Bill Cohen has been singing for more than 40 years, but there has always been more to his performances than music.
Cohen will perform his 34th-annual 1960s Musical Coffeehouse Friday, which he said will involve a lot more than just singing. During the show, Cohen will perform some of the most well-known songs from the ’60s, such as civil rights movement staple “We Will Overcome,” and provide the audience with historical context through anti-war buttons, front-page newspaper headlines from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech and videos that depict important moments of the decade.
“The basic theme of the show is, yes, the ’60s were partly drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll, that’s true,” Cohen said. “But my show tries to say it was a heck of a lot more than that. It was a time when people, especially college students, stood up and took a stand on very serious matters of the day.”
Music that reflects the civil rights movement and anti-war sentiments of the time represents two pieces of a much larger puzzle, David Steigerwald, a history professor at Ohio State, said.
Although Cohen said he plans to sing songs from artists who were anti-war to represent the movements of the ’60s, Steigerwald said the music of the decade included folk singers across the political spectrum.
Steigerwald, who co-authored a book titled, “Debating the Sixties: Liberal, Conservative, and Radical Perspectives,” said there was a wide range of political messages in songs from the ’60s, from Phil Ochs’ “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” a song that “trots out all the left-wing stereotypes of the liberal establishment,” to songs such as Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” a song that has a “reactionary right-wing tune.”
“It’s a hell of a lot more complicated than saying, ‘Well, did music do this, or did music do that?’” Steigerwald said. “It depends on what you were listening to or where you were or what your tastes were.”
Another element of the show is the far-out fashion of the ’60s, Cohen said.
Cohen said he wears tie-dye T-shirts, love beads, headbands and other garments and accessories that represent the ’60s because they resonate with people who lived through the decade.
“People get a kick out of seeing that and saying to themselves, ‘I can’t believe we thought we looked so cool.’”
Cohen said he will sing and explain the significance of the songs as he performs, as well as pose trivia questions about the ’60s to the crowd.
Cohen said he doesn’t want the show to be too serious to be enjoyable, so the questions will include fun facts about the elements of the decade including fashion, TV shows and movies, to lighten up the show.
“The music of the time helped to not only reflected what was happening. In some cases, it energized what was happening,” Cohen said.
While the show resonates more strongly with people who lived through the ’60s, Cohen said it would also be appealing to students because it can provide a musical history lesson about important events throughout the decade.
“There’s an old phrase and I don’t know exactly what it is. ‘Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’” Cohen said.
The show will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the King Avenue United Methodist Church at 299 King Ave. Admission is a suggested donation of $10, and proceeds will go to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.