(Above left: The poster at the entryway of the Kingston Trio traveling exhibit at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City through May of 2014. Above right: KT founding member Bob Shane holding copies of both the paperback and hardback editions of the anthology The Green Hornet: Still At Large, which contains my story "Bad Man's Blunder" in which The Hornet meets Bob, Nick Reynolds, John Stewart and Dean Reilly. Below: Just a few of the great KT albums released over the years.)

Longtime readers of my newspaper column - or, shoot, anybody who's known me for any length of time at all - are no doubt by this time familiar with my lifelong love of the music of the Kingston Trio. All things considered, I suspect some of those folks are likely to refer to it as more of an obsession.

I can’t help it. No other artist or collection of artists has played as important a role in the soundtrack of my life as the Kingston Trio. From my younger brothers singing along at the top of our lungs with our dad’s Trio records when we were kids, to playing one of the group’ songs (the Trio's version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which came several years before Roberta Flack's recording and is still infinitely better than hers in my opinion) when Melissa and I were married in 1986, to introducing my own sons to all those wonderful KT tunes and watching them become a third generation of fans, the Trio has been the single most constant musical presence throughout my life.

Along the way I’ve been fortunate enough to befriend founding Trio member Bob Shane and his lovely wife Bobbie; to join the Trio backstage (at Bob's invitation) at Okemah’s historic Crystal Theatre during the 1999 Woody Guthrie Festival, where my family and I also had the great privilege to meet Woody’s son, the equally legendary Arlo Guthrie; to have once written, co-directed and acted in a stage play named for and inspired by one of the Trio's songs ("The Spinning Of The World"); and even to include Bob and fellow Trio members Nick Reynolds and John Stewart (with Bob’s kind permission, of course) as characters in a short story I wrote entitled “Bad Man’s Blunder,” which appeared in the award-winning 2012 anthology The Green Hornet: Still At Large!

Obsessed? Heck yeah! And I make no apology for it. 

Last year Melissa and I made a (pardon the unavoidable pun) small donation to The Kingston Trio Legacy Project, a non-profit corporation dedicated to promoting an understanding of the musical and cultural contributions of the group and its importance to the American music scene. The Legacy Project does this through the development of a traveling exhibition, as well as oral history collections, archival collections, and related activities.

(Just to give some idea as to the Trio’s importance to American music, the Legacy Project’s Board of Directors includes three names that should be familiar to classic rock fans: Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac and Tim Schmitt of the Eagles, all of whom readily cite the Kingston Trio as major influences.)    

The traveling exhibition, entitled "The Kingston Trio: A World Of Music," debuted last Saturday, Nov. 2, at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown region, where it is scheduled to run until May of 2014. My wife and sons and I were honored to be among those in attendance at the event, the centerpiece of which was a presentation by the exhibit’s curator, Dr. Kerry Joels.

Joels – a scientist as well as a musician and music historian, whose professional experience includes creative and leadership positions with NASA and the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum, as well as the development of the recently opened Woody Guthrie Museum in Tulsa – provided an entertaining and informative program which discussed the Trio’s heyday during the late 1950s through the mid-’60s within the context of the historical and cultural events taking place in America during those years. 

He explained how the initial rise in popularity of the Trio – three young performers whose clean-cut image stood in stark contrast to the “devil’s music” rocker-and-rollers who worried so many parents of the day – coincided with national concerns over such things as nuclear proliferation, as well as a general longing for the simpler times of America’s past. It is ironic, then, that the Trio’s success touched off the folk music boom that inspired the protest singers of the 1960s, thus playing a role in the eventual rise of the counterculture movement.

It’s been said that if it hadn’t been for Bob Shane, folks might never have heard of Bob Dylan (who also cited the Trio as one of his early inspirations). But Joels demonstrated how the Trio affected the music industry in other ways, as well. The Trio not only made long-playing albums more popular than 45 RPM singles with record buyers, but at one point had a total of four albums in the Top 10 at the same time. That’s a feat that to this day has never been duplicated - not by the Beatles, not by Michael Jackson or Madonna, not even (thankfully!) by the cast of Glee.

The presentation was followed by a sing-along led by Joels (a pretty fair guitar player in his own right) and Johnny Baier, executive director of the American Banjo Museum. It was especially gratifying for aging fans like myself to see a number of children who were present for the program smiling and singing along. At one point a young boy – he identified himself afterwards as 8-year-old John from Norman – took it upon himself to join the performers on stage, playing his harmonica to the delight of everyone in the room. 

It was that moment that perhaps best demonstrated the timeless appeal of folk music in general, and the Kingston Trio in particular. If you get the chance, make the trip to Bricktown to visit this exhibit and learn more about this group who made such an impact on our popular culture. It will be worth the trip. 

If you don't believe me, just ask young John from Norman.

(Copyright © 2013, by John A. Small)