TRAVERSE CITY -- Donna Wilson Probes was in high school when folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary were in their heyday.
“When I was wearing the grooves off of my Peter, Paul and Mary records, I was just starting to play the baritone ukulele,” said Probes, a longtime folk musician. “I would get out my ukulele and figure out what key they were playing in and sing along. I wanted to be Mary, and in my fantasy mind, I would be shaking my hair like she does.”
Now Probes gets to play her idol, Mary Travers, in the folk trio, Peter, Paul & Mary Remembered. The Traverse City-based group pays tribute to the 1960s and ‘70s trio known for hits like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Leaving On a Jet Plane” and ”Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
They'll perform those tunes and more on Saturday, May 18, at the Williamsburg Theater. Probes said the two-set act will include more than two dozen Peter, Paul and Mary favorites.
The tribute group formed in 2010, after getting the stamp of approval from Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey following an Interlochen concert the two played after Travers' death in 2009. Since then, the group has played mostly benefit concerts, raising nearly $100,000 for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Zonta International, Safe Harbor and Love, INC.
“Since this isn’t our music, we don’t have ownership of it, we feel it's important to perform in a spirit of social activism that was so much a part of who they are,” Probes said.
"They're really passionate about (giving back)," said Katie Koeppen, relational ministry coordinator for Love, INC., which provides goods and services to people with disadvantages. "They are phenomenal. They are a gifted group and they work really hard to sound like Peter, Paul and Mary. It's just a great concert."
In creating their act, Probes said her group transcribed each Peter, Paul and Mary arrangement and studied old black-and-white archival footage of the trio on YouTube. Besides Probes, Peter, Paul & Mary Remembered includes her husband, guitarist-vocalist Lawrence "Doc" Probes, and guitarist-vocalist Jim Hawley. (Bassist Dave Swan backs up the group, but performs to one side, just like the famous folk trio's bassist.)
“While the guys were studying the guitar parts, I studied Mary to see how she held her fist and shook her head,” said Probes, a retired arts management professional who has played in various folk ensembles, taught music lessons, written and produced radio jingles, and performed as a studio singer. “My husband studied at Interlochen, so he’s a classically trained musician.
"He analyzed every part and wrote them up on a musical score so that we could recreate the same harmonies. We play everything pretty much to the same key because our voices match their voices.”
She said Peter, Paul and Mary's arresting sound was created through emotional lyrics, lush harmonies and complex arrangements that had the singers switching off on parts and frequently using capos on their guitars to raise the pitch.
"Their music sounds simple, but Peter, Paul and Mary put together some really unique arrangements and that’s why when they took these Dylan and John Denver songs and put their unique signature on them they transformed those songs into songs we all wanted to listen to,” she said. "'The Times They Are A-Changin' was always one of my favorites because that was the time we were marching and were so conscious about what was happening.
"I was in that rebellious phase of my young adult life and that was a really emotional time for us. Peter, Paul and Mary put it into words so perfectly. They captured the heart and the emotion of what we all felt.”
Peter, Paul & Mary Remembered begins at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m., with a cash bar.
Tickets are $20 at the door or $15 in advance at Oryana Natural Foods Market and Brilliant Books in Traverse City and at Ace Hardware and the Stained Glass Cabinet in Acme. For more information, call 938-2181 or 941-8667.