an engaging conversation, Plagues and Pandemics: A Musical Tradition ticket holders will receive a specially curated Plague Playlist, and will be entered into a raffle to win a copy of The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, edited by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, along with the book’s accompanying CD featuring 20 American folk ballads, performed by Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, Mississippi John Hurt, and Bob Dylan.
This special fundraiser event is an opportunity to learn something new while showing your support for keeping community arts alive in Princeton, and is presented as part of the Arts Council of Princeton’s apART together initiative, providing virtual programming in order to stay creative and connected during this time while we are physically distancing.