Peter, Paul and Mary still
It was a safe bet that
Peter, Paul and Mary would break out the old stand-by
crowd-pleaser, "Puff the Magic Dragon" at a concert in
Laramie, Wyo., in remembrance of slain gay student Matthew
Shepard. But never before had this children's song been so
"We believe in Dragons. Then one day we learn that life is
not all that sweet," Peter Yarrow said, referring to tragedies
such as Shepard's death. "That's when dragons do go away."
The whole audience joined in singing the chorus.
As the crisp Wyoming sky had turned to a dark and chilly
night, hundreds of candle-holders made way from a vigil for
Shepard on the University of Wyoming campus to the school's
large Arts and Sciences Auditorium for the performance. The
memorial not only fell two days short of the
one-year-anniversary of Shepard's death, but also kicked off
Gay Awareness Week at UW and was on the eve of the second
Shepard murder trial.
The spirit of the concert went down a road well-traveled
for Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey and Mary Travers, who have
been mainstays in rock & roll political activism
throughout their thirty-nine-year career. But the group seemed
especially ardent on this night. The always affectionate trio
constantly embraced and held hands, as they swept through nine
songs before an intermission. The band spoke often of Shepard,
his family and the community, Yarrow doing most of the
talking, a rainbow-colored guitar strap wrapped around his
He opened up the second set by himself, with a tune by the
late Phil Ochs, "There But For Fortune," which Yarrow noted he
had changed the last lyric after a visit to the infamous buck
fence where Shepard had been beaten, tied up and left for
"Show me the gay man / hated and scorned / he was killed
just for being the way he was born," Yarrow sang.
The crowd quickly leaped to its feet when Yarrow finished
the song, his arms held tight to his chest in a self-embrace.
With a warm smile, he extended his arms back to the cheering
crowd, and mouthed the words, "I love you."
"It's like a wake, it doesn't have to be a funeral," Yarrow
said of the show, prior to performing. "It's a time to
rebuild, to restore, to renew." Though much of the show was
earnest and introspective, it had some lighter moments. For
Travers' solo segment, she riffed about ever-changing
technology and the thin Laramie air that landed her in the
hospital before the show.
"They have this tank of oxygen backstage that I've become
fond of," she said, before launching into a thick and majestic
rendition of "Home Is Where the Heart Is."
And the concert wasn't without at least a couple of
favorites beyond "Puff." The group delivered with their John
Denver cover, "Leaving on a Jet Plane," and Bob Dylan's
"Blowin' in the Wind," which they had made famous so long ago,
and now had updated its purpose as they brought Shepard's
parents, Dennis and Judy, on to the stage.
But the most poignant moment of the evening came when tiny
flickers of light glowed once more during the trio's
performance of "Light One Candle," as the audience ignited
small, battery-operated candles handed out before the show.
When the man sitting next to me noticed I didn't have a
candle, he gave me his.
"Your story," he said, "won't be right without it."
(October 12, 1999)