Peter of Paul and Mary to play GLCFA in Bay Harbor
Alongside Parkland high school survivors, longtime activist still trying to Wake Up America
By Ross Boissoneau | Oct. 19, 2019
Peter Yarrow could be forgiven for living in the past. With a hit list of songs from his time with Peter, Paul and Mary — and the trio’s concurrent involvement in the civil rights struggle and opposition to the Vietnam war — he could simply show up to sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” and easily bring back memories of decades gone by.
But the 81-year-old Yarrow most assuredly lives in the present. That includes bringing together and working with other songwriters andStoneman-Douglas High School students who survived the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting to create 10 songs for an upcoming CD.
According to Yarrow, the songs on Wake Up America “carry the authority of undeniable truth that, we believe, can launch a ‘musical arm’ for today’s student movements, which is the prime objective of this effort. Just as the power of ‘music of conscience’ played a crucial role in inspiring and mobilizing the ’60s Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam movements, we believe these students’ songs can expand the reach of today’s student-led anti-gun violence and climate change movements.”
Given his background, it’s no surprise that Yarrow would be involved in such an effort. “You’ll hear so much power and strength in these songs. The students are reflecting an inconceivable imbalance in our moral system. Over 215,000 students are deeply traumatized and living in fear,” he said.
Yarrow said that because these songs are written and sung by students who are still traumatized, in pain and grieving deeply, audiences who hear them cheer their courage but also dissolve into tears of outrage and empathy for the students. In the accompanying press materials he said, “They respond in this way, we believe, because these songs reveal today’s perhaps most shameful and immoral choice by our nation, that being the refusal of our country’s leadership to ban assault weapons, which ban could largely prevent/eliminate future mass shootings.”
When asked about the current direction of the country and its sharp divide between left and right, Yarrow said that inability to come together is at the heart of the problem. “We are a nation that is great in many ways but has a track record of ignoring things,” he said. “We are really in a state where we need a national epiphany to break the cloud of fear and confusion.”
Yarrow knows whereof he speaks. He and his musical partners, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, were in Washington in 1963 to sing at the historic Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the equally historic Selma-Montgomery March in 1965. When the Civil Rights movement merged its efforts into the peace/anti-Vietnam war movement, Yarrow produced numerous large events, including massive peace concerts with numerous performers at Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium.
So joining forces with other similarly motivated singers and songwriters for this project was a natural fit — though it was a first. “It had never been done before. We went down to Parkland, and we mentored them, but they wrote these songs,” he said. The project has a Nov. 5 release date.
Another project with which he is involved is called Better Angels. It brings together people on opposite political sides to simply speak with and listen to one another. It turns out that when people do that they can find more in common and agree to disagree without the polarizing effect so common today. “It shows animosity is fake,” Yarrow said. “If we could have 20,000 mor[events like this], it would change the world.”
So with all that said, what can the audience at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts expect? For one thing, audience sing-alongs. (C’mon. We know you know the words to “Puff the Magic Dragon.”)
For another, for as deeply committed as he is to the ideas of the so-called liberal side of things, Yarrow is humble and approachable. In concert, that makes for a lively, engaging show. His sincerity is beguiling and comforting at the same time. He’ll applaud the audience as it sings along — and if the words aren’t familiar, he’ll make them so.
The show takes place 7:30pm Friday, Oct. 25, at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts. For tickets or more information, go to www.GreatLakesCFA.org.