During the Fall, the local PBS station hosted it’s “Festival.” This was really their pledge week to get viewers to call up and donate in order to keep classy and educational programming on the air instead of a marathon of Charles In Charge. The channel would debut their highly awaited series for the new year. But they would also pull out certain specials and concerts that always pleased the generous “viewers like you.” One of the big ones was Peter, Paul and Mary’s 25th Anniversary Concert. This reunion special was that time when my mom had control of the TV remote. The rest of the family would watch the show that brought back the iconic folk group in 1986. But as a pesky kid, I’d always ask, “Why don’t they show the early shows before they broke up.” Now with Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963-65 we get a chance to experience the trio at their peak and at the legendary Newport Folk Festival.
Over the years it seems that Peter, Paul and Mary haven’t received the respect they deserve since they didn’t “naturally” join together. Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman came up with the idea that he wanted a trio featuring two guys, a woman and acoustic guitars so he went in search of the fresh faces in the Greenwich Village folk scene. After numerous auditions, Grossman put together tenor Peter Yarrow, baritone Noel Paul Stookey and contralto Mary Travers to harmonize. This moment is mocked in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s easy to dismiss them as a folkie version of The Monkees except like the Monkees their music mattered. Mary had spent plenty of time with Pete Seeger and grew up in Greenwich Village so she wasn’t a tourist faking it like a actor cast as a beatnik on The Beverly Hillbillies. Peter and Paul were bookish looking guys with goatees. They were like the Kingston Trio with postgrad work to be finished. But they did live the folk life including performing at the March for Civil Rights before Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Peter, Paul and Mary also became big draws at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport Rhode Island. This was a weekend long outdoor festival that featured the largest performers on the scene. Unlike today’s rock festivals, most of the artists would come on stage with an acoustic guitar or two and stand around a few microphones in the spotlight. From 1963 to 1965, Murray Lerner and his crew covered the festival and put out the documentary called Festival in 1967 to give a complete sense of what was going on during that weekend by the sea. Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963-65 includes plenty of their performances that weren’t in the final cut. Besides catching the trio on stage, there’s quite a few extra moments. We see them warming up on the stage while the sea of folding chairs are empty. There’s clips of the workshops which were more informal concerts. One includes Peter Yarrow taking on “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” Yarrow also stands alone on this daytime stage to give a solo rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
The big thing is seeing the trio performing on the big stage at night over the course of three festivals. They are so close together unlike today where we expect our musical stars to spread out across the giant stages. They are passionate as they sing and create beautiful harmonies. The only light show is the flash of camera bulbs. The film’s major focus is on the performances in rich black and white. There’s no cut away to modern interviews with Peter or Paul (Mary sadly passed away in 2009). The two do narrate a few of the performances. If you have any issues with their voices over the audio track, you can pick up the compact disc features all the music from the video.
Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963-65 takes us to the time before they reunited. You feel the power of what established them. Sure Grossman put them together, but they were such an amazing fit as they sang on that stage. If your mom insisted on silence for their reunion special on PBS, you’ll need to pick up both the DVD and the Compact Disc for both a birthday and a holiday gift. You’ll probably want to get a copy for yourself since you grew up watching the reunion special so many times.
Here’s the song list that’s on both the DVD and the CD:
1. If I Had a Hammer
2. San Francisco Bay Blues
3. Wasn’t That a Time
4. Because All Men Are Brothers
5. If I Had My Way
6. Jesus Met the Woman at the Well
7. Rising of the Moon
8. Puff, the Magic Dragon – Peter Yarrow
9. Miner’s Lifeguard – Mary Travers with Joan Baez, Ronnie Gilbert, Peter Yarrow and Others
10. Blowin’ in the Wind
11. When the Ship Comes In
12. Tryin’ to Win
14. Go Tell Aunt Rhody – Peter Yarrow with Joan Baez
15. Betty & Dupree
16. Early in the Morning
17. The Times They Are A-Changin’
18. Credits/Come Go with Me to That Land – Ensemble Led by Odetta with Joan Baez, Theodore Bikel, Pete Seeger and Others
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white photography brings out the beauty of the trio as they perform. The audio is Dolby digital. Things sound rather sharp for a live show in the early ’60s although not having to worry about electric guitar feedback probably helps.
Tell It On the Mountain (3:01) is an extra song from the big stage.
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (3:14) is from the soundcheck. Why wasn’t it in the film? Because Mary’s back is the camera as she faces the seats.
Interview with Peter Yarrow at Newport (4:11) is from the 1963 festival. He does look like a hip college professor as he talk near the trees.
Shout! Factory presents Peter, Paul and Mary at Newport 1963 – 1965. Directed by: Jim Brown. Starring: Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers. Running time: 52 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: August 16, 2019
Tags: Bob Dylan, Coen Brothers, Newport Folk Festival, Peter Paul and Mary