The Kingston Trio were probably the best-known of the artists of the US folk explosion of the late 50s and early 60s. They achieved almost immediate commercial success with their easy on the ear approach to traditional and contemporary folk songs and entertaining delivery. They broke through in 1958 with their version of ‘Tom Dooley’. They appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival that year and formed a friendship with organiser George Wein. When he decided to set up the alternative Folk Festival in 1959, the Kingston Trio was a natural choice to be a key act on the bill.
The Kingston Trio, whose founding members were Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard, had learnt lessons from the Weavers who had suffered from politically motivated blacklisting a few years earlier. The Trio presented a clean-cut college boy image and followed a populist approach. Their folk roots and reference points were solidly in artists such as Josh White, Harry Belafonte, the Gateway Singers and the Weavers, with an added dash of Tom Lehrer’s humour. They were folk artists, but also very much entertainers as this fine set from the 1959 Festival attests. As such they provided the template for hundreds of folk acts that followed. Their rip-roaring versions of the traditional songs ‘Three Jolly Coachmen’, ‘Saro Jane’ and ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ provide contrast to the more thought-provoking ‘South Coast’ and Woody Guthrie’s ‘Hard, Ain’t It Hard’. Another very strong track is their own gentle and melodic ‘All My Sorrows’, which proves they were much more than a talented group of re-interpreters. Also included is a song that had just climbed into the Billboard Top 20: ‘MTA’, a cautionary tale of the perils of travelling on Boston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.
The wildly enthusiastic audience reaction to each song on this live recording proves just how popular the Kingston Trio was at the time. They had developed into assured performers in a remarkably short time, able to deliver effectively on songs drawn from comedy, traditional folk and political fields, while also including a smattering of Pacific and Caribbean songs such as ‘E Inu Takou E’ and ‘Zombie Jamboree’. This delightfully varied collection is one of the best-known parts of the Newport Folk Festival Classics Series, others of which are available elsewhere on the Ace website.