Major league folk music at Nighttown in August
Legendary folksinger and activist Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, will open for my group Long Road at Nighttown this month.
Well, he’s not actually opening for us; but he’s playing before us. Okay—one night before us. In other words, he’s playing at Nighttown on Wednesday, Aug. 10; then we’re playing at Nighttown on Thursday, Aug. 11. So it’s sort of like a mini folk festival. At a well-known jazz club.
Peter Yarrow formed the trio Peter, Paul and Mary (PPM), along with Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, in the early 1960s. The group found immediate success, with its first album selling more than 2 million copies. PPM helped put the not-well-known singer-songwriter Bob Dylan on the musical map when it scored a million-selling hit single of his song “Blowing in the Wind.” The group earned another big hit single, early in its career, with the Pete Seeger song “If I Had a Hammer.”
PPM toured and recorded for decades with tremendous success. They also became well known, as a group and individually, for their social and political activism. They marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., and they appeared at the 1963 March on Washington, where they sang “Blowing in the Wind” prior to King’s I Have a Dream speech. The three appeared at countless events, marches and protests concerning peace, equality, anti-war, civil rights, anti-nukes and other issues.
Yarrow founded the national organization Operation Respect, an effort to combat bullying among children, in 2000. Always wanting to help and encourage young artists, he also initiated the New Folks Concert series at both the Newport Folk Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival.
As part of PPM and on his own, Yarrow has won or been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, as well as humanitarian ones. He also wrote some of PPM’s most popular songs, including “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” “Light One Candle” and “The Great Mandala.” And he wrote and produced Mary McGregor’s number-one hit pop/country record “Torn Between Two Lovers.”
One time, in 2008, I had the great fortune to play alongside Peter Yarrow, onstage at the Beachland Ballroom—with several other local musicians, including folk musicians Noah Budin, Chuck Fink and Kevin T. Richards, reggae artist Carlos Jones, and instrumentalists including Norman Tischler and David Krauss. It was a thrill to be able to play with Yarrow, and it also provided me a unique vantage point: I was able to watch the audience as he sang and told his stories. I could see them laugh and cry. It was a moving experience. Yarrow is someone who has inspired me in my career and has influenced me in my performing with Long Road.
Long Road’s six members have a combined total of more than 200 years of professional musical experience (though no individual member has been playing that long). The group plays songs from every era and of many genres—including some actual folk music, plus vintage and contemporary country, bluegrass, early rock, psychedelic rock, vintage jazz, contemporary singer-songwriter, and originals—but we make everything sound like ‘60s folk music.
All of our songs go through the Long Road “filter” and come out sounding like what you might have heard in a late-'60s folk club or concert hall. Our six members play intricate arrangements on various combinations of 18 instruments, with unusual vocal harmonies sung by three, four, five or six of us at various times. And there is humor and history between all the songs.
This is just my opinion, but I think you should come to one of these shows. Wait—I just got a better idea: Come to both of them.
Nighttown is located at 12387 Cedar Road, just east of the top of Cedar Hill, in Cleveland Heights. For more information, visit www.nighttowncleveland.com. For reservations to either of these shows, call 216-795-0550.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.