I ATTENDED Peter Yarrow's second "first concert" last Sunday night. The first "first concert" at Symphony Hall in April 1972 marked Yarrow's debut as a solo folk singer following the breakup of Peter, Paul and Mary and a year of singing at voters' registration rallies and Democratic benefits. Last Sunday's concert testified to an incredible growth. By adapting his music to rock and to generally richer orchestration, Yarrow has regained his enormous performing charisma and redefined the tradition of which Peter, Paul and Mary were a part.
The idea of folk music in the United States involves at least two different strains: the notion of a constantly changing, often unwritten music, true to the tradition of popular folksinging in its lyrical simplicity and in the use of handcrafted instruments; and the notion of a music clearly reflecting the people's contemporary concerns, resonating in public aspirations and the prevailing national mood.
P,P&M shared in both of those strains, but they were not traditional folksingers. They used acoustic guitars, but it was not their lack of amplifiers that made them folkies. They were in a folk tradition because what they sang touched the idealism and sense of cohesiveness that their public shared in the mid-sixties.
PETER YARROW, AS an aspiring solo artist, faced a grave problem. A year and a half ago, he said he had ideas of following in the path of men like Pete Seeger, writing, as he still does, idealistic songs of love and the search for peace to add to the canon of traditional folk. But P, P & M-style arrangements were no longer the language of national sentiments. That musical language had shifted to rock.
Yarrow's concert Sunday and his album That's Enough For Me rest on an implicit assumption that an effective 1973 folksinger must cast his visions in a rock context, resurrecting even fifties rock as a kind of new folk music. The length and number of standing ovations Yarrow received Sunday--especially the fervent sing-along he started was a bluesy version of Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land"--suggests he is right.
The new songs Yarrow performed Sunday are on That's Enough For Me. The album is uneven, one or two of the songs very ordinary, but Yarrow's voice and the arrangements almost always avert real disappointment. The Maytals, a Jamaican reggae group, are used to good effect, and if Yarrow's version of "The Harder They Come" falls short of Jimmy Cliff, how could it do otherwise?
Yarrow's album and especially his concert hold great promise for the future. If Yarrow continues to evoke such strong audience reactions--without vitiating his political commitments--he may help prove that there's a chord of popular idealism still to be struck and discover a chorus of human concern still to be sung.