The colorful shirts, Hawaiian style, may have mellowed. There might be a little less hair on top. The members might be different but the musical history marches on. With three Grammys, entrance in the Grammy Hall of Fame and a 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award, at one point they had four albums on the Billboard Top 10, a record no group. not even the Beatles, has ever matched.
Proudly influencing such entities as the Ramones, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, this musical institution prepared the world of folk music for the arrival of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. As a cultural phenomenon, The Kingston Trio set off a rock and roll revolution.
You can get on this groovy bandwagon to hear the legendary Kingston Trio for three performances only Saturday, October 15 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 16 at 5 p.m. at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, 263 Golden Hill Street, Bridgeport.
The trio began as college crooners, in the mid-1950’s who thought of themselves as calypso singers rather than a folk music group. They played at fraternity houses, coffee shops and nightclubs in the San Francisco Bay area, planning to stay together for only a year. Their plans changed when a little ditty named “Tom Dooley” took off like a meteor and the rest is folk music history to the tune of 6 million in sales.
The original group of Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and David Guard have been replaced over the five decades but the integrity of the group’s original magical sound of harmony has remained the same. Today’s Kingston Trio consists of George Grove, Rick Dougherty and Bill Zorn, with acoustic guitars, banjos and bass, and their customary humorous banter that accompanies their tunes.
This weekend you are sure to hear a healthy sampling of the group’s hit parade such as “A Worried Man,” “M.T.A.,” ”Scotch and Soda,” “They Call the Wind Maria,” “Everglades,” “Greenback Dollar,” “Road to Freedom,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Seasons in the Sun” and, of course, “Tom Dooley.”
George Grove, who has logged thirty-five years with the group arranges and scores orchestral music, produces albums for other artists and does session work as a vocalist and musician. Reached in California where he is currently touring, Grove reflected on his history stating, “It is still exciting to pump out the music with integrity and joy. A career in arts and athletics can last two or three years and our group has been going strong since 1957.”
As to performing 22-30 weeks a year, which he joked can seem like “420 weeks a year,” he calls it “dynamic and ever changing. Our moods individually and collectively change day to day, depending on our hormone levels and the response of the audience. People continue to love folk music. We are a canvas on which we paint our musical picture, continually changing the colors.”
As for their humor on stage, a lot of the show is planned. They “inject it, starting it as a conversation on stage, a stream of consciousness. When it works and has merit, we leave it in.” They strive to be topical and current but not political, to “twist the knife” a little.
All ages seem to enjoy The Kingston Trio sound, and “99.9% come to be entertained, to forget the front page news and just share the music.” George reflected that the “graying of our audience matches how we are aging on stage,” Overwhelmingly their fans have kids and grandkids who “are going to record bins and rediscovering the vinyl. Lots of new fans with a wide range of ages are being made this way.”
The Kingston Trio are “no flash in the pan,” with their lasting contribution, according to Grove being, “encouragement of other people to become musicians…originally they may have wanted to pick up a guitar to impress the girl down the street and it led to something bigger. With Bob Dylan, it was opening a door for him and allowing his talent to bubble to the top and let him succeed.”
If George Grove ever writes a book about his thirty-five years with the group. he might tell about the time back in 1983 or 84 when the governor of North Carolina James Hunt Jr. came backstage, with his two huge state troopers as body guards and informed Bob Shane, the original group’s leader, that there were three things he always wanted to do: be governor which he was, conduct a symphony playing Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” which he was going to do that night and sing a song on stage with The Kingston Trio. Shane, sitting and smoking, didn’t blink and replied, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
He might devote another chapter to the time the then Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney invited the group to Boston to introduce a new way to pay for the trolley. The metal token size nickels were being phased out in favor of a credit card that could be swiped. A city-wide contest had resulted in the new card being called a Charlie Card in honor of the famous Kingston song “M.T.A.” where Charlie never returns. The governor sang with them on stage, something the governor of North Carolina would envy, and “not only was he tall and good looking, he had a good voice.”
The other members of the current group are also known for their singing prowess: Bill Zorn has “a terrific voice and is a great entertainer, and has family in Connecticut while Rick Dougherty is a beautiful tenor.” Paul Gabrielson is wonderful on bass.
For tickets ($29.50-49.50), call the Downtown Cabaret Theatre of Bridgeport at 203-576-1636 or online at
www.downtowncabaret.org. Performances are this Saturday at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Remember to bring a picnic meal to share at your table.
George Grove, who could easily change his name to “Groove” or “Groovy,” started playing piano by ear at age four and by seven he knew he was going to be a professional musician. Even when he was in the army, he played in the band. He feels blessed to be making music with the iconic Kingston Trio, a group he calls “the Ever Ready Bunny,” always memorable, crisp and eager to entertain, a cultural extravaganza that sounded an alarm clock for folk music’s wake-up and revival.