Peter, Paul and Mary are best known as being the most popular and commercially successful trio to emerge from the 1960s folk revival. While that’s true, it’s only one small part of the extraordinary lives and careers of Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers. Mary Travers passed away in 2009, but Peter and Paul still perform a few shows every year together to celebrate the trio’s legacy — including a show this weekend in Thousand Oaks. With both men soon turning 80 years old, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see two American legends together at a time when voices like theirs are more important, and rarer, than ever. Here’s just a few reasons why Peter, Paul and Mary are three of the most important and influential artists in the history of not only folk music, but American music.
The World’s Most Famous Dragon
“Puff, the Magic Dragon” is not just a kid’s song. It’s one of the most powerful songs about growing up and the loss of childhood innocence. It produced three Emmy-winning children’s TV specials, a gorgeously illustrated children’s book and one of the most famous dragons of all time. And no, despite stoner-driven urban myth, the song is not about drugs. Co-written by Yarrow after finding the lyrics in a friend’s (Lenny Lipton) typewriter while in college, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” is simply a masterpiece.
What a Wonderful Wedding.
If it wasn’t played at your wedding, it’s been played at a wedding you’ve attended. “The Wedding Song (There Is Love)” was written as a present by Stookey for Yarrow’s wedding in 1972. The beautiful and deep understanding of love is almost spiritual and it’s rightfully become a standard. Remarkably, Stookey asked that the song be registered in the public domain, meaning no one has to pay royalties to perform or record it. It was a rare and selfless act in the music business.
For the Kids
Children’s music pretty much sucked regardless of the genre until Peter, Paul and Mommy, the trio’s first foray into children’s music. The record is a classic of the genre and one of the first that understood that kids deserved something a little more meaningful than “Hokey Pokey.” Stookey’s children’s music side project, Hugworks, for years has been at the forefront of music for special-needs children; and Yarrow recently teamed up with his daughter and son-in-law for an excellent children’s record, Puff and Other Family Classics.
What About Bob?
Peter, Paul and Mary are directly responsible for helping the world discover Bob Dylan. That’s right. Peter, Paul and Mary shared the same manager as Dylan, Albert Grossman, and Stookey is the one who suggested that Grossman check out Dylan. More than that, the very first song of Dylan’s to become a hit was Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” released in 1963 while Dylan was still a struggling folkie in the New York folk music scene. While Dylan has gone on to be covered countless times and score multiple hits for others as well as himself, Peter, Paul and Mary were the first. Their cover helped the big D score his first real payday in the music business and kicked off the career of a man who changed music forever.
In 2000, Yarrow helped start Operation Respect, a nonprofit organization that brings to children, in schools and camps, “a curriculum of tolerance and respect for each other’s differences.” Yarrow has performed for free all over the world in front of children, and the program has reached nearly one-third of all elementary and middle schools in America. That’s over 20,000 schools in this country alone.
While covers like, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” may be the songs Peter, Paul and Mary had their most commercial success with, Yarrow’s and Stookey’s own originals are incredibly overlooked. Check out Yarrow’s “Weave Me the Sunshine,” “The Great Mandala,” “Light One Candle” and “No Easy Walk To Freedom.” Or try Stookey’s “Jean Claude,” “El Salvador,” “Sebastian” and “State of the Heart.” All are moving and powerful songs covering a host of different subjects that are on par with any of the trio’s more well-known covers.
A Lifetime of Activism
Beyond the music, perhaps the greatest contribution that Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers have made is their activism. They were at the March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the march in Selma, Alabama. They performed at countless anti-Vietnam War benefits, including the legendary March on Washington in 1969, which over half a million people attended and Yarrow helped organize. There wouldn’t be enough room to list the causes that the three members have supported over the decades, but even at their age Yarrow and Stookey are still going strong. Locally, Stookey and his wife, Betty, have a powerful interfaith presentation, One Light, Many Candles, performed at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ventura in 2014 for a benefit for the homeless. Nationally, Yarrow has been incredibly vocal against all things Donald Trump. “We’re talking about somebody who is really unbalanced. As a layperson but also as a psychology major, I’ve seen evaluations on who he is, and he really is potentially very dangerous to the country beyond whatever his political beliefs are,” Yarrow said in a recent interview. He is currently working on a groundbreaking documentary about healing the current divide in the country, saying, “Why is closing that divide so essential? Because if it continues to exist, that is the precondition for the turning of the nation to a fascistic perspective. That’s when the people cannot humanize each other.”
Support Local Music
Not enough to convince you? Fine. Let’s keep it local. Noel Paul Stookey has a home in Ojai and spends half the year living there. So that makes him an official local. And if there’s one thing Ventura County can pride itself on, it’s supporting local music . . . even if that local musician just happens to be a living legend from one of the most important and influential acts of all time.
Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey appear on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets, call 449-2787 or visit www.civicartsplaza.com. For more information on Peter Yarrow visit www.peteryarrow.net. For information on Noel Stookey visit http:/www.noelpaulstookey.com