Peter, Paul say songs ‘woo’ teenagers

Noel Paul Stookey, far left, the Paul in Peter, Paul and Mary, often sees a transformation take plac

Noel Paul Stookey, the Paul in Peter, Paul and Mary, often sees a transformation take place in the younger members of his audience during his performances.

“Older folks will bring their squirming teens in, who can’t believe they’re about to sit through something as boring and ancient as Peter and Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary — ‘Aren’t these the guys who sang “Puff the Magic Dragon?” ’” Stookey said from his home in Blue Hill, on the coast of Maine.

“Then, about a third of the way through, it’s, ‘I don’t get what they’re singing about, but they play some pretty good guitar.’ By two-thirds of the way in, they’re singing along with us. I think they get wooed — there’s that first hesitancy because it’s not their generation’s music, but I think they get wooed by the message — ‘This is something I can apply to my own life.’ ”

For Stookey, folk music has always been about commenting on society and bringing people together — as he put it, the first form of “infotainment.” And because of this, it will remain relevant.

Constant discovery

“I think folk music, as a concept, will always be discovered by younger audiences,” he said.

Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

How Much: $90-$20

More Info: 346-6204,

“They start off with Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus, and soon they want some more substance — and that’s not to say that Miley and Jonas Brothers don’t start looking for substance in their material as well. I think life is an evolving process, and I feel very fortunate that I’m part of that process.”

Or, as he quipped earlier in the conversation, “Folk, just like Neil Young says, never sleeps — ‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ and neither do folkies.”

Stookey has been touring this year with Peter Yarrow for another reason as well. In September of last year, Mary Travers died due to complications from chemotherapy, having been diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. The duo’s shows this weekend, including a stop at Proctors on Friday night, will pay tribute to Travers and her place in the legendary ’60s folk trio.

“It’s really curious, but the audience sort of becomes that third voice in her absence,” said Stookey, of his duo performances with Yarrow. “I think to a large extent, the audiences who came to hear Peter, Paul and Mary are still in the process of saying goodbye. That kind of show will ultimately not be relevant in time, but for this year . . . it seems to make sense.”

When he says that the audience “becomes that third voice,” he means it literally. At the duo shows Yarrow and Stookey have performed this year, the crowds have sung Travers’ parts on classics such as The Weavers’ “If I Had a Hammer” or Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

“I was surprised when Peter and I started doing these shows, because it was obvious that people still want to hear Peter, Paul and Mary music,” Stookey said. “The structure of the shows is more or less the same [as with Peter, Paul and Mary] — we come out, acknowledge Mary’s absence, and lo and behold, her absence is almost as strong as her presence.”

As with Peter, Paul and Mary shows, the duo shows allow room for Yarrow and Stookey to perform solo material. The duo were also involved in a PBS special, “The Peter Yarrow Sing Along Special,” which aired last month and featured new material that will be performed at their coming shows as well.

Peter, Paul and Mary was formed in 1961 and had its heyday in the initial folk revival movement during the ’60s, helping to bring the songs of such luminaries as Dylan to a wider audience with their crisp harmonies and clean sound. Despite an eight-year hiatus from 1970-1978, the trio had remained together up through 2009, touring off-and-on and releasing the occasional studio album.

When the group broke up in 1969, it was at the height of their fame. At the time, the trio was touring anywhere from 200 to 250 dates a year.

“I just knew that life was too crazy, and I had to move to the coast of Maine — my wife and I moved up here following what we called time off for good behavior,” Stookey said.

Self-sufficient life

“We moved up here with our three daughters; I did some farming, we had livestock. I got to know, in that great, wonderful opportunity to live in the country, what it was like to be at least somewhat self-sufficient. When the invitation came to get back together again, it was for a benefit, and we were always doing benefits. I didn’t really think it was going to lead to anything, although my wife said she knew.”

After reuniting, the trio tempered group work with solo pursuits, playing no more than 60 shows a year. When Travers was diagnosed with leukemia, touring dropped off to 20 to 30 shows a year. “But she sang really until May of the year that she died,” Stookey said.

Yarrow’s solo work has leaned toward children’s book publishing and teaching with his Operation Respect, which aims to teach tolerance and non-bullying in schools. Stookey has continued with his solo musical career, releasing his last album “Facets” in 2007. He has plans to enter the studio in January for a new release next year.

“Sometimes people ask us how this has stayed together for as long as it has, and aside from the obvious affection and love we had, and have, for one another, there is this issue of respect,” he said.

“The three of us each had our moment, our arena where we could express our personal perspective on politics and spirituality. When that happens — why do most bands break up? It’s mostly because one or two members feel they have no chance to express themselves.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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