Three young people who were not even alive when the music they performed first hit the radio airwaves in the 1960s took Pine Bluff residents on a walk down memory lane Friday night at the Community Theatre in downtown Pine Bluff.
Chris Ware, Sarah Hunt and Eli Zoller, collectively known as A Band Called Honalee, paid tribute to Peter, Paul and Mary and others from the folk music era that preceded the British Invasion in 1964.
With their bass player, Danny Stone, the group performed for about two hours to a small but vocal group of mostly 50 and above patrons in the first of two shows at the theater. Their second performance was Saturday night.
While Ware and Zoller didn’t have the Beatnik appearance of Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey and Hunt was not the tall, willowy blonde that the late Mary Travers was, they had the sound down perfectly.
Ware said they got together while living in New York when a friend who is a producer of shows on Broadway, including the Lion King, suggested they try folk music.
“He brought out some tracks and we began working every Friday night at my apartment or Eli’s apartment,” Ware said. “We started playing some clubs including the Bitter End which is one of the few clubs still around and where Peter, Paul and Mary actually played.”
Those Friday practice sessions also were mentioned in the show, with Ware saying that their bass player had to walk up four flights of stairs carrying the bass, and recalling neighbors who became critics by banging on the ceilings with broomsticks.
Fittingly, the show began with a couple of the first protest songs to gain wide acclaim, “The Hammer Song” and “Blowin in the Wind,” then “Lemon Tree,” one of the first hits for Peter, Paul and Mary.
Much of the first half of the show was devoted to what the group called “East Coast Folk” music, which originated in the East Village and then spread to other places.
In addition to performing their own songs, Peter, Paul and Mary also performed songs written by other people including Canadian Gordon Lightfoot.
“Those folks were all friends as well as competitors and they would give songs to each other,” Zoller said, before the group did That’s What You Get For Loving Me,” then swung into a rocking medley that included “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” “California Dreamin” and “Baby You Can Drive My Car.”
Hunt got her opportunity to shine with the Joni Mitchell classic “Both Sides Now,” before Ware and Zoller channeled Simon and Garfunkel doing the “59th Street Bridge Song” and a lesser known Peter, Paul and Mary tune, “Rocky Road.”
After a song that has been recorded by a number people — “Leaving On a Jet Plane” — the group asked for the house lights to be turned up and for the audience to sing along to the Pete Seeger classic “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” followed by the song that led to the band’s name, “Puff The Magic Dragon,” before intermission.
After a costume change, it was back for the second half, this time focusing on what the group called “West Coast Folk Rock,” and spotlighting the late John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and the late Mama Cass Elliott with a medley of Mama’s and Papa’s songs including “Monday, Monday,” “Go Where You Want to Go,” “I Saw Her Again Last Night” and “Dedicated To The One I Love.”
Next up came what Zoller described as “a big name” in the music business but one that is underappreciated by people who weren’t there — Bob Dylan.
“It was like he could reach out from the record player, grab you by the collar and say “‘I’m talking to you,’ ” Zoller said before the group performed “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Another Gordon Lightfoot song, “Early Morning Rain,” led Zoller to use what he called his “Catfish Voice,” explaining that the group had eaten dinner at the Sno-White Grill before their performance.
Then it was on to the Beatles, with Zoller explaining that “When you talk about the music of the ’60s, everything they did was influential,” and while their early music may not have had a folk appeal, songs like “Blackbird” in their later career did.
The loneliness of being on the road and away from family and friends was captured perfectly in Hunt’s performance of “500 Miles Away From Home,” followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s “The Wedding Song,” which Ware said Hunt and others sang at his wedding.
For an encore, A Band Called Honalee first unplugged their guitars and sat in front of the stage to do “Looking For America,” then wrapped up the show with another audience sing-along to the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land.”
The entire show was about having fun, about music with words people could understand and words that still stick in their memories, and about those days when then young people would cruise Cherry Street if they were among the “In Crowd” or if they were a little bit on the wild side, The Chicken Basket.
Do you remember where that was?
It was about going to the Pines or Zebra Drive-In, sitting in the back row and cranking up the radio until it got dark enough for the movie to start and then not being able to remember what was actually showing.
Most of all, A Band Called Honalee touched the spirit of a generation of people who remember a simpler time, when life was good, and music was an important part of it.
The folks at the Old Town Theaters Centre hit a home run with A Band Called Honalee and we can hope they come back real soon.