Thursday, August 12, 2010

A CompVid101 Special Edition: A Trio Fantasy Camp Retrospective, 2002-2010

Between the years 2000 and 2007, former Kingston Trio members Nick Reynolds and John Stewart conducted an annual event that they named "Trio Fantasy Camp" in Scottsdale, AZ. Following the rough outline of the many sports fantasy camps, TFC "campers" were able to spend several days in joyful conclave with those folk music legends - conversing, going to songwriting and Q&A meetings, and spending quite a bit of time just playing Trio songs and jamming.

The highlight event for the campers, however, was the chance to join Reynolds and Stewart on stage during the shows presented each evening, picking a favorite KT number and performing it with the two professionals, living out the fantasy for about three minutes of being a member of the Kingston Trio. And just as sports fantasy campers are issued authentic uniforms from their favorite teams - each Trio fantasy camper was issued an authentic, regulation three-quarter length sleeved striped shirt, the Kingston trademark from its heyday fifty years ago.

Despite the untimely deaths of Stewart and Reynolds a few months apart in 2008, sole remaining original Kingston Trio founder Bob Shane has continued the camp, whose momentum as a celebration not only of Kingston music but of folk and acoustic music in general has become almost self-sustaining. The 2008, 2009, and 2010 editions of the camp were resounding successes.

As I understand it (and correction is welcome), the idea for the camp originated with Michelle Stevens, a charter member of the "Bloodliners," an internet mailing list/message board/fan group (the name derived from Stewart's most famous album, California Bloodlines)for the late singer-songwriter Stewart, who had a distinguished forty year solo career following the temporary dissolution of the Kingston Trio in 1967 after a decade of unprecedented success.

As honored and respected as Stewart was, times were hard in the 1990s for most acoustic folk musicians, Stewart included. A complicated series of legal and family medical issues were dogging Stewart, and Stevens suggested that there might well be substantial interest from the Kingston Trio's now-mature fan base in joining Stewart and Reynolds (recently retired at the time from his second stint with the Trio) for a weekend of music and performances for a fee that in comparison to the hefty price tags of the sports fantasy camps (often $10,000 a week and more) was truly modest.

By all accounts, Stewart was initially reluctant to pursue the idea, not least because he had spent several decades creating a separate and very different identity for himself as a performer, and he reportedly felt at times that his tenure with the Kingstons was a kind of proverbial 800 pound gorilla at his shows, as even into the first decade of this century an occasional patron at a concert would request a long-forgotten KT song.

But the financial success and good will generated by the first camp in 2000 at the Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale, AZ (a wonderful photographic record of which by Stewart's friend, the brilliant independent photographer Howard "California Roadman" Bruensteiner is HERE) prompted Stewart to continue the project, and the camps in 2001, 2002, and 2003 sold out the available camper spaces and the evening shows put on by the campers.

The transformational moment in the camp's history, however, occurred in 2004 from a convergence of two otherwise-unrelated events. In March of that year, Kingston Trio founding member Bob Shane (a Phoenix-area resident) was forced into retirement from touring after 47 years with the group, following a serious heart attack. At the same time, a Wisconsin teenager named Nikki Sherwin, who had (unusual for her generation) developed an abiding love for Kingston music and for original Trio member Reynolds, won permission from her parents to attend the annual gathering.

A reporter from the local Arizona Republic newspaper was sent to cover this unusual human interest story, generating a front page article in the paper's Saturday edition that profiled Sherwin but also noted that at the Friday night show, a remarkably hale-looking Shane had taken the stage for the first time in the camp's five year history (he had apparently lurked in the audience once or twice in previous years) to perform his signature solo "Scotch and Soda."

That night, the number of patrons seeking admission to the show jumped from the accustomed 100-150 to an astounding 400; they were lined up the equivalent of a block from the doors of the venue. Those lucky enough to get in - some had to be turned away due to fire regulations - were rewarded with a number of memorable performances by the campers, by Stewart's invited guests Travis Edmonson and the current KT with Shane's replacement Bill Zorn, by Shane once again - and by a spontaneous reunion onstage of the 1961-67 KT with Stewart, Reynolds, and Shane. The camp has developed, expanded, and changed since then - but the original vision conceived by Michelle Stevens and quickly embraced whole-heartedly by Stewart has persisted. The event remains a celebration of the Kingston Trio's 53 year history and of the acoustic folk music generated by the group and by the revival it helped to create.

This is a personal retrospective on the event, by no means encyclopedic or complete. I participated as a camper in 2003 and 2004 and have attended every year since. Except for the performances presented here from 2002, I've seen all of the songs in the videos. Though I haven't shot any of these videos, I have edited many of them (those with the fade-in/fade-out effects and title overlays) and borrowed the rest from intrepid videographers like Bo Wennstam (whose remarkable collection of 324 videos of FC from 2007-2009 is available HERE), Paul Rybolt, Tom Ivey and his wife Janet, and more.

I'm organizing these by year. They represent some of my best memories of this remarkable event.


This is the first year for which I have any video, and these are courtesy of Paul Rybolt, who in his enthusiasm for the camp sent me a video of the '02 shows after I had already signed up for FC4 in 2003.

Stewart usually opened the camp shows with a brief solo set that included both songs he had recently written, or as here, with older favorites from his vast library.

This camper trio includes the aforementioned Michelle Stevens plus two men who have become good friends of mine, Pete Bentley on the left (a camp staffer for several years now) and Bob Kozma, a camper as well with me the following year and several more times subsequently. While it's customary for camp staff and audience to make the annual observation that "the music at camp is better this year than ever" - it was never better than this, folks.


Unfortunately, technical glitches prevented the official camp video from 2003 from including any quality video of complete songs from campers. This performance of "Sloop John B" by Reynolds and Stewart (with the second verse sung from the audience by Travis Edmonson)shot from the audience is one I find especially affecting. Reynolds had been slowed by arthritis and mini-strokes - but the tempo of the song here is much closer to the original Kingston version than the group has performed it since. The quiet, plaintive vocals and the audience's response are just perfect.


The transformational year. This is Travis at his best in his later years, and Shane's clowning with his old buddy is an absolute delight.

Nikki's big moment. Her spontaneous turn toward Nick at the end was precious and necessary to see in order to catch Steve Cottrell's hilarious send-up of it here:

On a not-unrelated note, my dedication of this number to my late father was in memory of the fact that he brought the At Large album home and started me off on the journey that has led me to this post.

It was an especial joy to sing this with Nick right there on stage and without any secondary accompanying musicians, who didn't appear on the camp scene until 2005 or 2006. Solos like mine and Tom's and Nikki's - and group performances as below - were just and only what's in the video.

What a joy it was to sing John Stewart's composition for him while he was sitting just off-camera right. He told us after a rehearsal that it gave him chills. 'Nuff said.
BTW - this was the first Chilly Winds video ever posted - by Rick Daly on FolkUSA before there was a YouTube. It's still there, I'm proud to say.


Talk about a special moment. Age and illness had afflicted both Reynolds and Stewart in the three years since the last video above, and this was to be the last camp for both. So gentleman and gentle soul Peter Overly's rendition of "The Mountains of Mourne" with Nick Reynolds right there (and the song was one of Nick's signature solos) has acquired an even greater emotional depth even than it had at the moment.

Jam sessions are always a big part of the camp experience, and of Bo Wennstam's dozens of videos of them this one is especially nice because it is in response to a request from John Stewart's wife Buffy, who can be seen about a minute into it singing along.


As sad as the first camp following Stewart's death was, it had some great moments dedicated to his memory. Here, the "Kingston Army" does his "California Bloodlines."

2009-2010 - Special Guests

3/4 of the original Modern Folk Quartet, all Stewart friends, perform a NBD song that Stewart reportedly loved performing with the NBJ trio.

Josh White, Sr. was one of the seminal performers in folk history, performing both blues and other ballads from the folk traditions of both black and white America. White took a young soloist in Hawaii named Bob Shane under his wing (in 1957 after Shane had finished college and before the formal incorporation of the Kingston Trio). White told Shane that the younger singer needed a real guitar to support his already powerful vocals, and on White's last day after a three-week gig in Waikiki, he took young Shane to a music store and got him his first Martin D28.

White's son Josh, Jr. was thus a logical invitee to the first camp in 2009 that Shane ran. The younger White has evolved quite a different style from his father, and he electrified the camp in both '09 and '10 with these performances - first, '09's "Streets of London":

This year's "Tupelo Honey"

The last word, though, should belong to a camper and to the current group that is continuing the tradition of both the camp and of the Trio itself - and of acoustic folk music in general. And who better to do so than Trio devotee Mikey Burns with George Grove and Rick Dougherty to do so?

This camp has become, as I noted on FaceBook, one of the great folk celebrations in the U.S. "It's all about the music - those great, great songs," John Stewart used to say. And as Bob Shane wrote in his announcement of the new CD of the earliest rehearsal tapes of the KT, Above The Purple Onion, "Those were the days, but then, these are the days ..." - and this music has been at the center of it all. Right you are, Bob. Truly so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gotta tell ya I had a wonderful time at the 2010 Camp, & I hope they ask me back next year. Maybe I can arrange to do my History of The Banjo presentation that takes you thru examples of the banjo from the late 1700s all the way to now....