Getting folksy to help kids: Peter Yarrow to headline benefit concert in Lawrenceville

By Mike Morsch
   Chris Thern grew up listening to songs like “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and other hits by Peter, Paul and Mary.
   So when the legendary folk group’s Peter Yarrow performed a benefit show about five years ago at Princeton High School, Ms. Thern took her then 3-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter to the concert.
   ”I was really inspired by him. He’s a wonderful performer, but he also really wants the audience to sing along with him,” said Ms. Thern. “I’ve probably heard the song ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ my whole life. People say it has a lot of different meanings, but one of the meanings of ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ is that childhood is a very special time. And one day, they don’t go play with Puff, the Magic Dragon anymore. I think for me now, with kids, it’s a really special song.”
   Consequently, when the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville was considering fundraisers for 2015, Ms. Thern, who was on the planning committee, recalled how much she liked Mr. Yarrow’s show.
   More specifically, she thought of Mr. Yarrow’s message that he delivers through his music. For the past decade or so, he has performed more than 500 benefit concerts that advocate for positive change in America.
   Mr. Yarrow’s children’s books — which include “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and “Day is Done,” along with children’s songbooks, including “Favorite Folk Songs,” “Sleepytime Songs” and “Let’s Sing Together” — are designed to expose folk music to children on a broad scale.
   In turn, the books also advance Mr. Yarrow’s desire to create safe, bully-free school environments. Approximately 22,000 schools across the United States now use Mr. Yarrow’s “Don’t Laugh at Me” program, born out of Operation Respect, a non-profit founded by Mr. Yarrow and educator Dr. Charlotte Frank.
   It was just the type of message that the committee at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville wanted to present to its local people.
   And at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, Mr. Yarrow will perform in concert at the church. The event will benefit the Susan Bachus Scholarship Fund at the church’s preschool and Every Child Valued, a Lawrenceville nonprofit that offers an after-school program and summer enrichment program for children that live in and around the Eggerts Crossing Village neighborhood in Lawrenceville.
   This will be the type of show that is right in his wheelhouse, according to Mr. Yarrow.
   ”My work in Operation Respect, which relates to creating an environment of caring and love and acceptance for kids, is a passion. It’s very, very, very meaningful to me. I will be singing with that keen awareness and I’ll be singing songs from the Peter, Paul and Mary repertoire that are applicable. It will be a joyous, affirmative event,” said Mr. Yarrow.
   ”For me, to be able to share in this way with all the audiences, makes me whole in my heart. If I weren’t able to do that in my life, give the great gift of the legacy of Peter, Paul and Mary and Pete Seeger and The Weavers and Woody Guthrie, that would be a huge loss. That’s really central to who I am and what I’m about,” he said.
   Peter, Paul and Mary — Mr.Yarrow, Noel (Paul) Stookey and Mary Travers — were among the major forces of folk music in the 1960s. The group had six Top 10 hits, including the No. 1 single “Leaving on a Jet Plane” in 1969; and “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and “Blowin’ in The Wind,” both of which reached No. 2 in 1963.
   Ms. Travers died in 2009 and Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Stookey continue to perform both as a duo and individually. Mr. Yarrow will perform the Lawrenceville show solo.
   ”We like to have fundraisers that bring the community into the school, rather than just having a fundraiser with the families of the school and church,” said Ms. Thern.
   She added that the message from Mr. Yarrow’s song “Don’t Laugh at Me,” is one of acceptance, a message that the church believes has value.
   ”If you listen to the words of the song, it’s for all people. It’s kind of just saying to embrace all people. That’s kind of why we felt we wanted to hold an event like that in Lawrenceville, one that really tries to spread that message. We want our children growing up in a community that accepts and is more tolerant of people that are different,” said Ms. Thern.
   The concert is being sponsored by the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, Cherry Grove Organic Farm, JaZams and Borden Perlman Salisbury & Kelly Insurance and Risk Management, so that all proceeds from the show can be used for the Susan Bachus Scholarship Fund and Every Child Valued. Ms. Bachus, a teacher at the preschool for more than 30 years, plans to attend the concert as well.
   The church seats about 400 people. Tickets for the event are $20 for adults; $15 for teens; $10 for children; and free for those age 2 and under. Tickets can be purchased online at lppreschool.com or showtix4u.com and in person at the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Preschool office, 2688 Main St, Lawrence Township.
   ”The music that I’ve embraced over the years… my passion for it is not to be able to entertain. I see the music that I share, the folk music, as a vehicle for bringing people’s hearts together in a way that can give them courage and the strength to work together, accept each other and move forward to making a better world,” said Mr. Yarrow.
   ”I love the music,” he added, “but what I love most about it is the ability to see people open their hearts to one another when they sing together. Most of the songs that I’ll be singing are from the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook and I’ll be asking people to sing on almost all of them.”