I settled into an aisle seat and surveyed the crowd filing in. The chairs were a random assortment of upholstered maroon ballroom chairs (preferred) and hard white plastic ones (avoided). I figured choosing a white chair with several others in a row would isolate me from the crowd, who nodded inquiringly at me, as if to say How did you get in here? But, I was wrong. A lady asked if I were saving seats and then plopped down next to me. "Hi, I'm Helen. I live at 22 Boulevard--you know, the house with the controversial wheelchair ramp." I responded in kind. "Hi, I'm Ginny-- from the Boulevard, too." I remember my mother talking years ago about "the controversy," which was a staple at the neighborhood meetings. Apparently residents were dismayed that the ramp, because of the steepness of the driveway, had to zig zag up the front lawn in an unsightly manner. My mom loved to hear the old biddies complain about it because it added a little zest to the meetings and also steered her away from the more vociferous complainers. I felt bad this woman, years later, still felt compelled to wear this as her scarlet A.
Helen was a talker and I kept turning slightly to my left to see what Peter Yarrow was doing. He was dressed in a maroon tee shirt, slacks and senior oxfords, chatting with people in the back corner. Helen barely came up for air and the saga now included more people than I could keep track of. Was Keith her husband or son or the son's friend or the mason who did the work?
The beauty of folk music is that it's easy to sing along and most people joined in--in fact they loved that part. Peter joked that he would signal when it was the chorus, so we would know when to sing, but he also added that he knew some would sing chorus and verse because they didn't know the difference or because they just wanted to! That was also OK with him.
Yarrow has a comfortable stage presence. I wondered if he had ever tried to calculate how many times he had sung If I Had a Hammer or Blowin in the Wind. He joked with the audience, mimicked a heavy Jewish accent at times, sang the Colonoscopy Song and had an amusing anecdote for each song. You have to love the senior crowd, because toward the end, one older woman on a walker said a bit too loudly, "He's talking again; I can't sit this long." She was shushed as she headed out the door. Another lady had stage whispered earlier to her friend: "That's John Denver's song, not his." (Turns out she was half right: John Denver wrote Leaving on a Jet Plane, but it became a signature hit for Mary Travers and PPM)
He got serious at times, talking about the civil rights movement and about performing in Veteran's hospitals, but did not mention Vietnam protests specifically. I think he knew his audience. After singing the requested antiwar anthem, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, he opened his Apple computer to share a recent recording of the song in English and Ukrainian. He marvelled how that would have been unimaginable in the height of the Cold War. He also talked about his current initiative, an antibullying program for schools in the US and around the world that uses music and song to build a foundation of acceptance for all kinds of kids.