Noel Paul Stookey has lived in Maine for over 40 years, yet only last year did he undertake what he calls a “dedicated tour” of the state to perform.
“That meant nine towns that only people who vacation in Maine probably know about!” says the legendary folk singer-songwriter, who will always be one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary.
In fact, Baltimore native Stookey has performed only the occasional benefit concert in his adopted home state since he and his wife Betty and their three daughters moved to the southern coast of Maine—never a concentrated tour of the state all at once.
Until last year, that is. He recorded and videotaped those nine shows, and after nine months of working on the material has now released a two-disc CD/DVD package, At Home: The Maine Tour. Each disc has the same 24 songs, with roughly one-quarter new tunes, one-quarter Stookey standards like “The Wedding Song,” “Jean Claude” and “In These Times,” and the rest solo songs “that were hidden away on Peter, Paul and Mary albums and never saw the light of day solo wise” such as “Whatshername,” “The Love in You,” “September Song” and “The Dog of Time.”
“From Ogunquit to Eastport I recorded–and subsequently edited and authored–24 music videos for the DVD, and amazingly all 24 of the songs fit on the accompanying CD,” notes Stookey. He explains, “I decided to put everything together so that there would be a continuity: I’ve been all over the map in terms of creating musical continuity. Most of my albums are a little bit jazz, a little bit whatever.”
Stookey’s challenge, he says, was “to match the video to the CD, because I found out—the hard way, three days before manufacturing!—that you can’t fit 79 minutes and 35 seconds on a CD! So these discs had to be duplicated rather than stamped or replicated. The only way to keep all 24 songs on the CD was to burn each CD individually, which was more costly. So I bit the bullet and said, ‘Burn by hand, one-by-one!’—but it was worth it.”
He was able to do it by trimming the CD songs of non-music excess like intros and audience response.
“Which leads me to another point,” continues Stookey. “I hired four really good videographers, and most important, I didn’t want the cameras to interfere with the audience’s ability to see and enjoy the show. So I put the cameras out to the side and used a zoom [camcorder] that writes to an SD card that could be put on a monitor or guitar or mic stand to get some unique and up-close guitar shots.”
“The fact is, I’ve seen a lot of TV shows about music and the thing that makes me not go see them again is that they don’t care about the audience enjoying it! So I did all the editing and cut it so you the viewer is the one seeing the show–you’re the only one I care about, so there’s no gratuitous big [camera] boom sweeping down the hall showing the grandeur and loveliness of the theater and the audience response.”
In editing, Stookey “used about seven of the theaters out of the nine, and cut the songs into individual videos that exist as separate musical entities–each titled with the location at which it was videotaped and accessible from a song-by-song menu. And I sequenced all 24 songs into groups of six so that they were like little shows unto themselves with a beginning, middle and end. You can watch the whole thing, or if you just want to watch ‘Virtual Party,’ for example, you don’t have to troll through the entire concert waiting to find one song, but can go directly to that specific title. It makes the DVD a lot more reusable for a lot of folks who don’t mind sitting through a concert once, but then enough already! They don’t want to hear all that other stuff every time, but just hear the one song.”
All this sets the program apart, Stookey feels.
“And that’s why it took nine months to edit,” he explains. “But I had fun. It was a really passionate experience and with four really good videographers I could draw some of the shots from performances that may have been better than ‘camera worthy’–so I made some minor compromises. There’s a little bit of ‘fuzz’—but we call it ‘mood’ in the cinema business!”
Incidentally, the CD version of the program was mastered by Jim Mason, a co-writer with Stookey on the Peter, Paul and Mary classic “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.”
“I’ve kept in contact with him all these years,” says Stookey, adding that the DVD was mastered by John Stuart, who engineered his last few albums. “So each disc was treated separately, to play best on a specific piece of equipment.”
But Stookey also wanted “a collection of songs you could put on in the background,” he says, “and it would be, ‘okay, just let the sucker run!’ Because all my songs, granted, are lyric-heavy and most often data-driven, but I’ve always known that they’re musically interesting enough to sit there nicely and be nice background music as well as having lyric content. But every time I introduce a band or change the setting of the music, it requires working on the volume and the EQ and doesn’t play consistently. But since here it’s just me and guitar, it makes nice background music. I never thought I’d hear myself say that, but there’s a consistent tonality with one guy and guitar, and I’m getting nice feedback from my guitar player friends [saying] ‘at last we know how you’re playing!'”
As for the new songs on At Home: The Maine Tour, Stookey singles out two that “come from a long-standing awareness of the challenges facing those trying to pass immigration legislation.”
“‘Familia del Corazon’ speaks to the immigration issue in compassionate rather than political terms,” he says, while “Nukes R Nuts” results from “a letter from a nuclear age peace foundation in Santa Barbara, which asked me to do a spoken-word video containing the phrase, and i thought, ‘You gotta be kidding!’—to deal with a serious problem that way. But I saw Bishop Desmond Tutu speak about how money could be better used than by spending trillions on updating ancient retaliatory defense systems, and decided it was legitimate to write a song with the phrase. And it’s effective because it’s not only a singalong but itemizes the ridiculousness of our nation’s nuclear posture.”
“All in all, [At Home: The Maine Tour] has been a very challenging and satisfying nine-month journey,” concludes Stookey, who hesitates to call the package a memoir, “though it does span 50 years of my music.” But he appreciates that it focuses on the music and is “intimate, relaxed and as ‘stookey’ as it can get–what with no accompaniment except my guitar.”
Besides promoting it with local appearances, Stookey remains busy with his and Betty’s multi-faith One Light, Many Candles spiritual program, and with daughter Liz Stookey Sunde’s Music2Life nonprofit creative production group that uses music for impacting positive social change.
“And Peter and I still get together for an occasional concert,” he says, speaking, of course, of the other surviving member of Peter, Paul and Mary, Peter Yarrow.
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