2012-06-27 / Front Page

Stookey to debut song written for POPS

By BJ Bangs Irregular Staff Writer

Noel Paul Stookey Noel Paul Stookey KINGFIELD — While Noel Paul Stookey is best known for being the tall guy in the legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, he will showcase some of the old and some of the new, including a signature song, “The Cabin Fever Waltz,” written specifically for Saturday’s Kingfield POPS, and commissioned by the POPS and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

At Saturday’s concert, the headline performer will be playing solo as well as with the BSO. Stookey’s connection with orchestrated classical music goes back to the days of Peter, Paul and Mary, when they performed with the New York Choral. While he’s never performed with the BSO or as a solo performer with a symphony, he’s looking forward to the collaboration, and is hopeful the beginnings of a new relationship will be born.

Stookey has long had ties with Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley Academy and Kingfield, coming here since the mid-1970s. He learned to ski at 40, and he and his wife, Betty, bought a condo at North Ridge, which they later sold. He befriended Peter Webber and other locals, and of- ten plays a few tunes at the annual CVA Sugarloaf Golf Classic Auction, “warming people up so they will spend some money at the auction.”

So when he was asked to be the headline performer for the 2012 Kingfield POPS, “It was a slam dunk.”

Having come to the old farm in Blue Hill in 1974, Stookey is well familiar with rural Maine and Maine winters. His recording studio is referred to as the old chicken coop. It is here that he’s been inspirational to upcoming Maine artists like David Mallet and Gordon Bok.

In preparation for the Kingfield POPS, he has been fine tuning “The Cabin Fever Waltz,” a song about life in Maine from the end of March till the end of May, which actually was written while he was in California.

One can just imagine its content, he said, knowing the subject matter —the intolerably long period between the beginning of March and end of May when winter is hanging on. The song will debut at the POPS, and the following day, Stookey and the BSO will record it in a studio setting. It will be included his new album series: One Voice and One Guitar and Capricious Bird.

Peter, Paul and Mary’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1960s. Converging in New York’s Greenwich Village scene, the trio is credited with changing folk music into a voice of political and social change, promoting freedom, justice and social equality.

At 74, Stookey has fond memories of the 40-plus years he performed with Peter, Paul and Mary. Stookey and Peter Yarrow continue to do some gigs together.

“I love the nostalgia and the time with Peter, but life is a balance. I wouldn’t have the platform if it hadn’t been for the work of the trio. In no way could I denigrate myself… If we play too much from the past, I feel uncomfortable.”

“It’s good to look at the past, but not stare at it,” he said.

Today he limits it to about six appearances, keeping a balance between old and new materials. His spirituality has become a powerful force and is reflected in his writings, music and work.

Looking to Saturday’s POPS concert, he says performing with a symphony orchestra demonstrates the dichotomy of the plainness of folk music and the extravagance of a 40-plus piece orchestra. The experience is similar to a movie, he said. “The folk music is the movie, and the orchestra is the score behind the movie. At no times does it overwhelm the message.”

Stookey says he’s still growing and learning. “Part of me is still so optimistic, hopeful and naïve and trusting. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Hope leads me on… Love is such an integral part of our lives; the more you embrace it, the younger it makes us feel. Once you can embrace the idea that there’s a larger love at the center, whether it’s a higher self or a higher being, you can find the strength to turn to and draw from.”

Stookey still strives to convey those powerful personal, spiritual and political messages through a repertoire of songs.

He dispelled reports that he was born a Buddhist, saying his mother was a Roman Catholic and his dad was an ex-Mormon. “We did an eclectic attendance at church. I had no real spiritual sense until I was 30 years old. I was touched by Christ’s life and that spirit and message, changed my life completely.”

“There’s a deep spiritual core at most of my writing, recanting how precious life and relationships are… Even when I vent, I’m hopeful I’m venting positively.”

“Music is a great arbitrator. If we can understand the issue emotionally, we may be able to incorporate those values into our lives.”

Following Mary Travers’ death he has had “more time to meditate, be thankful, and consider all the gifts enjoyed in my lifetime.” He credits the less frantic pace with being able to create his best music, saying he wrote “The Wedding Song,” during the seven-year departure from Peter, Paul and Mary. Prior to that, most pieces had been written while on the road.

While there’s no doubt that Peter, Paul and Mary had an incredible impact on the social movement of the 60s, he said it’s unlikely that any one voice will have the ability to unite people today as it did then. The issues then were broad, affecting huge numbers of people. Today they are diverse. It’s like a series of toothpicks making up a plank. “It’s very hard to hold up a placard and describes the needs of today.”

Music is equally splintered. Still an activist, Stookey said, “It’s not as easy to find the anthems to sing as it was for the more universal civil rights movement. We deal with the problems as we find them, and try to respond.”

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