Peter Yarrow does not believe in the sanctity of anniversaries. Growing up with an iconoclastic mother, holidays such as birthdays and Mother’s Day never had much importance to him. He doesn’t see much value in celebrating the passing of another year, either. Still, even Mr. Yarrow cannot ignore the fact that his concert at the Whaling Church in Edgartown this Sunday, August 17, marks 45 years to the day since Woodstock 1969.
“The importance is not the date but the recognition, and the fact that an anniversary does compel society to think about these things,” said Mr. Yarrow in an interview with the Gazette. “We have a long way to go to get back to the spirit of the conciseness of the March on Washington or Woodstock because we have become a nation which is to a large degree driven by excessive focus on material things.”
Throughout his career, both as a member of the groundbreaking folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary and in his more recent solo work, Mr. Yarrow has approached music not just as a means of entertainment, but also as a tool for achieving social and political change. Since Woodstock, he has watched the world slowly forget the importance of equality, peace and empathy.
“[At Woodstock] music became the voice of a conscience of a nation that was going through what has been called the greening of America. It was a transformational change that allowed us to take a spiritualistic step forwards in terms of, for example, the acceptance of one another across racial boundaries and the enfranchisement of women and looking at issues of economic equity differently than before. We began to really focus on the value of a human being intrinsically, rather than celebrating their existence by virtue of material things.”
For the past 15 years, Mr. Yarrow has tried to use music to foster a similar compassion in the next generation. Fifteen years ago, he founded Operation Respect, a nonprofit education initiative that teaches social responsibility in 22,000 schools across the world.
“[Operation Respect] creates a climate of caring and love and mutual support in schools through the use of very well-structured curriculum that was developed by educators for social responsibility,” said Mr. Yarrow. “It combines music, which opens the heart and makes the kids accessible to sharing their thoughts and feelings, which will then in turn allow the kind of vulnerability and openness that is needed to create an island of compassionate society.”
This spirit of respect and compassion are the same values that Mr. Yarrow aims to inspire in his audiences when he performs live. On Sunday night, Mr. Yarrow hopes that the audience will leave with memories of a fun concert, but also with an understanding that they are not alone in the world. The concert will be a reminder that when empathetic people come together, they can create communities that change the world.
Before Mr. Yarrow takes the stage on Sunday, Julian, who has a long history with the Island, will open the show. Like Mr. Yarrow, Julian puts great faith in music as a social and political tool, capable of inspiring the world to fix issues like inequality and climate change.
Julian was just a kid when Woodstock made headlines in 1969, but he distinctly remembers the first time he dropped the needle on a sibling’s copy of Woodstock 2, a live double LP recorded at the festival.
“That was an experience that opened up the door to communication with music and vibration for peace,” said Julian. “It blew my mind. I had so much to listen to out of that album. Everything from blues, rock, folk, it was all done and it just happened that they had to make that concert free. The free spirit was everywhere. There was a feeling that with music, you could make the world a better place if we come together.”
Julian has played at prominent venues across the globe, including Carnegie Hall, but in his mind, the Whaling Church is the most incredible spot to experience a concert.
“That church is an unbelievably important church for folk history,” Julian said. “There is nothing like that vibe on Martha’s Vineyard when the sun is setting and there’s a performer on stage and you see the beautiful sunset outside. That church is an experience that I am so blessed to feel a part of.”
For both Julian and Mr. Yarrow, a concert is more than an opportunity to listen to music. It is a chance to share in a conciseness that can change history.
“The show is going to be a cross between a concert, a party and a march on Washington,” said Mr. Yarrow. “As the audience goes forward they will feel less alone in finding ways to act on their impulses, whether it be participating in an anti-fracking march or whatever. It will hopefully be a re-energizing, a rekindling of those energies.”
Peter Yarrow with Julian concert takes place at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Sunday, August 17, beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are for sale at Edgartown Books or email firstname.lastname@example.org.