Omaha Rainbow : Issue 29


Kingston Trio Reunion Concert - an eyewitness account by Ben Blake
(Magic Mountain, Valencia, California, USA : 7 November 1981) 

Kingston Trio

Chapter 5:  "A Night on Magic Mountain"

Camera 3 producer Joann Young made good on her promise to make the Kingston Korner contingent feel like honoured guests.  Not only did we have an assurance of choice concert seats and passes to the "wrap party," but she now informed us that the nationally syndicated ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT television programme wanted to interview us as the trio of fans who had come a collective five thousand miles to see tonight's reunion of the Trio.

.....Allan Shaw had flown in from Illinois and Jack Rubeck had flown in from Oregon.  Together, we three had chronicled the past and present doings of our heroes for three previous years in the pages of GOLDMINE magazine, but not until earlier that afternoon at the Los Angeles bus depot had we actually met face to face.  Fear of flying and a severe case of  'emptyus pocketbookus' had sent me on a 74 hour bus trip from Connecticut to California with only four hours sleep en route, but a quick shave and shower at our hotel in Valencia got my energy reserve working.  It was difficult for any of us to believe it was finally Saturday evening, November the Seventh, l98l, and the Heart of the Dream was at hand.

We were grouped just outside the open ampitheatre at Six Flags Magic Mountain Park, and suddenly it was my turn to have that bright light stabbing my tired eyes, and a pleasant lady with a microphone asking me why I had travelled almost three thousand miles on a bus to witness the taping of the Kingston Trio's Reunion Concert.  I replied something about "magic" and I wished to see that magic firsthand.  Then she wanted to know what made the Trio so special to so many.  Any of us could have easily written a lengthy book in answer to that one, but faced with an optimum of thirty seconds I found myself mumbling something about the increase in domestic and international guitar sales since l958, and in my final seconds in the Hollywood spotlight I let loose and credited the Kingstons with everything from the Beatles to a cure for the common cold!  And all I had intended was to say "hello" to the folks back home.

The final rehearsal had just finished up inside, and we got to give a hurried handshake and greeting to Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane as they emerged into the waning West Coast sunset, respectively searching for a clean shirt and something to eat.  We mortals decided to wolf down some burgers and fries and then lined-up at the VIP gate with several hundred other invitees. JoAnn had informed us upon arrival that enough VIP tickets had been issued to fill the entire ampitheatre, so they had decided to do another show immediately following the first to accomodate the regular Park patrons.  But as the concert was scheduled to begin at half-past-six (it was already after seven) and the Park closed at eight, it began to look like the performances would both have to be quite brief.

The seats saved for us were third row centre, and we found ourselves rubbing elbws with Trio family members : Catherine Guard, Buffy Ford Stewart, Linda Reynolds and youngsters.  The place was filled to capacity by the time Supervising and Executive Producer, Chuck Simon, came out to instruct everyone to please remain seated during the taping and to refrain from taking flash photos. After testing several sections of the audience for applause noise levels, Chuck surrendered the stage to our host for the evening, comedian Tom Smothers.

KT Reunion
Dave .. George .. Bob .. John .. Lindsey .. Roger .. Nick

After a few chuckles to warm up the crowd, Tom introduced the Kingston Trio: Bob Shane, Roger Gambill and George Grove.  George had five years in the Trio under his belt, Roger had eight and Bob had them all.  They looked great and sounded even better as they launched into 'Three Jolly Coachmen' and 'Early Morning Rain,' tunes from l958 and l965, respectively.  On a projection screen at the rear of the stage the first of many slides of album covers and group photos were being presented.  The boys were warmly received by a most appreciative audience, but the director came out yelling, "Stop tape!"  There had been a buzzing noise captured on the soundtrack and the two songs would have to be performed again.  The Trio obliged, and we all loved it even more the second time.

Grove, Shane, GambillHe emerged again to say they still didn't get an acceptable tape of 'Coachmen,' and at this point Bob looked up into the sound booth and said, "Whoever you are up there, get it right this time or go fish, and I mean it!"  After a perfect third rendition, the group introduced a new tune, 'Looking For the Sunshine.'  Then Bob finished the set with another fine performance of his hallmark, 'Scotch and Soda,' and the Trio exited to rousing applause.  This was the first time I had seen them perform in person, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how professional and good they were.  Roger came across with a fine, robust voice and pleasing personality, and George lived up to reports that he was perhaps the finest instrumentalist that had ever graced the group.  And though his voice had taken on a rough timbre that balanced the silver in his hair, Bob Shane was still Bob Shane.

As we stared at the darkened stage for several quiet moments, we were again reminded of the fact that we were witnessing the making of a television show and not a regular concert.  Los Angeles' KCET-TV (a Public Broadcasting Service affiliate), New York's Camera 3 Productions and California's One Up Productions were combining forces and resources (underwritten by a grant from Atlantic Richfield Corporation) to produce a special titled "Kingston Trio and Friends - Reunion."  We had no doubt that when it is finally aired over the PBS-TV Network (currently slated for sometime in the "Pledge Drive" period from February 2lst to March 6th, l982) all the bugs would be edited out and only the highlights would remain.

It was about eight when the spotlight shone once more on Tom Smothers as he introduced, "Playing together for the first time in twenty years....." Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane, the original Kingston Trio.  It was questionable for a moment or two whether or not the audience was going to let them perform, so deafening and unabating was the applause. They stood there and waited for the crowd to clap away the years: Bob, stoicly centrestage; Dave, grinning ear-to-ear and not having aged a day; Nick, with non-Trio moustache and thinning hair, looking just a bit nervous and overwhelmed by it all.  The rear screen held a shot of their first album.

Reynolds, Shane, GuardAt last they were allowed to begin with 'Hard, Ain't It Hard,' and suddenly it was '58 or '59 all over again:
Dave's driving 5 string banjo, Bob's steady 6 string guitar, and Nick's overgrown 4 string ukelele, melded with that patented soaring harmony and raucous good humour.  When they finished the number the applause meter went up enother notch on the scale.  The earphoned director made another stage appearance - something about a camera flash on Nick's glasses - and we were all treated to another round of the Woody Guthrie classic.  At this point I was hoping they would do everything twice.
History was being reaffirmed here this night, and that magic I had speculated about earlier was unleashing itself on that stage before our eyes and ears.  About this time I noticed a gentleman watching the show very intently from the wings at stage right. It was John Stewart.

Tommy stepped out again to say a few words about the group's biggest record, and then they did it: 'Tom Dooley.'  And it didn't sound like a song we were all sick of hearing, that they had slogged through countless times; it sounded real, and alive.  It was shocking to discover Bob playing the banjo on this one, after assuming all these years it was Dave.  When the crowd finally calmed itself after that one, Dave took the liberty of introducing some of the celebrities in the audience - Mike Settle of the First Edition, Alex Hassiley and Lou Gottlieb of the Limeliters, Larry Ramos of the Association, and Dick Smothers.  Dave then delivered one of his droll song intros, much to the delight of everyone.  I Can't remember a word he said, but I loved every minute of it.

In the meantime, Nick had shed his uke and rolled his tall conga drum into place near the microphone.  When Dave had Listen to 'Zombie Jamboree'finished, they took off with 'Zombie Jamboree' and never came down.  It was Dave's song all the way, just like in the old days, and he was enjoying every minute of it.  The audience response was deafening as they turned to exit, but I could just manage to hear John shouting, "Sneak in a couple more, Dave!"  He was applauding just as hard as we were.  Twenty years was a long time to wait, but it had been worth it.

As the hour grew later on Magic Mountain and the temperture plummeted, the chances of getting in a second show disappeared, and anyone outside the ampitheatre had long since departed when the Amusement Park shut down for the night. We again warmed our hands by applauding as Bob, Roger and George reclaimed the stage.  Bob introduced Mary Travers, and they all sang a Pete Seeger song the Trio had lifted from Peter, Paul and Mary almost twenty years earlier, 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?'  George remained to accompany Mary on two John Denver compositions, 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' and 'Rhymes and Reasons.'  She left the stage to enthusiastic applause.

Reynolds, Shane, StewartMr.Smothers then introduced, ".....the second generation of the Kingston Trio," - Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane and John Stewart.  Although their performance wasn't quite as polished as that of the evening's other Trios, it was every bit as enthusiastic and as well received.  John attacked the banjo as they began their set with the rousing 'Reuben James,' one of the first songs they recorded in l961.  They had not been on a stage together in over fourteen years, but they still sounded great (although John cursed himself for a couple of mistakes on the banjo).  John introduced the striped-shirted bass player at stage left who turned out to be Trio fanatic Lindsey Buckingham from the supergroup Fleetwood Mac.  They then performed their classic 'Chilly Winds,' reminding everyone what a fine way with a ballad the second Trio always had.  About halfway through the song Tom Smothers strolled out with his guitar and joined in.  Then Nick, Bob and John closed out their part of the show with one of their biggest hits, 'Greenback Dollar.'  They exited to shouts of, "More! More!"

Listen to 'Kansas'A brief intermission gave us an opportunity to rest our hands and stretch our legs.  Soon a small band took their places on stage and struck-up a rock/jazz instrumental.  It went on for several minutes, and in the background we could make out Dave Guard and Lindsey Buckingham together behind one of the curtains.  Then John reappeared with electric guitar and two young ladies, they all turned in a rocking performance of his l979 smash, 'Gold.'  Tom then came out and officially introduced John' s performance, and John then introduced his back-up group, the Jukebox Commandoes.  He dedicated the next song to Dave, Nick and Bob - one of his best from l973's "The Phoenix Concerts" album, 'Kansas.'  Then, with a shot of his popular album, "Bombs Away Dream Babies," on the screen, John introduced the man who had helped him make it a Listen to 'Spinnin' of the World'reality, Lindsey Buckingham.  They performed an exciting version of that album"s acoustical duet, 'The Spinnin' of the World,' which John pointed out was originally featured on the Trio's last studio album in 1966.  They left the stage to warm applause.

Bob, Roger and George returned to the stage after a short break in the programme, and they turned in a spirited rendition of  'I'm Going Home.'  They then performed an enchanting ballad they have yet to record titled 'Hawaiian Nights' and then broke a string or two on the robust Trio standard, 'Hard Travelin'.'  Bob then brought Dave, Nick and John back on stage and all six of them wowed the capacity crowd with 'Sloop John B.'  Despite instructions to the contrary, it was standing ovation time at Magic Mountain for a full five minutes.  Next up was 'A Worried Man,' and with a quick change of instruments and positions we were treated to a once-in a lifetime sight of Dave, John and George all playing banjos together at the microphone stage right.  Nick and Roger worked from stage left and Bob held centre as they enjoyed another standing ovation and then let loose with 'MTA' with Nick and Roger trading verses.  Bob called Mary and Tom out to join in halfway through the song, and Lindsey and the Commandoes also reappeared.  It was a rousing finish to a great evening of entertainment, and everyone on stage seemed honestly overwhelmed by the warm and loving reaction of the audience.  They all took a bow and left the stage, and we clapped and cheered until it became cbvious they were not coming back for an encore.

It was half-past-ten on Magic Mountain as we made our way to the wrap party at the Timbermill Restaurant next door, where we met and congratulated our heroes, and then joined them in laughing at old tapes of early Trio appearances on various TV shows of the Fifties and Sixties.  Bob told us he was enthusiastic about the way the evening went, and he felt that if the PBS broadcast stirred enough interest he might consider taking the whole troupe on the road in the Spring.  Nick was anxious to get his family back to Oregon but said he would like to make a Reunion album or get together again like this if anyone was interested.  Dave and John sat together downstairs staring at the ancient videotapes until Saturday became Sunday on Magic Mountain.

Listen to KT Reunion concert

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