Sparky, The Environmentalist and Town Elder

Last week, the Gratitude Migration team took a trip down memory lane in a candid conversation with Raymond “Sparky” Cann, a long-time environmentalist with roots in the Clearwater movement. We spoke with him about the history of Clearwater Festival, his involvement with the Migration team, and what he’s most excited for with this year’s Summer Dream.

Raymond ‘Sparky’ Cann, an environmentalist who is part and parcel with the New Jersey Friends of Clearwater and Clearwater Festival, has dedicated himself to preserving our waters and making them clean again. Originally hailing from Newark, NJ, Raymond has called Keansburg his home for almost 5 decades, living just down the street from the beach on which Gratitude Migration takes place. In his words, 

I’ve been here for 45 years. I’ve got sand in my shoes and I don’t think I’m leaving.


Legendary singer songwriter Pete Seeger founded Clearwater Foundation in 1966, saddened by the toxic pollution destroying the Hudson River. With a mission to educate people about the Hudson, the Foundation purchased a replica boat reminiscent of the historic ‘sloops’ that sailed the Hudson in 18th and 19th centuries to remind people of its beauty when the waters were truly clean.

 Photo by Eraj Asadi

Photo by Eraj Asadi

For almost 30 years, the Clearwater Foundation hosted the annual Clearwater Festival in a variety of venues in the region, and for a long time took place in Sandy Hook, a spit of land which extends out to the Atlantic Ocean, part of the Gateway National Park. As the resident electrician for the Clearwater Festival, he became known by the moniker ‘Sparky’. Last year, the day after Gratitude Migration, Raymond met Gratitude Migration co-producer Avi Werde and mentioned his role as Clearwater’s electrician as well as his tenure as the Head of Finance at Clearwater Festival for 15 years.

Since it was the first time Gratitude was doing an open-air festival, I wanted to share my experiences and try to help them.

This beachside town holds a very special place in Sparky’s heart.

“You can see the entire Verrazano Bridge from the shore. On a clear day, you can even see Coney Island. It’s such a great location. What’s really great about this beach is the large sand dune which separates beach-goers from the general public, offering a sense of privacy. I imagine that people are coming out here for the weekend to enjoy the summer weather, the beach, the water - with their friends. On top of that, this is a politics-free zone,”

This year, Sparky is most excited that local residents will have the opportunity to show people who come to his town that there are like-minded individuals across the bay and that the residents are in fact very friendly.

Clearwater’s presence at this year’s Gratitude Migration will be interactive and educational.

We will give an environmental talk, and we’ll be collaborating with other groups that are environmentally active.

 For future Gratitude Migrations, Sparky is really excited about the prospect of bringing wooden boats into the fray. “Down the road, we’d like to build a wooden boat during the weekend of Gratitude Migration. We’d love to show festival-goers how to build their own boats and oars.”

 Image by Eraj Asadi

Image by Eraj Asadi

According to Raymond, Keansburg’s population skews on the more mature side. “Anyone under the age of 40 is a youngster here.” Through Gratitude Migration, Keansburg has been able to tap into the arts, and bring in more young folks. 

There is a groundswell of people wanting to see Gratitude Migration come to Keansburg. The arts have had a very positive effect on this town.

Sparky might be “older” but he certainly hasn’t lost his flame. He chuckled and left me with this little gem of a phrase before we parted ways:

There may be some snow on the roof, but there is plenty of fire in the fireplace.
— Sparky