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We just returned from a Wild, Wonderful, Whirlwind Weekend out of town – up to Ventura, Ojai, and on to Simi Valley. We had two purposes to this little getaway weekend: to see a concert up in Ojai by Noel “Paul” Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.

Our trip up went in three basic jumps: from home to Irvine, where we ate lunch; Irvine to Ventura, where we got our hotel room and cleaned up a bit; then up to Ojai.

Ojai is a small, quaint town about 20 miles north of Ventura, which itself is about an hour out of LAX. There are lots of small shops along the main thoroughfare. We peeked into the windows of a few, and into some bars as well. Everything was stylish, with the markings of an upscale town, but without the high prices one might expect to go along with it. There were plenty of places to eat, a few bars, and a lovely park right in the middle of town. We arrived at about 4:15, which was early for a 7:30 concert. We had a nice dinner at one of the restaurants, but later wished we’d held out and tried a different one as the one we went to was rather disappointing. Everyone was very friendly! There was a special clothing sale in the multi-purpose room of the school there, so I checked that out and came home with a new blouse!

Noel had given a concert for children at 5:30 – I had stepped in long enough to determine that we couldn’t check in and pick up the tickets that early, and heard him singing and the kids were giggling. It made me wish that I’d also bought tickets to the kids’ concert, as I’m always looking for new songs to teach my students! Instead, we sat in one of the bars and had some wine before getting in line.

The line was already forming when we got there at 6:45. We had a delightful time chatting with others in line, mostly about how we’d heard about this concert. Most in line that I spoke with, were from somewhere in the Ventura County or Santa Barbara area. From San Diego, we were the ones that had come the farthest (that we knew of). Checking in to get our “tickets” at 7:00, we found that we were merely on a list and we allowed right in.

The concert took place at the Ojai Valley Women’s Club. It has a small stage, about the size that some smaller schools have, with yellow curtains, and some lights. There was a sound system set up, so I assumed that Noel had either contracted with a sound company or brings his own. (I found out later, it was the former.) We weren’t able to get into the first two rows – we weren’t that up in line – but we found places in the third row next to three seats that were obviously already saved for someone. I had my guesses who they were saved for, and found out I was correct. By 7:20, a young woman in her 30s came in and sat down, and a young man of about the same age joined her, leaving the chair next to me empty. Shortly before 7:30, I knew my hunch was correct … Betty Stookey sat down in the chair next to me!

There was a delay in the start of the concert, because people were still coming in. The concert was totally sold out, just like the Thursday added concert sold out within days of being added, and the Friday kids’ show was nearly so. At 7:35, Shane (the organizer) introduced Noel, and out from the back comes Noel! He was wearing nice blue jeans, a yellow button-down shirt open to the second button (so that a necklace and some chest hair stuck out), the long sleeves were turned up into a cuff, and white sneakers on his feet. He brought out two guitars – a maple-colored nylon string guitar, and a darker wood steel string. On the stage, besides the microphone for voice and guitar, was an old-fashioned piano stool (the kind that screws up taller). Upon it were two water bottles (one of which fell off twice, causing Noel to crack a joke), and his set list! (But I did see remnants of where a set list had once been attached to the darker wood steel string guitar.

The audience was made up largely of folks aged 40 and up. There were only a few that were younger than that, including one 6 or 7 year old with her grandpa, and of course Noel’s daughter. I’m guessing, by the reactions to one of Noel’s first commentaries regarding the November election and recent activities in government, that this audience was also largely conservative Republican. There were few that said anything or applauded at his comments regarding the recent “change”, and he got a better reaction when he said, “and the Republicans are still waiting to see what happens”….lots of nods of heads. I noticed that there were no more political comments once that happened. The audience did not sit on their hands at his performances, though, and laughed at certain songs where it was funny enough. Then gave him a standing ovation – two, really – at the end of the evening.

Some of you may want a set list. In the first set:
“Revolution” (1x1) was the opening song
Then came the political comments – first and last.
“Garden Song” (aka “Inch by Inch”) – audience was encouraged to sing
the refrain. Yes, I did, of course!!!!
“Right Field” – my husband LOVED that one, he’d never heard it before
“The Big Picture”
“Be Real”
“El Salvador” (after this one he switched to the steel string)
Then a religious piece, perfect something, sorry, didn’t know it
(then he switched back to the nylon string)
“Jesus is on the Wire” – hubby commented that there was a story
on a “West Wing” episode similar to that one
“Love is Here” (may have title incorrect)

We were given a 15 minute break. I went out to the lobby, chatted with lots of people, bought the only CD that they were selling that I didn’t have of Noel’s (“Real to Reel”), and came back in. I was sitting down when Betty came back in and got seated. I decided to be friendly and just asked her, “Did you have a nice break?” She said she did, and asked me about mine. Then I whispered over to her, trying to defend her privacy, “Are you Noel’s wife?” She nodded and then said, “and this is our daughter Anna and her husband” (and don’t quote me here, I think she said Rick; I was busy thinking, A HA, I figured out which twin was on this coast correctly!) I told her a few other things. She told me that I have a beautiful voice, and that she gets so tired of sitting next to people who can’t keep tune, much less sing! I was complimented!

In the second set:
Opened with the piece about the body, the heart and the groin – can’t
remember the title, sorry!
“The Wedding Song” with the steel string, but he changed the perspective
From “He is now” to “I am now” and continued that
“It’s Magic” – the opening line of that one got my husband’s attention
“Virtual Party” – one of my favorites and my husband, not a folk music fan,
really liked this one too
Audience sing-along – “Fuzzy Wuzzy Wuz a Bear” – anybody know where
I can get the sheet music for this? My little guys would love it!
“For the Love of It All”
Finale: “In These Times” – which brought him a standing ovation
Encore: “Puff the Magic Dragon” – the audience was NOT going to let him
leave without an encore of “Puff”. He does it differently from
Peter, but Betty giggled when I said “Present tense!” right in
perfect unison with Noel!

After the concert, we waited in the lobby for Noel to come out. Shane said he would change clothes and then come out for autographs. There were only about 16 or 18 people who waited. I was about 7th in line. I was tickled to meet him. I didn’t get a lot of time with him – I could see that he was absolutely tired after two shows that evening – he’d already shaken out his pickin’ and strummin’ right hand a couple of times during each set, and he just looked tired too.