Singer Peter Yarrow is still the activist
May 17, 2016
It’s been a little more than two years since folk-music icon and social activist Peter Yarrow played in Park City, and he’s looking forward to coming back. After all, he has a lot to sing about.
"There is a lot happening in the world," Yarrow told The Park Record while awaiting an appointment in Manhattan. "My performances not only reflect the history of my singing with Peter, Paul and Mary and the issues that guided our careers and advocacies, they also reflect what is going on now."
That means the songs Yarrow sings at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend will relate to many of the challenges the singer and songwriter says we’re facing today.
"For instance, I’ve just written a new song called ‘The Children Are Listening,’ which reflects that vitriol we hear in the Presidential primaries that is having a devastating effect on the kids in our country," Yarrow said. "There are reports of children telling other children that they won’t play with them and that they need to get out of our country.
"The kids are frightened, disturbed and some of them are even picking it up," he said. "They raise their hand and say, ‘I’m for Trump’ and continue with the invective."
This is one issue Yarrow plans to address during the Park City concerts. He will also perform the hit "Don’t Laugh at Me," with friend and fellow songwriter Steve Seskin.
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"Don’t Laugh at Me," a song co-written by Seskin, was recorded by Yarrow and his cohorts Paul Stookey and the late Mary Travers in 1998 for the trio’s 1999 compilation, "Songs of Conscience and Concern: A Retrospective Collection."
The song’s message served as a basis for Operation Respect, a nonprofit founded by Yarrow, that creates safe, compassionate environments for children.
"The situation has reached a pandemic point of disrespect and mean spiritedness that we have to contend with in this nation," Yarrow said.
The songwriter, who is now 77, said the state of the country has inspired him to work harder at speeding his message of peace.
"Many people have asked me when I’m going to retire, and I say, ‘retire to what?’" the Grammy Award-winner said. "This is the most exciting, energizing, thrilling, meaningful, painful and joyous work of my life. I tell people that if they were doing this work, they would want to continue it, too."
Yarrow said what’s happening in the world today isn’t much different than what happened back in the 1960s.
"It’s very much the same, except back then, the world of music was so focused on being music of conscience that reflected hopes, aspirations, fears and joys of the people," he said. "Now, music has become so commodified that it is about growing up in an angst-driven world that doesn’t reflect our predispositions of our hopes and dreams."
That’s because the music business is run by people whose bottom line is dollars, according to Yarrow.
"It’s all about drawing an audience and ultimately ending up with mediocrity," he said. "That wasn’t the case when we were marching in the Civil Rights march with Martin Luther King and being part of a new explosion of a new consciousness in America that wanted to do away with and challenge the law that allowed this horrific inequity between people of color and Caucasians to exist.
"More than that, the music back then showed that ordinary people, if they stand together, can change the course of history," he said. "Once that was learned, that lesson was taken into the anti-war movement, the women’s liberation movement."
Today, socially conscious music sits right in the climate movement, Yarrow said.
"However, the voice of those efforts is not accompanied by music that reaches the vast majority of people," he said. "That was something that was important to mobilizing people’s hearts. I mean, Bob Dylan emerging today would not have much of a chance on ‘American Idol.’"
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for today’s popular music.
"I’m just saying that the music climate today doesn’t allow the voices that emerged during the 1960s and that’s a terrible loss," he said.
Still, all the songs that Yarrow and his colleagues, especially his famed trio Peter, Paul and Mary performed back then still pertain to issues today.
"It’s interesting because when you sing ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone,’ you think about all the wars that are being fought and all the children waking up to the sounds of bombs and bullets in so many countries today," he said. "That song, along with ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and ‘If I Had a Hammer’ are still pleas for sanity and resolution of the things that are hurting this nation and the world."
Even so, Yarrow said he doesn’t feel discouraged.
"The reason is because every time I sing, I see how powerful the internal resonance is within the audience," he said. "I know that all of this is in the hearts and minds of people and it’s my job to encourage it."
Another reason for the lack of discouragement is because Yarrow believes he is in the thick of the solution.
"If you work on something, rather than standing back and bellyaching about it, you are focused on making it happen," he said. "It does take a long, long time to get something started.
"One thing that young activists must understand is that we can’t make these changes immediately," he said. "It’s not just the policy that needs to change, it needs to happen in the hearts of the people. That will take a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of singing, a lot of praying and a lot of loving and a lot of talking and a lot of listening. Only after that, there will be a shift in the grass roots."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present folk-music icon Peter Yarrow from Friday, May 20, to Sunday, May 22. The Friday and Saturday concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday’s concert will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $29 to $45 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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