HOLLYWOOD—John Sebastian steps out on to the cavernous Fred Kavli Theatre stage, “just a man with a guitar,” and you’re instantly smitten, lulled into a state of familiar comfort. He says, “I didn’t know there were that many folkies left in Thousand Oaks,” and you think, “Did he say ‘folkies,’ or ‘fogies’?” It makes no difference as, either way, you’re feeling old…but it’s okay, you’re in good company. It was a packed house on Sunday, November 12th, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, so, he was right.
Signature glasses intact, hair shorter, but somehow scruffier, warm eyes and smile still registering deep into the audience–nothing much has changed from when my date (my husband) had seen the folky raconteur take command of a sea of restless hippies at Woodstock. It was then that the techies needed to adjust some amplifiers in the rain and so John Sebastian was called up to cover the stage with his acoustic set, and he, as my husband remembers, had all 600,000 of them in the palm of his hand.
He still commands the stage, not so much with his voice, at this point a bit challenged through health issues in recent years, as with his casual, welcoming banter and his classic song list. It’s like taking a walk through a history book, with him as your guide. He’s witty, warm and informative. He gives appropriate nods to his influences, NYC’s Greenwich Village, John Hurt, Doc Watson, Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins, Etta Baker, Pete Seeger, his Lovin’ Spoonful years, and, of course, Topless Maria and Kama Sutra Records. It was the ‘60s-70s, after all.
Yes, John, you did have to be so nice…that has, and continues to be, your ticket to success, and though the keys may be lower, the voice a bit raspier, we all still believe in your magic.
John Sebastian was followed by the latest incarnation of The Kingston Trio, who burst on to the stage with energy. Now we had just three guys with guitars, banjos, and bongos…and, oh, an upright bass player who backed them. (Though he seemed like the youngster of the group, it turns out Paul Gabrielson has been with them for 25 years, longer than the current singers.) The Trio wore their signature striped button-down shirts, and, like the originals, leaned in to the single microphone, to blend their voices in song. They got the audience clapping and humming along quickly, and then they encouraged the audience to sing along, citing Pete Seeger: “You know, there’s no such thing as a wrong note, so long as you’re singing it.”
First coming into prominence in the 1950s with the original assemblage of Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane and Dave Guard, The Kingston Trio is now (after a bit of a recently won legal battle) made up of Josh Reynolds (Nick’s son), Mike Marvin (the “adopted” son of Nick Reynolds), and the longtime family friend, Tim Gorelangton. The harmonies may not be as tight as the original trio’s, and the repartee, though brisk and funny, may not be quite up to par with the originals…but that would be a tough challenge.
The originals were unique, so a close second is still pretty darn good. We had seen the “Trio” in 1996 at Burbank’s Starlight Amphitheatre. At that time, it was comprised of, my guess, from what I could determine online, Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane, and John Stewart, though I could find no proof of that. Whether it be the fact that we saw one or more of the originals, or the retro $1 ticket price and the blanket on the grass giving it that true Hootenanny feel, I remember a much stronger dynamic then, but this current trio was still great fun, and it was a treat to hear just good ole’ music, with melody and joy. Nothing wrong with that.
I missed a few of the classics that I was hoping to hear on Sunday. No “Sloop John B”? No “Raspberries, Strawberries,” “They Call the Wind Maria,” “It Takes a Worried Man”? No worries, though, they hit many of the highs. Their tightest harmonies and rhythms stood out on “Greenback Dollar” and “You Can’t Look Back,” and they fittingly ended with “This Land Is Your Land,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and “The Merry Minuet,” proving eternally that, the more time that passes, the more nothing changes. The world is still in a state of unrest and political conflict, seemingly always on the precipice of war, so The Kingston Trio is still doing their old folky best to make a plea for peace on earth and brotherly love.
Written By Beverly Wilkerson