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Folk legend Peter Yarrow, of the renowned trio Peter Paul and Mary, will sing songs of togetherness Friday during a special solo performance at the Kent Stage, 175 E. Main St., in Kent.
For more than four decades, Yarrow has dedicated his life and music to movements in equal rights, the environment and education. Over the years, songs performed by the band have become movement anthems such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "If I Had a Hammer," which the trio performed at the March on Washington in August 1963.
"At the time Peter, Paul and Mary started to sing, if (a black person) came to our nation's capital, (he or she) would not be able to use a public toilet and public water fountain unless it had a sign, 'For Colored Only,'" Yarrow said. "There was a very powerful opening up awareness that things had to be reevaluated and changed and it was being interpreted in music and that was folk music."
Yarrow compared the era of Vietnam and the civil rights movement to the world today.
"We have grown as a nation to be very greedy and selfish," Yarrow said. "In today's world, we have a very skewed and inappropriate perspective on what life is about. This is why these songs still have relevance."
Although Peter, Paul and Mary hits were considered anthems in the '60s, Yarrow said the songs are also anthems of today.
"These songs are not a look at yesterday's history," Yarrow said. "These are not songs that had relevance in the 1960s and '70s alone. These songs are a part of history that is vital and alive today."
Yarrow spoke of the recent events in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed.
"I will be going to Newtown to do what I can to help soothe and comfort the communities that have been so devastated by these murders," Yarrow said. "And I will be singing the same music when I visit Kent and when I go to Israel in the spring or to Japan and South America. This music alone has a powerful effect."
Yarrow said the music inspires and brings people together as it did in the 1960s and '70s.
"I sing songs that to a large degree are sung together," Yarrow said. "When people sing the songs together at my concert it will be very much like the singing of songs at the march on Washington in 1963, where people will say 'we believe in something together.' Music shared in this way creates an environment of acceptance."
Yarrow said the music brings people together because of what the music itself says.
"It's not music that was written to make money," Yarrow said. "Most of the traditional folk music on which I was brought up with was written anonymously to tell the tales of people and their experiences in life. This music has honesty to it. It's not like a song that you know has been written to sell music. It's a different type of music."
Yarrow also works on personal projects beyond his music. He released the children's book "Puff the Magic Dragon" in 2007. Yarrow's most recent efforts are on a nonprofit he founded in 1999 called Operation Respect, which is a free music program with curricular materials to establish a safe and compassionate environment in schools.
"I was aware of the fact that there was a huge problem in the schools," Yarrow said. "This was prior to the killings at Columbine High School. I decided to devote my life to the movement of creating an environment for children that is caring, accepting and where there is no violence. I believe that is the best place to put my energies."
Yarrow also recently released a double album of Peter, Paul and Mary music recorded in 1967.
"It is pretty remarkable for me to hear us singing as we did back then," Yarrow said. "It's really moving because this was during the civil rights movement and right before we launched the anti-war movement."
Yarrow said that he is inspired every time he performs Peter, Paul and Mary songs.
"It's all inspired with the singing of the songs themselves," Yarrow said. "When I sing I am inspired and I am reminded of the importance of the work that I am doing."
Peter, Paul and Mary's last appearance in Kent was at Kent State University in 1995 for the 25th anniversary of the events of May 4, 1970. Yarrow has returned to Kent many times as a solo artist.
"I think Kent is an historically important place in my heart and it has importance for everybody," Yarrow said. "There is a lot of energy to move forward and make a better world in the people that are working on this concert."
Tom Simpson, co-owner of the Kent Stage, said he is looking forward to Yarrow's performance.
"When we opened, we had a list of people that we wanted to be here that were legends in the folk world and Peter has been on there a long time," Simpson said. "We were able to get him to perform at Folk Fest two years ago and he closed the show. He was definitely a legend that night and we're glad to have him back. It's not every day Peter Yarrow or a member of Peter, Paul and Mary comes to Kent."
Simpson said he is expecting more than 300 people at the concert.
"People really enjoy him," Simpson said. "Half of being at the show is the interaction between him and the audience. There is a lot of story telling and joking during the show. The interaction is just as much of the show as the music is."
Peter Yarrow will perform at the Kent Stage with Mustard's Retreat. The show will start at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $35. For more information, call 330-677-5005 or visit www.thekentstage.com
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