Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mary Travers

Anyone who lived the 60's or has since appreciated what happened then can't say "Peter, Paul" without adding "Mary." Mary Travers, 72, died today of the effects of chemotherapy in her battle against leukemia. The trio led the folksong revival which popularized many of Bob Dylan's songs.

I learned to finger pick a guitar by playing of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" endlessly at the slowest speed possible on my little record player until I could virtually match the notes. I'm sure I wasn't alone in the attempt to make my guitar sound as seamless.

The trio brought "Blowin' In The Wind," and many more, to mainstream popularity. And this is where the story gets personal for me.

In August, 1966 PP&M were scheduled to perform at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre just outside Denver, Colorado. There were high winds and rain during the afternoon, typical weather for Colorado in late summer. The concert could have been moved to an indoor venue, the Denver Coliseum, but it wasn't. Red Rocks is one of the most spectacular venues for a concert anywhere in the U.S.A. seating 9450 with unobstructed views of the stage. I arrived there in the rain with Sue, my date, and eventual first wife, two hours before the concert. We secured great seats, center, mid-venue and with an umbrella we waited.

The concert was set to begin at 7:00pm. At 6:45pm the rain stopped and a light breeze flowed over the sandstone walls through the audience. At 6:55pm the breeze intensified to a moderate wind. At 7:02pm Peter, Paul and Mary, without any introduction, came onstage and performed "Blowin' In The Wind." The soft warm wind, the acoustical perfection of the venue and the ethereal music is a moment that is one of my most enduring memories.

Years passed and I moved on from Denver to Louisville, Kentucky, the city where Mary was born. In 1985 PP&M reunited as a trio and scheduled Louisville as one of the performance cities. I was working at the Courier-Journal and submitted a request to photograph the rehearsal. I did cover the short practice session (unfortunately the b/w negatives lost) and I took the opportunity to introduce myself and I asked them about that 1966 concert at Red Rocks.

They all instantly remembered that moment. An introduction had been planned and the first song was not "Blowin' In The Wind." But, they also felt the breeze, saw the clearing sky and understood the spiritual connection between music, the audience, and the physical atmosphere. With no hesitation they changed the opening song. PP&M simply walked onstage, began the concert and mesmerized 10,000 hearts.

Mary Travers, your silky voice will always resonate in my core.