Singing Truth to Power | Peter Yarrow & Noel Paul Stookey @ TOCAP

Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey (TO Civic Arts Plaza)If you haven’t figured it out by now, we don’t only go to theatre. We go to concerts — folk, jazz, classical, eclectic. But my first musical taste — the first artists that I truly said were my favorite — were Peter, Paul, and Mary (FB). I still have fond memories of going to see them at the Hollywood Bowl in the 1980s and the Universal Amphetheatre in the 1990s. We last saw them in Los Angeles shortly before Mary got sick, in the early 2000s. After Mary’s passing, we saw them mostly as solos: a solo concert by Peter at UJ (AJU) back in 2009, and Noel Paul’s regular appearances at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (first in 2011, and most recently in 2015). Our understanding of the folk community has broadened to all the artists from the era that begat PP&M, and we’ve seen and grown to understand the traditions and the music better. But at the heart of it all — the seed that started it — was Peter, Paul, and Mary.

So when I saw that this year’s appearance of Noel Paul Stookey (FB) in Southern California was a much larger concert that he typically does, and it was together with Peter Yarrow (FB), I naturally had to get tickets — without even waiting for Goldstar. It is for a group such as this and artists such as this that we braved the storm that some groups named “Lucifer” to get out to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (FB) [where we normally go for Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)] for the first concert in a tour of Peter and Paul. I was looking forward to seeing Noel Paul again, possibly seeing if Peter had actually released a new album, and getting some good commentary on the election.

I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed. The show, on the whole, was wonderful. The music was something that wrapped you in a warm embrace; the PP&M audience is a family that loves each other through shared music and shared values. There were just a few off notes, but on the whole it was worth braving the storm.

Before I go further, here’s the all important song list. Unless indicated by links, all songs are either from PP&M albums or Paul’s solo albums; I have links for some new ones.

Act I:

  1. Weave Me The Sunshine
  2. Inch by Inch (The Garden Song)
  3. Puff the Magic Dragon
  4. Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
  5. Medley:  This Little Light of Mine ⫽ Down By The Riverside ⫽ I Woke Up This Mornin’ With My Mind Set On Freedom ⫽ Oh, Freedom
  6. Don’t Laugh at Me
  7. Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
  8. Have You Been to Jail for Justice?
  9. Light One Candle

Act II:

  1. America the Beautiful (Noel Paul)
  2. Impeachable (Noel Paul)
  3. One and Many (Noel Paul)
  4. The Children Are Listening (Peter)
  5. Lift Us Up (Peter)
  6. The Kid
  7. Leaving on a Jet Plane
  8. If I Had a Hammer
  9. Blowin’ in the Wind
  10. This Land is Your Land
  11. Goodnight Irene

Now, some impressions of the show:

  • It pains me to say it, but I think Peter is starting to lose it at little. The passion is still there 120%. The heart and soul and spirit are strong. The voice is just slightly diminished. However, the recall is a bit worse than when we last saw him in 2009. There were points where he had trouble with lyrics, and there was much more verbal hesitation in his patter. It is an unfortunately common situation as we get older; still, it is a bit of sadness to see.
  • Tom Paxton likes to say that it is OK to look back, as long as you don’t stare. There were times during this concert that the nostalgic aspects overwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve gotten used to Tom’s concerts and Noel Paul’s concerts where there is always new material. All the joint material was older material; one got the feeling that they were playing for the nostalgia (and the audience was there for that). This got better in the solo songs in the second act that touched on more topical material.
  • As both noted from the stage, Mary’s voice was there even though the body wasn’t. For me, it was loudest during “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?”, but I’m sure others heard them in her head at various points. It is a voice that is missed, especially with our current administration. You know Mary would be out there being in 45’s face.
  • One could easily see how each artist came to their political stridency from different places. Peter is clearly from the Jewish Wobbly tradition. Noel Paul comes from the true Christian side: love for one’s fellow man, doing right for those who are unable to speak for themselves. I’m not Christian, but Noel’s Christian passion is “walking the walk”, and is what I view as admirable Christianity. The important message is that we can all come with our passion to improve the world from different places — the important thing is to have and nurture that passion, and to do something based on that passion, even if it is just sitting and singing to power.
  • The most powerful portion of the show was the top of Act II: the solo sections. It made the clear impression that our children are learning from what is going on in Washington that bullying and other forms of idiocy are acceptable. We need to combine together as multiple candles creating a large flame to speak to power — to say that this is not OK, that this is not America. It is our responsibility to speak up, to fight unjust leaders and those that abuse power. This is why folk music is still relevant today.
  • Of course, it was great to hear Noel Paul do his extra verses of America The Beautiful. It was even nicer to hear the rarely done 4th verse of This Land is Your Land.
  • The PP&M audience is definitely getting older. Getting in and out of the parking lot was dealing with a bunch of moss-backed old-farts. We normally don’t have that traffic backup at the Kavli when we go to Cabrillo shows.

All in all, however, it was a great show. I look forward to the next time Noel Paul is in town, and to Tom Paxton’s upcoming show at McCabes.

 🎸 🎸 🎸

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Sunday brings the in-theatre broadcast of the Broadway musical Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. Now we just need to see what the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) will do.