Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 10, 2011 Susan Werner, Vance Gilbert & Peter Yarrow

I’ve been a fan of Peter, Paul and Mary since my teenage years when my friends and I used to travel into the city to Gerde’s Folk City and sneak into Westbury Music Fair to hear the three sing. And when Mary died it was a great loss. I was so excited when I learned that Peter Yarrow was coming to Long Island to perform at the The Patchogue Folk Festival, along with Susan Werner and Vance Gilbert.

Susan Werner was wonderful. She sang spirited numbers from her new release Kicking the Bee Hive. Her version of the Our Father deserves its place as a promo to every hypocritical religious preacher who claims to speak for God. Why is Heaven so Small points out so clearly how many people of faith are on the wrong side of God when they condemn us to certain damnation in hell for not being one of the elect. Her wonderful new song Manhattan Kansas, which she played on the piano, is about love and loss and the birth of child showed her willingness to be vulnerable and deeply personal. Her range of playing, her musicianship, her passion for social and political issues, her honesty and her willingness to wear her heart on her sleeve will keep Susan Werner on the stage for years to come.

Vance Gilbert deserves a larger audience. His verbal legerdemain and his sense of humor immediately grabs the audience. The rich timbre of his voice on songs like Unfamiliar Moon, and Lie to Me will always remain powerful and poignant. He knows how to tug at your heart strings. Yet with a simple acoustic guitar he can shift into the Jimi Hendrix song, Castles Made of Sand and make it seem as if Jimi were on the stage. His new songs such as Old Man’s Advice effortlessly blends humor and poignancy, the pain of the racial divide with the undivided love of a son giving voice to his father. Goodbye Pluto may be the haunting story of Vance Gilbert himself searching for the recognition that he deserves while he swirls around the sun and the earth that now relegates him to a non-planetary misunderstood status. No one can hold a note, or reach such majestic musical heights as Vance Gilbert. Just listen to his rendition of Rainy Night in Georgia to know what I mean. People talk about Mariah Carey as if she were the new diva with her five octave range. But Vance is the male equivalent who can do all that and better, without all of the unnecessary theatrics. He connects with his audience. He knows how to talk to us. He knows how to sing with passion and honesty. He makes anyone who loves music a believer.

Peter Yarrow started out with great promise. His new song Don’t Laugh at me resonated strongly with the audience. I thought, “How wonderful is it that this man, this legend is still creating wonderful songs and still traveling the world advocating for peace and justice.” But then the concert deteriorated into one long depressing monologue. He reminded us of and then disregarded Mary Travers' advice not talk incessantly on stage.  While it was appropriate to inform us of the plight of “bullied” and ignored
 children, he seemed to forget that this was a concert and not a lecture hall and that he was preaching to the choir. Just when the audience thought that the lecturing was over, he brought the house lights up, brought his laptop on stage and forced us to listen to his web site where artists from around the world in every language performed this song.  The experience was sheer torture. I felt bullied. By the time he sang his powerfully moving song The Great Mandala, I didn’t care anymore. Instead of being moved, I was angry. Even Puff the Magic Dragon was turned into yet another object lesson in our collective callousness toward children and in Yarrow’s endless and tireless effort to correct this tragic wrong. All I could think was “Shut up, please.” Shockingly, Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind was yet another example of Yarrow’s endless need for interruptions and intrusions. And I felt sorry for Vance and Susan who were compelled to sing along like school children who had never heard of Bob Dylan. It was a sad coda to what should have been a wonderful evening. Fortunately, I have wonderful memories of Peter, Paul and Mary at rallies during the sixties and the seventies. Fortunately, Susan Werner and Vance Gilbert were on hand in Patchogue to brighten up the evening.

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