By Wayne Harada
Where have all the great folksingers gone? To the land of DVD, that’s where.
Today (July 26) marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic folk music trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and to coincide with that milestone, the group’s first PBS special, “25th Anniversary Concert,” is being released by Shout! Factory.
With Borders on the verge of shutting down, check amazon.com or Barnes & Nobles for copies.
It was in 1986 that this concert was taped before an audience at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville, and PP&M — from the initial hands-held dash onto stage, to the impromptu a cappella “Good Night Irene” second encore — never disappoints.
Over 90 minutes, you’ll witness and appreciate the musical chemistry of Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, whose style is simple —two guys sing and strum guitars, the tall blonde wails like no other (complete with head-bobbing, to punctuate a lyrical or emotional moment).
Like others in their ‘70s and ‘80s heyday of performers who converted protests to entertainment, PP&M’s songbag embraces messages of hope and righteousness, but delivered in a quiet and understated yet passionate manner. By today’s standards, PP&M is not very theatrical. Nonetheless, its eclectic personalities complement each other.
The legacy is in the music — tunes penned by Woody Guthrie (“This Land Is Your Land”) or Pete Seeger (“If I Had a Hammer”) or John Denver (“Leaving on a Jet Plane”). The relevance then was to reflect the voice and unrest of the young; turns out the music is timeless, even appropriate amid today’s issues about war and taxes and mundane stress — the essence of everyman’s life.
Clearly, this is the soundtrack of a generation and an aural history of an act connected by love and respect, bonded by harmonies and quirky sense of humor.
Three spontaneous standing ovations punctuate this concert, the first coming after the third tune, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Why is a No. 1 tossed in so early in the evening? So that the young ones, still awake, can enjoy it.
Mary, like a queen, can command audience participation, with a mere wave of the hand; lips move and voices ring out from the crowd, providing “Puff” lyrics when so directed.
Happens again on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” with Queen Mary leading the command; she wonders out loud about where to find answers and she self-answers, courtesy the poetry of folkie Dylan: “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind.”
In the end, a line from “If I Had a Hammer” provides an unintended but spot-on review of the Peter Paul and Mary phenom: “love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.”
I remember the group’s sell out Hawaii concerts at the Waikiki Shell and Blaisdell Concert Hall over the decades.
Mary died in 2009, from chemotherapy due to complications of leukemia, virtually putting an end to the beloved act as we knew it. The 25th anniversary concert is the best keepsake of this stellar icon.
Do you have special memories of Peter Paul and Mary? Share them here.