By Jim Abbott
February 17, 2010
In the 1960s, Peter, Paul & Mary were at the forefront of a
grassroots folk boom that fueled the anti-war and environmental
movements and powered the push for civil rights.
Now, nearly 50 years later, there's more music than ever before, and
yet the songs don't galvanize a generation.
Does music still have the same power?
"I think it does," says Noel Paul Stookey, a member of the legendary
trio who will perform a solo concert Thursday at the Mount Dora Music
Festval. "The listening persuasion doesn't lean that way, as it did
in the 1960s. There's lots of meaningful music out there. Much of it
is subtle, mysterious, provocative."
The trick, he says, is to find an audience willing to hear it.
"Most folk music requires you to pay attention," says Stookey, 72.
"Much like country music, there's a story going on, and a lot more
going on between the lines. You have to participate on a listening
level and that's kind of uncommon for people brought up on 20-second
sound bites. But all it takes is one song that connects someone with
the concept of meaningful, and they don't look back. Then, they start
looking for it."
Perhaps the trio's biggest contribution in its heyday was introducing
mainstream audiences to the music of Bob Dylan, through "Don't Think
Twice, It's All Right," "Too Much of Nothing" and the classic
"Blowin' in the Wind." The Dylan experience was just as illuminating
for the performers as it was for the listeners, Stookey says.
"With Dylan's music, no matter who was singng it, it cemented the
awareness that folk music was about more than how men and women
dated," he says. "From then on, everything, in a sense, absorbed that
lesson. With certain Britney Spears exceptions, most pop songs now
have an element of life or real-time to them that the ballads didn't
have in the 1950s and the '60s."
Even now, when Stookey writes a song, a message usually finds a way into it.
"Even when I'm writing a song that I don't think will make an
ecological or political comment, it inevitably does, because I have
His new material is showcased on noelpaulstookey.com, a Web site
loaded with music, video, vintage photos and links to order music
such as his 2007 album, Facets, or classic material such as "The
Wedding Song (There Is Love)."
One of his new songs, "In These Times," shows that Stookey still has
a touch with gentle admonitions:
The ship of state is drifting; it's getting hard to steer
It's a complicated issue but the direction's pretty clear
and 'each of us' is who we need to get to there from here
In these times…
The new music also will include an upcoming tribute album dedicated
to the memory of Mary Travers, who died in September at age 72 from
complications of leukemia. Stookey and band mate Peter Yarrow were
able to spend a lot of time with her near the end.
"That was the most concentrated time that the three of us spent
together off stage," he says. "Every time she said goodbye when we'd
visit, she was just a little further away. We knew that the goodbye
could be forever."
Although one member is gone, the trio's music will live on.
"I'm so thankful for the legacy of the trio," Stookey says. "I
learned so much ethically and I was given so much freedom musically."
Jim Abbott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6213.