Waxing sentimental with hootenanny folk songs – sing with me!

I sat through two hours of Peter Paul and Mary feature re-run on PBS station last week.  Utterly delightful.  But more especially, nostalgic. I reminisced the days of my youth when I was a high school exchange student in Pennsylvania around the mid-60’s –- peak of the anti-Vietnam war sentiments and staggering support for troops at war, cultural shakeup by the hippie and peace movements, height of the civil rights initiative and public demonstrations. Peter, Paul and Mary’s music carries all those rich sentiments, bearing messages that transcend time. Hearing their music again some nights ago, when protests continue to crowd the streets of cities around the country these days, was just too powerfully moving and overwhelmingly sentimental.

Baby boomers remember Peter, Paul and Mary – stellar performing artists who channeled their music and songs to rallying for human rights and justice around the world. Their folk songs remind me of hootenannies, singing parties I so very much enjoyed as a teenager in Pennsylvania. Friends and I and our contemporaries were not much into jam sessions where rock n’ roll was king of the dance floor. Rock n’ roll was not the craze of youths in the area where I lived with an American host family for a year. Maybe because we all loved music and singing, and we gravitated to any singing party in town. Hootenannies were the fad.

I love music, and folk songs have become favorites of mine, even to this day. When I tuned in to the Peter, Paul and Mary re-run nights ago, I was ecstatic. You guessed right, I belted out with gusto – just me and the TV that one evening during shelter-in.

My young readers may not be familiar with “Michael row the boat ashore”, or “Five hundred miles”, or “Puff the magic dragon”, or “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Lisa”, or “Where have all the flowers gone”. Classic folk songs, I dare say. They convey stories. They idealize hopes and romanticize dreams, or reel off sadness and regret. They spin stories of life simple and complicated; sometimes, primitively naive.

Peter, Paul and Mary rendered the folk songs straight to the heart; always, in perfect and delicious harmony – the lyrics and strains were entertaining, enjoyable, yet with thought-provoking allegories, symbolisms and messages.

The irony is that the stark symbolism of their songs – intimating freedom, justice, peace and brotherhood for all, is so relevant even to this day. Take for example, “If I had a hammer … I’d sing out the love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.” How appropriate for these times when brothers and sisters are marching the streets clamoring for justice and equality. Many decades ago, as a teenager, I sat on many living room floors at friends’ houses, or on a crowded wooden bench at a gymnasium, enjoying and singing freedom and equality songs during hootenanny gatherings. And that night last week at home as I singularly engaged in a private sing-along, I wondered, did we really go far from those years many decades ago? Has the world learned from those social pains? Have we learned?

Maybe it’s time to bring back the hootenanny. I like to imagine throngs of people, young and old, sitting on the grass, or the steps of the plaza, or on crowded living room floors, or in packed auditoriums – just like in the 60’s — listening to the old folk songs and singing along – crooning away peacefully with a cherished idealism that all aim to reach, yet enjoying it all.

But of course, every person has a preference – and that’s just mine. Sing with me – even from a distance.

[Do you believe in coincidences? As I write this blog, I’m listening to music from Stage and Screen on a cable TV station, and right now, I’m relishing “Five hundred miles” recorded by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan in 2013 for a movie. It’s an excellent rendition. So you see, old folk songs can be wonderfully revived.]

Linda P. Jacob

Leave a Reply