Local Current Blog

Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey to play Pantages, with some ticket sales supporting Eugene McCarthy documentary

Noel Paul Stookey (l) and Peter Yarrow perform in New York in 2009. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NPCA)

Folk legends Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey are coming to Minneapolis to perform at the Pantages Theatre on Oct. 8. Many will be familiar with Yarrow and Stookey as a part of the iconic 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. What many might not know is that the folk band actually have an interesting tie to Gene McCarthy, the history-making U.S. senator from Minnesota. Special tickets are being made available to Yarrow and Stookey’s performance with proceeds going toward a film project about Senator McCarthy.

Peter, Paul and Mary formed in New York City at the peak of the folk music revival in 1961 and quickly became one of the most popular and successful American folk groups. The trio — comprising Yarrow, Stookey, and the late Mary Travers — were beloved for their socially relevant songs and close harmonies. Their debut album, Peter, Paul and Mary, released in 1962, was more successful than any folk LP before it, reaching number one on the charts. One of the band’s most iconic singles, “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)” — written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays — was on that album and would eventually earn the group two Grammy Awards.

The group often performed covers of other folk musicians, including Minnesota-born Bob Dylan, whose song “Blowin’ in the Wind” became one of Peter, Paul and Mary’s biggest hit singles and introduced Dylan’s songwriting to a mass audience. The band’s most popular original, an ode to the lost innocence of childhood, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” was released in 1963.

Besides having a powerful influence in the charts, Yarrow, Stookey, and Travers also advocated for social change. Many of their songs addressed themes of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements. The folk group performed at the March on Washington in 1963, and many of their songs became anthems of the era.

They became involved with Eugene McCarthy after his success in the 1968 New Hampshire primary, which demonstrated how powerfully the Minnesotan’s anti-war message was resonating nationally. The band endorsed McCarthy and wrote the song “Eugene McCarthy For President (If You Love Your Country)” for his campaign.

Eugene McCarthy is probably best-known for being the man who, in the tumultuous year of 1968, changed the landscape of American politics. McCarthy was born in Watkins, Minnesota and attended St. John’s University, graduating in 1935. He began his political career in 1948 when he became a member of the House of Representatives, a position he held until 1959 when he was elected to the Senate.

In 1968, McCarthy became the first candidate to challenge sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination. Running on an anti-war platform, McCarthy soon gained the support of college students and peace activists across the nation. The nation was stunned when McCarthy nearly defeated Johnson at the New Hampshire primary thanks to his grassroots, door-to-door campaign efforts.

Despite strong showings at several primaries, McCarthy’s campaign ended at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where he failed to obtain enough delegate votes. Despite the defeat, McCarthy is remembered as the man who inspired a generation of citizens into civic engagement and who provided a voice for grassroots movements. Many observers later noted parallels between McCarthy’s 1968 campaign and the 2016 campaign of Bernie Sanders, another outsider candidate who galvanized an unexpectedly large liberal following.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of McCarthy’s momentous campaign, a documentary titled Gene McCarthy: In The Land of the Aardvarks is in the works. The feature-length documentary is set to be released in 2018 and is being produced by Mary Beth Yarrow, who is the niece of Gene McCarthy and the ex-wife of Peter Yarrow. An 11-minute developmental reel of the forthcoming documentary has been made available to watch on the film project’s website.

A select number of main-floor seats at the Pantages show have been held exclusively for donors to the film. These tickets are available for $150 with all proceeds going to Gene McCarthy: In The Land of the Aardvarks. Fans interested in the benefit tickets can e-mail mccarthyfilm68@gmail.com. Standard tickets for the performance can be purchased here.

Lillian Speakman is a recent graduate from Hamline University.