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We imagine that every long career as a performer must involve an a-ha moment, when the call of their vocation is first felt. For Peter Yarrow, that time came during his student days at Cornell, from which he graduated in 1959. In a 2009 interview with a Cornell publication, Yarrow described his experiences leading students in song as part of a course — officially called American Folk Literature but known on campus as “Romp-n-Stomp” — as a “watershed experience, shaping his life and career as a professional musician.” Yarrow’s role was leading the class in songs related to topics discussed by the professor: “They sang traditional folk songs and murder ballads, Dust Bowl songs made popular by Woody Guthrie, and songs of freedom and slavery that spoke to the pressing issues of the civil rights movement.” In the interview, Yarrow recalled that murder ballads were especially popular. He also noted that the gig “paid $500 a year, at that time about 20 percent of what a year at Cornell cost; and I got to park my $50 car on campus.” The article notes that, within a year of graduating, Yarrow “would be preparing for his debut with Mary Travers and Noel Paul Stookey, as Peter, Paul and Mary — originally dubbed ‘The Ivy League Three.'” (Thank goodness they ditched that handle.) The trio became folk music royalty when that genre was at its brief, early-1960s peak of popularity, selling millions of records with their versions of anthems like ”Blowin’ in the Wind” and ”If I Had a Hammer.” In the 2009 interview, Yarrow said their success “was just an extrapolation from ‘Romp-n-Stomp.'” May all the students grinding away at schools everywhere have such a positively life-altering experience. Of course, as “Puff, the Magic Dragon” warns, nothing lasts forever. Peter, Paul and Mary broke up in 1970 (They periodically regrouped until Travers’ 2009 death and Stookey and Yarrow have performed as a duo), and the same year Yarrow pleaded guilty to taking “indecent liberties” with a 14-year-old girl and served three months in prison. He has since called the incident the worst mistake of his life. His conviction has been used against both Yarrow and politicians he has supported as part of his lifelong political activism, which, in recent decades, has included helping start Operation Respect, which works to curb school bullying.
8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday. $30/$60. Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs. 518-583-0022. caffelena.org.
— Joseph Stalvey
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