I finally got around to watching the PBS special, 50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary, that ran over the weekend. If you're a fan of the group, or have any interest in such things, try to keep an eye out if your local station runs it again. It was absolutely terrific, one of the best specials they've done on the group.
What made it so good is that it wasn't just a compendium of Peter, Paul and Mary on PBS, but really an in-depth look at the group from even before its beginnings -- much better than a recent documentary on the group that largely had to rely on PBS material. Here, for instance, there's footage of Peter Yarrow singing on his own before PP&M was formed.
There's also a tremendous, early performance of "If I Had My Way" that's so vibrant and shows seriously impressive musicianship. And an early rendition of "Puff the Magic Dragon" where audiences are already signing along. But beyond music, there's documentary footage of their trip to Nicaragua, and also an anti-nuclear power plant effort they made which is what got the group back together after their 7-year hiatus (which they talk about).
But of course it's the music that's so good. Particularly moving is concert footage from recent years (which I don't know if I've seen) where they sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" at what looks like Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger. And an absolutely lovely sequence from their PBS "Lifelines" special, singing the song "Stewball," as Paul Stookey wanders through the audience with a microphone having the folk legends in the audience sing along. The best moments there were seeing Fred Hillerman of The Weavers and Odetta, and there's one moment when he looks about to give the microphone to Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers, but passes her by, going instead to Richie Havens -- it was disappointing, but then you realize why: the next line in the song is "...came a prancing and a dancing", and on that he returns to Ronnie Gilbert, offers his hand, and dances with her. Absolutely freaking lovely.
But the most moving part of the show deals with Mary Travers illness and passing, and coverage of her funereal, with footage of Peter Yarrow singing a song there solo, and then Peter and Paul joining together for "Leaving on a Jet Plane"...as the audience comes in to sing with them on Mary's part. And then a bit of footage after that of Peter and Paul's home lives and continued work, including performances together and Peter singing with his daughter.
It's all terrific. I was hoping to be able to embed the full video of the show, but it's not online, at least yet. But this is an especially good preview because it includes the full version of the aforementioned, "If I Had My Way."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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