entertainment, Family history, Family story, music

A vote for harmony and service: Skipping the Republican Debate to sing and tie a shoelace

I spent Tuesday night with some old white men here in Milwaukee, and they weren’t Republican presidential wannabes.

Not only did we get to see Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey on stage, but after the show, we got to go backstage and hang out with them. Well, mostly we hung with Peter. And we did get to thank Noel for co-hosting a great evening, and especially for the terrific story about how his song “Cue the Moon” came to be. They also talked about singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the March on Washington in 1963, and how their late partner Mary Travers (z”l) called it a song with nine questions.

Most of the audience was “of a certain age” and white. But there were a few whippersnappers in the house, among them Niece and Nephew (who survived my childhood) and a sweet young writer named Ben, his mother Wendy and their friend. Ben, Wendy and Friend had driven into town for a protest at City Hall in advance of the Republican Presidential Debate, which was occurring in a theater down the street at the same time Peter and Paul were performing.

My sister (she of the 1,400-mile road trip) and brother-in-law, Dr. Brilliant Scientist Guy are visiting Mom this week and sprung for the tickets. I am currently between paying jobs (read: unemployed and looking for work), so Sweetheart and I have stricken the live show line item from our household budget.

Peter Yarrow, however, occupies a special place in Debby and Dave’s lives. Twenty-five years ago, D&D, along with a friend, headed straight from his successful dissertation defense to a pizza joint in New Haven to celebrate. There, they ran into Peter, who was dining with his daughter. Debby had had occasion to go to Peter’s apartment after a concert he’d performed with our cousin, and he’d been lovely to Debby, plying her with cranberry juice and engaging her in pleasant conversation. She wasn’t sure he’d remember her, but he did, or at least pretended to. They chatted, he congratulated Dave and they parted ways.

“Who was that again?” Dave said as they sat down at their own table.

Peter Yarrow,” Debby said, “You know, from ‘Peter, Paul & Mary.’ ”

Dave and his friend gawped.

“WHAT?” he said, when he’d finally recovered enough to say something. “That was PETER???”

Debby then answered a raft of questions about how it had come to pass that an original Puff Daddy and Debby were well enough acquainted to exchange friendly greetings during a chance restaurant encounter.

The story has become part of family lore. So when I realized Debby had a chance to take Niece & Nephew to see one of the featured players in their parents’ lives, I let her know. She asked if we’d like to come, and I told her that Sweetheart gets up very early for work and probably wouldn’t but that I’d be up for it.

Debby bought five tickets and then got in touch with the person she remembered as Peter’s manager. After a few bouncing e-mails, she eventually connected with someone who hooked her up with backstage passes. She was very excited, and asked me to keep it a surprise from the N’s, which I did.

Things got confusing when the guy working the Will-Call window handed her an envelope containing four tickets and four passes.

“I bought five,” she said. Then she looked at the tickets. They weren’t the ones she’d bought. By the time it was straightened out, we were holding five backstage passes and nine tickets. The five she’d bought (in the second balcony) and the four she hadn’t (near the front of the house).

She sent the family inside and we hung out on the street until we’d given the tickets away to our new protester friends and a kid on a skateboard who ended up not using it. I know, because those were my people. I sat up in the bought seats for the first half of the show, and Debby hooked me up with an unused front-of-the-house seat for the second half.

Our backstage visit with Peter was lovely, I met a local writer who is a friend of his, and doubled the items on my “Things I Have Done for Folk Singers” list, which consisted of “making coffee for Arlo Guthrie” and now includes “tying Peter Yarrow’s shoe.”

DebbyPeterElizabethNoahDave

Peter Yarrow with my sister and her family.  My brother-in-law was a mere boyfriend 25 years ago when Peter was the first to congratulate him on his successful dissertation defense.

Your correspondent (left) with Peter Yarrow and my sister.

Your correspondent (left) with Peter Yarrow and my sister. Maybe we should invite him to come along on our next road trip. (Or not.)

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