The audience is ready and waiting this Friday, May 11, 2018 evening at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts for an evening of folk music starring Peter Yarrow — a member of the legendary folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary — along with Mustard’s Retreat, a folk trio from Michigan.
Yarrow was born in 1938 in New York City. After graduating from Cornell University, he joined Noel “Paul” Stookey and Mary Travers to form Peter, Paul and Mary. The trio rose to the forefront of the folk-protest movement, performing songs of social justice at the historic March on Washington, D.C. in 1963 — led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — as well as the Selma-Montgomery March of 1965.
The group toured together for nearly 10 years before breaking up in 1970 to pursue individual careers. Yarrow continued to write music, notably “Torn Between Two Lovers,” a #1 hit for Mary MacGregor.
In 1972, Peter, Paul and Mary reunited for a concert supporting George McGovern’s presidential campaign, and then again in 1978 at a concert protesting nuclear energy. Shortly after, they resumed touring and played nearly 50 shows a year until Travers’ death in 2009.
As a social activist, Yarrow produced and coordinated many events as a part of the anti-Vietnam War movement. In 1970, he organized concerts at Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium enlisting such legendary talents as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Miles Davis, and Paul Simon to perform.
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In 2000, Yarrow formed Operation Respect, a non-profit organization that aims to reduce school violence by teaching children tolerance and respect for diversity. The organization developed the Don’t Laugh at Me program which uses music and video to teach conflict resolution to elementary and middle school students and is distributed at no cost to schools around the world.
Yarrow also performed in Ho Chi Minh City in 2005 at a concert to benefit the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange, and in 2011, he made an appearance with his son and daughter during the Occupy Wall Street protests playing songs like “We Shall Not Be Moved” and a variation of his own composition, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Inside the Grunin Center auditorium, Mustard’s Retreat musician David Tamulevich addresses the waiting crowd a few minutes before showtime announcing, “Peter Yarrow has been held up in traffic trying to make it out of New York City, but he just called to say he will be here shortly.” He explains that Mustard’s Retreat will start the concert in a few moments and that they are prepared to perform a few extra songs if necessary if Peter still isn’t able to arrive in time.
Moments later, Mustard’s Retreat takes the stage to begin their portion of the program. Revealing to the audience, “We started performing in 1974,” the trio — David Tamulevich, Michael Hough, and Libby Glover — open their portion of the show with Richard Pinney’s “Motherlode” singing, “I will leave in jubilation/Be returnin’ for some more.” As the trio’s voices float in three-part harmony, Glover moves to the rhythm, exuding joy in music and motion.
Tamulevich talks about driving from Michigan to Washington, D.C. in January of 2017 for the Women’s March, describing it by stating, “It was like a revival meeting. The heart of America was heading to Washington — five million people and no violence — and some friends of ours wrote this song about it.” Launching into an a cappella rendition of Ellie Grace and Brian Claflin’s “Gonna Walk it With You,” the group sings, “It looks like it’s gonna be a hard road/I’m gonna walk it with you,” the strength of the trio’s voices drawing the audience into the message of this instant classic of a folk song.
Following avid applause, Tamulevich tells the crowd, “Since 1975, we have done over 6,000 shows.” Explaining that the group doesn’t perform folk music for fame or fortune but, rather, for the opportunity to connect with their audiences, looking out over the crowd Tamulevich declares, “This is our community of choice!”
Announcing, “We hope you’ll remember this song with us,” Mustard’s Retreat performs a classic tune recorded by The Andrews Sisters entitled “One Meatball.” The crowd enjoys the trio’s rendition of this humorous ditty about a guy who comes into a restaurant and only wants to order a single meatball!
Taking the microphone, Hough states, “Folk music is what people do — it’s what people do in their living rooms.” Here, he launches into the Scottish folk song, “The Water Is Wide,” the audience joining in on the refrain making everyone feel as if they are singing together in the living room of a close friend.
Tamulevich talks about getting “the folk bug” back in the 1970s before the trio sings one of the highlight songs of the evening, a stunning rendition of the traditional American folk song, “Oh Shenandoah.” As they perform in beautiful three-part harmony, these three seasoned musicians show their time-tested talent and are appropriately rewarded by the crowd at the conclusion with hearty cheers and applause.
While Glover takes over the lead vocal on David Tamulevich’s “Part of Me Remembers,” she wistfully sings, “Part of me remembers/Summer wine and winter’s embers/And the laughter of the children as they play/All my friends tell me ‘Forget it/There’s a new life, go and get it’/Part of me remembers anyway,” while Tamulevich fingerpicks on his guitar and Hough plays bass on this beautiful ballad.
Taking a moment to chat about tonight’s headliner, Peter Yarrow, Tamulevich says, “We all love Peter — that’s why we’re here,” confessing, “I bought my first Peter Yarrow record with money I earned from my paper route!”
Announcing they will perform their final song of the evening with “a special guest vocalist,” the audience applauds as soon as they see Peter Yarrow in the wings waiting to join his friends onstage. Performing together in harmony, Mustard’s Retreat and Peter Yarrow perform “(Ours is a)Simple Faith,” crooning together, “Ours is a simple faith/Life is a short embrace/Heaven is in this place/Every day.”
The audience cheers and applauds for Mustard’s Retreat as they take leave of the stage and Peter Yarrow begins his solo portion of the evening’s presentation commenting, “The drive here was very interesting!”
Addressing the sound engineer directly, Yarrow does a impromptu sound check right in front of the crowd. Asking the engineer his name, the man replies “John,” at which point Yarrow jokingly refers to him for the rest of the show as “God.”
Opening with his composition, “Music Speaks Louder Than Words,” through his poignant performance, Yarrow enables the audience to understand the song’s message — “When you sing/People understand.”
Teaching the song’s refrain to the audience, line-by-line, and inviting them to join in, Yarrow soon has this audience filled folk music lovers singing well together. Complimenting them with words like “Beautiful!” Yarrow acknowledges, “For me, this is similar to the sound I heard at the March on Washington in 1963.”
At the conclusion of the piece, Yarrow asks audience members to “think of a word that describes what we just did.”
Responses like “unity,” “hope,” “harmony,” and “peace” are offered up by the crowd, to which Yarrow nods and replies, “Yes — those all work together — they are all related.”
Declaring, “We are now a pool of peace,” Yarrow additionally predicts, “When we leave here, the ripples will not end — they will continue.”
Moving on to another Peter, Paul and Mary hit, “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane,” Yarrow says, “When we get to the second verse, I’d like you to put your arms around your neighbor’s shoulders and sway back and forth.”
The crowd sings along on the well known tune — composed by John Denver — and when they get to the second verse, Yarrow jokingly stops to admonish the audience for not following his direction, giving them more time to put their arms around one another’s shoulders.
Asking the members of the crowd to “Turn to the person you know least well, look him or her in the eye, and say, ‘That was fun,’” Yarrow references the current divisiveness in American social life when he adds, “Now look him or her in the eye and say, ‘I’m not sure how you voted, but we can still be friends.” Adding, “It’s dangerous for us to be this divided,” Yarrow reveals that he has just finished a television documentary for PBS which focuses on helping to bridge the divide present in the current political landscape.
Moving on to another Peter, Paul and Mary classic, the audience eagerly joins in on “Day is Done” singing, “And if you take my hand my son/All will be well when the day is done.” At this point, Yarrow moves away from his microphone on the refrain and sings “unplugged,” enabling the audience to “own” the music themselves as they sing and clap along to the beat.
Stating, “What we need to do in this country is to reconstruct kindness,” Yarrow invites “anyone in the audience under the age of 70,” to join him on stage to sing his original composition, “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
At this point, several dozen brave volunteers ascend the stairs to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime invitation.
Here, they create an intergenerational choir which immerses and envelopes its singers with a community of hope and love and transports them back to a simpler time when music had a simplicity of melody and rhythm and was both inclusive and memorable.
Afterwards, Yarrow follows up with “Don’t Laugh At Me,” the theme song from his Operation Respect anti-bullying program which encourages all children to become peace-builders through music.
Changing the pace, Yarrow sings about the woes of aging with his hilarious “Colonoscopy Song” to much laughter and applause.
Following up with a short intermission, Yarrow meets patrons in the Grunin Center lobby where he solicits song requests for the second half of his show.
When Act II opens, Yarrow begins with an audience request — Tom Paxton’s “The Marvelous Toy.” Teaching the audience the sound effects on the song’s delightful chorus, “It went ‘zip’ when it moved and ‘bop’ when it stopped and ‘whirr’ when it stood still/I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will,” the crowd happily joins in singing on this ageless children’s classic.
Asking the audience to snap along to the rhythm, Yarrow segues into a lovely rendition of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.” He follows that up with an entertaining version of the trio’s brilliant baseball story song entitled “Right Field.”
Revealing that, while still a member of Peter, Paul and Mary, he was asked to write a Hanukkah song, Yarrow performs the result of that request — the powerful “Light One Candle,” — the power of singing together keeping the light of the music alive for this Jersey crowd.
After remarking, “I’m really enjoying your song choices tonight,” Yarrow moves on a lesser known PP&M song written by Bob Dylan entitled “I Shall Be Released.” Singing “I see my light come shinin’/From the west down to the east/Any day now, any day now/I shall be released.”
Refraining from using his microphone again, Yarrow leads the impromptu audience choir in an a cappella version of the song’s powerful refrain.
Reminding the crowd that Dylan recently received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Yarrow reveals what Dylan stated about his own creativity — “I don’t know where it comes from — it has a life of its own.” Here, Yarrow invites Mustard’s Retreat to rejoin him on stage where the quartet presents a passionate rendition of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” the audience singing along from the very first note.
Next, the foursome performs a song by Pete Seeger which Yarrow says “tells us what the challenge is to our country — if we don’t ring out a warning, our rights and humanity will erode.” Explaining that the answer to our ills is “the love between our brothers and our sisters,” Yarrow notes, “It is love that must stay in our hearts,” before looking up to the sky and whispering, “Pete — thank you for this song.”
Again, the audience joins in singing with Yarrow and Mustard’s Retreat, and continues to do so on the musicians’ next selection for the evening, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Trading verses among each of the musicians on stage, the audience earnestly sings along on the “This land is your land/This land is my land/From California/To the New York island” chorus,” creating a community which Mustard’s Retreat’s Libby Glover refers to when she sings, “Through love and song/We can do anything!”
The audience stands and cheers for this meaningful evening of folk music as the quartet makes their way off the stage to a harmonious arrangement of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s “Goodnight Irene.”
As patrons make their way out of the Grunin Center auditorium, we chat with several in attendance who share their thoughts with us regarding tonight’s performance.
Exclaims Pat from Toms River, “My heart is full! It’s so powerful — the unity, the singing together — I think most everyone would enjoy a concert like this!”
Linda from Waretown reveals, “I first saw Peter, Paul and Mary when I was 17 — a time when I was still innocent — but this is the first time I’ve seen Peter Yarrow since. Singing songs with him — and interacting with the people next to us — really made it feel like we were all friends!”
Joe from Lavallette remarks, “This is the first time I’ve seen Mustard’s Retreat in New Jersey — mostly, I’ve seen them perform in Michigan,” before noting, “Their harmonies are even better today than they were 40 years ago.”
Lynnette from Brick agrees adding, “I love the feeling of community that Mustard’s Retreat mentioned at the beginning of the show. Folk music brings people together in a way no other music can — there is an interaction between a performer and an audience — not just a reaction to a performance which takes place on the stage.”
Likewise, Amy from New Brunswick contends, “There is a special kind of connection that happens when you come to a live performance like this. Peter Yarrow is a master of folk music. When you’re sitting there listening to him, it feels like you are attending a master class.”
Amy’s friend, Susan from Toms River, concurs adding, “I was amazed by the way Peter Yarrow basically stepped out of his car and onto the stage and performed for three hours. It was cool how he did a little sound check right there in front of us and then just started performing!”
Declaring, “His presentation seems effortless — his songs are a part of him and of the special gift he has,” Susan concludes by exclaiming, “I’m so glad I got to see Peter Yarrow and Mustard’s Retreat here at the Grunin Center tonight!”
To learn more about Peter Yarrow, please go to peteryarrow.net. For further information about Mustard’s Retreat, check out mustardsretreat.com. To find out more about upcoming programming at Toms River’s Grunin Center — including The Billy Joel Songbook starring Chris Pinnella on June 8 and The Great Rock N Roll Time Machine on July 28 — please click on grunincenter.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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