Stookey has played at the Rubicon many times. His new show is “In These Times”
by Amy Brown
Noel Paul Stookey has been changing the world, one song and one key social concept at a time since his world-famous band Peter, Paul and Mary burst onto the folk music scene in the 1960s. The platinum-selling trio took the music world by storm, performing at the civil rights March on Washington in 1963 and at political rallies all over the world, with influential songs like ‘Blowing in the Wind,’ and ‘If I had a Hammer.’ Today, Stookey still performs with Peter Yarrow (Mary passed away in 2009), as well as doing solo shows, and will be gracing the stage of the Ojai Rubicon with his latest on April 28 and 29th.
Stookey has played at the Rubicon many times, including when he chaired the 2017 Music for Changing Times Festival there, produced in conjunction with Music2Life, the not-for-profit organization Stookey started with daughter Liz Stookey Sunde to amplify the voices of contemporary activist-artists and highlight the impact that music has in social justice movements around the world. “A large part of the credit for founding the organization goes to Liz, who, since at an early age, like six or seven, travelled with the trio on tour, saw us do benefits, and realized the impact music has, and how it uniquely transcends the mosh pit,” says Stookey. “She saw the power of the lyrics, and became a real fan of the fact that music can not only be inspiring, as it does move us, whether it’s dance, folk or jazz, but she saw that it was informative as well as compelling.”
There’s a world of difference in the types and methods of social change now versus in the 1960s when his trio was changing the world with their message of social responsibility and hope, according to Stookey. He says that the concept of improving society through music, however, is still shared across other genres, from reggae, rap, and jazz, even metal—and that many of them are actively addressing inequities in our society. “There is no doubt that in the 60s, when folk music surprised the popular music world by being relevant, that musicians were focusing on causes like equality for blacks and whites, and addressing concerns about nuclear annihilation,” says Stookey. “Those plain-spoken words were never thought of as pop music. There was authentic passion, and folk music had no glossy arrangements—and it was performed by people with a stake in the cause, with real skin in the game. So much of folk music’s power was the articulation of commonly held values.”
Stookey’s Rubicon show is called “In These Times”, and he has some specific feelings about both what is now relevant, and what some of the major issues are in these times. He says that there are two major problems, and that they intersect. “One is our inability to speak to each other with compassion, because we are encouraged through many media, as well as by some of our leaders, to be disparaging of another person’s point of view. Two: the issues themselves, compounded by our inability to talk, from climate change to immigration, as there are always two sides,” he says. He references the well-known Chinese curse: May you live interesting times. “Well baby, we are there,” he laughs. “We often communicate these days about those ‘interesting times’ in an immediacy (through social media), therefore, our compassion is really being tested.”
Stookey, who has a home in Ojai where he and his wife reside part of the year, has written a new song for his upcoming Rubicon performances. It’s called ‘Love With a Capital L’ which he says, given the chaos of the modern world, is about processing all the news and the difficulties we have as a society. He believes that, given the challenge of maintaining an even perspective, people have the potential to better understand if they process everything in Love. “It’s been really been fun to write, and reminds me that one of the most thankful aspects of learning folk music, both the ethics of it and its breadth, is that it co-opts a lot of musical styles, and so I have,” says Stookey. “I’m not great at rapping, in fact, I’m very poor at it—more in the Woody Guthrie vernacular, and less of Snoop Dog.”
Stookey, who shares that there is a book in development about his life, and who has written a number of short stories, believes that ultimately, the direction we’re all being drawn to is that of overcoming the perceived differentiations of organized religion and concentrating on what is commonly shared. “What you begin to see is that we’re all so much more alike than we are different, in the heart space in particular. That’s why the big ‘L’ in Love becomes the synergistic magnet that I think is going to provide the answer. We will then be able to say ‘Namaste’ and when we can pass each other as complete strangers and smile, there is trust in the world again.”