When I was in high school in the late '50s, it seemed as though every school in Salt Lake City had its own version of the Kingston Trio. Striped shirts, guitars, "Three Jolly Coachmen" in school assemblies - the whole bit.
Me, I didn't have time for that. By then I was pretty heavily into the classics, little dreaming that would someday open a few doors of its own.Well, Friday it opened the doors of Symphony Hall to all of us, for the trio's first-ever concert with the Utah Symphony. And that's not the only change time has wrought.
Happily Nick Reynolds is back with the group, looking and sounding astonishingly like his old self, but Bob Shane is certainly grayer, shaggier and huskier of voice. And as skillful as George Grove is on the banjo, he doesn't offer the kind of low-end support Dave Guard used to in the trio's salad days.
What hasn't changed, though, is the zest, good humor and vitality of their singing. Or the quality of their music, much of which has proven to be more timeless than some of us would have supposed. In short, these guys are classics too, and it was exciting to have them on the same stage again, interacting as enjoyably with the orchestra as they traditionally have with their audiences.
Thanks to a hyperactive sound system, their opener, "Hard, Ain't It Hard," was exactly that, a driving but overloaded rendition in which the acoustic instruments were lost amid the distortion. But things calmed down a bit later, so the old songs came across more naturally.
I still miss the easy lope of the Guard-era recording of "Worried Man," which the boys really push these days. But their sing-along version of "Tom Dooley" pulled the best out of them, if not the audience. And their full-orchestra arrangement of "Jamaica Farewell" - as Shane explained, actually a Harry Belafonte song - was gorgeously harmonized, at least the parts one could hear.
Elsewhere one noted not only the striped shirts but the mildly irreverent humor that has become their trademark. "We used to play at the Hotel Utah when it was the Hotel Utah," Grove cracked, and the four-letter word (rhymes with ma'am) that initially caused Hoyt Axton's "Greenback Dollar" to be banned from the airwaves was duly highlighted in what Shane called that song's "raw, uncensored form."
In a similarly nostalgic vein Reynolds took us along on poor Charley's ride on the "MTA," Shane wrapped his throaty baritone around another "Scotch and Soda," and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" - admittedly stolen from Peter, Paul and Mary - still impresses as the loveliest of all antiwar songs.
Only slightly less affecting were Reynolds' "Hobo's Lullaby," with its subdued banjo-and-orchestra backing, and the group's soothing rendition of onetime member John Stewart's "Chilly Winds."
But as usual it was the strong rhythms and soaring climaxes that lifted the audience from its chairs. Witness the oomph Shane in particular brought to "California," for a striding finish.
Earlier, under conductor Kory Katseanes, the orchestra served up a helping of lighter symphonic fare - things like Joplin's "The Entertainer," Copland's "Simple Gifts," Leroy Anderson's "Fiddle Faddle" (here with chorus), even Lennon and McCartney's "I Want To Hold Your Hand" - ironically one of the pieces that helped push the Kingston Trio off the charts.
It may not have been as invariably zesty as the latter's work, though parts of it were flavorful enough. But taken as a whole, it certainly set the stage for something like this better than Glinka and Tchaikovsky did last weekend for Steve Allen.