The Kingston Trio was made up of founding members Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and the late Dave Guard (who died on March 22, 1991 of lymphatic cancer). They were basically three Fifties college boys out to have a good time, and along the way they substituted banjos and guitars for the usual letter sweaters as a way of achieving popularity (or as Nick Reynolds puts it, getting girls). By the time they came to the Newport Folk Festival thirty-five years ago, in the summer of 1959, they were the premier folk music group in America. They had already had a #1 hit single on the pop charts with "Tom Dooley," which won a Grammy for Best Country Western Performance in 1958; the following year, a Folk Music category was instituted, largely because of them. In addition, they had recently appeared on the cover of LIFE Magazine; and their first four albums would later go on to reach Billboard's Top Ten simultaneously in December of 1959. They were, in short, incredibly successful, which in purist folk music circles in those days was not always the politically correct thing to be. However, it was obvious to George Wein and the rest of the folks who were putting together the talent lineup for the 1959 Newport Folk Festival that booking this group was a must.
Bob Shane remembers: "We had already played in 1958 at the Newport Jazz Festival; and we were just starting to hit with "Tom Dooley," so when our friend George Wein decided to have the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, he brought us in to help increase the attendance that first year. It was a lot of fun; we had people from LIFE Magazine there, all the media that were really just jumping on the Kingston Trio bandwagon at the time. Of course this was the first real big festival, it was long before the rock festivals of today. And we went over very well."
The songs heard here are all vintage Kingston Trio. Learning an important lesson from the fate of the Weavers, the outspokenly left-wing folk group who'd been blacklisted out of existence only a handful of years previously, the Trio selected material to perform and record that was funny, interesting, and occasionally thought-provoking, but never politically controversial. Hence, traditional and contemporary folk songs shared the bill with occasional original compositions by one or more members of the group. And the songs they did at Newport were largely familiar to their audience, since "Saro Jane," "Hard, Ain't It Hard," "Three Jolly Coachmen," and "Scotch and Soda" were all from their first Capitol album, The Kingston Trio, while "Merry Little Minuet," "South Coast," and The Zombie Jamboree" appeared on their second LP, Live From the Hungry i. Additionally, a single had been released of "M.T.A." in June of 1959, which had already reached #15 on the Billboard charts by the time the group came to Newport and to this day it remains one of their two most requested songs.
When the Trio took the stage, the audience's response was wildly enthusiastic but when they tried to leave the stage at the end of their scheduled set there was nearly a riot. They were supposed to be followed by Flatt and Scruggs, who were waiting in the wings, but the crowd refused to stop applauding till they got an encore from the Trio. The show was already running late, and the promoters were in despair; Dave Guard finally had to go out onto the stage and assure the audience that if they would please sit down and be quiet, and show the other artists the respect they deserved (mentioning that Earl Scruggs was his personal favorite banjo player of all time), then yes, the Trio would come back out and do another few songs afterward. The noise subsided somewhat, and fifteen thousand people sat politely through the bluegrass legends' set, after which the Trio took the stage for the final four numbers on this CD.
Mary Katherine Aldin
"What we have here now is much more than just an interesting historical document. It's a moment frozen in time that reminds us most emphatically that contemporary folk music owes its dramatic rise in popularity to these three young men. Their 1958 #7 hit "Tom Dooley," coupled with their exciting sold out performances brought folk music out of the shadows and into the general consciousness of America.
By the time "Tom Dooley" had propelled them into the limelight these three young college men who had been inspired by such performers as Josh White, The Gateway Singers, Harry Belafonte and Tom Lehrer had parlayed their love of singing Calypso and folk songs into an overwhelming stage presentation. Simple harmonies and infectious, high energy performances made the Kingston Trio America's musical heroes of the late Fifties and early Sixties. They plowed the field, preparing the soil for a bumper crop of talented young performers to follow.
In this previously unreleased concert recorded 35 years ago we find the Kingston Trio tearing down the walls with their own brand of contagious music, putting folk music on the charts and in the history books."