Bob wrote the following during the winter of 2003 while touring with the Kingston Trio:
Our past two “tours” have been among the more adventurous in many months. On December 4th, I set out for a 2-concert trip to the east coast. Traveling east always involves leaving a day early for us as the loss of two hours (from Denver) coupled with the normal time involved in flying by commercial airlines usually takes most of a day. Plus, any weather delays or equipment failures can factor in to make for interesting travel situations at times.
All went well on this particular day and I met George and Bob Shane in Philadelphia right on schedule. We drove about two hours to Bethlehem, PA where we were lodged at the Radisson Stables. (Bethlehem? December?) I was glad to lay my head down on a bed of straw – or anywhere for that matter. I’d been fighting the flu for several days and when I woke up on the 4th I really didn’t want to go anywhere. Even after a good night’s sleep I still awoke on the 5th feeling less than 100%. But I quickly got into gear when George called to say that we’d been invited to lunch with Dick Boak at the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth.
I looked out my window and saw snow piling up pretty fast. At that point we didn’t have a ride available. This is often the case when we are at the mercy of the concert promoter for ground transportation. We often miss out on interesting local attractions just because we either have no time in a day or no transportation available. In this case, we were determined to get to Nazareth if we had to walk. Luckily, Mac Carter happened to be at the factory when George called Dick Boak and Mac very generously offered to brave the white snows of winter to make the half-hour drive to pick us up and bring us back to Martin.
Once at the Martin factory we were treated royally by Dick Boak and given the full tour. I’ve toured the Yamaha factory in Japan a couple times, but this was my first visit to the Martin factory. I was quite fascinated by the integration of modern guitar-building techniques (automated lacquer sprayers, for example) with the tried and true methods developed by C.F. Martin in the 1800’s that are still in use. We saw ancient irons used to heat and bend the sides of D-28’s that continue to be state of the art. The only difference now is the use of electricity to heat the irons as opposed to hot coals. I gained a whole new respect for my Martin guitars after seeing the care that goes into the construction of each individual instrument.
We saw guitars in various states of construction and saw some beautiful wood in the process of becoming somebody’s lifetime musical companion. But the one single guitar that I wanted to take home with me was out of my reach.
At each milestone in the Martin history a special instrument has been built to commemorate the event. We saw serial #500,000, which is on display in the Martin Museum. We saw serial #750,000 – The Peacock (because of the inlay) – which Dick Boak displayed at our concert that evening. But the crown jewel in the collection is serial #1,000,000.
I was in such awe that I didn’t pay much attention to such details as the model number, type of woods used, etc. Dick did tell us that Chris Martin had selected a particular piece of spruce for the top that had exceptionally wide grain, as opposed to the tight grain we normally associate with good tone. Apparently Chris’s grandfather was of the opinion that the wide grain offered better tone, and in this case he was certainly right on the mark.
As they unlocked the humidified vault and gently removed this recently finished instrument we stood in amazement. The inlay on every portion of the guitar was exquisite – almost garish, but not. George and I were each allowed a couple minutes to fondle and strum, wishing all the time that our pockets were big enough to hold a guitar. Apparently we were among the first non-Martin employees to handle this guitar and we felt very honored. The guitar will tour around the country for a few months (check your local Martin dealer) and then take up permanent residence in a glass case in the Martin Museum. Check out the photo of me with the crown jewel in Martin Guitar's collection: serial # 1,000,000!!! (photo to come soon)
After one last strum and some fond farewells, they locked up #1,000,000 and we followed Dick Boak (heads still swimming with excitement) across the street for lunch. Dick’s a very funny guy with lots of amazing stories. He’s been at Martin for 28 years and has stories to tell about so many huge stars who have played Martin guitars: Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffet, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, The Kingston Trio…he could go on for hours and never lose my attention. But finally, there were no more crumbs on my plate and it was time to head back for sound check.
The winter storm was in full fury as we arrived at the State Theatre in Easton, PA. My wife, Meri, had booked this event capitalizing on the fact that this was to be The Kingston Trio’s first ever Christmas show. We’d been working for months to re-learn and polish 7 songs from The Last Month Of The Year album plus “Glorious Kingdom” from the Close Up album.
It was a perfect night for this music, and the audience (minus a few no-shows due to the weather) was warm and toasty in this beautifully restored turn-of-the-century venue. We coaxed the folks into a mass sing-along on “A Round About Christmas,” and I saw many lips moving as we made our way through such favorites as “Go Where I Send Thee,” “All Through The Night” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
The snow was still coming down as we drove back to Bethlehem that night. Our itinerary called for a 10:00 AM flight the next morning from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach, FL, for a show at a private home on Saturday evening. Saturday morning dawned to treacherous roads, canceled flights and basically no way to get to Florida. Luckily, our host for that evening had access to his corporate jet, which he sent over from Cleveland to pick us up in Philadelphia. I was personally a little apprehensive about this – small plane – bad weather – Buddy Holly – hmmm.
As it turned out, the pilots of this craft were very professional and did a fantastic job of transporting us comfortably down to Florida. They had a nice meal on board for us, we didn’t have to go through any security checks and we got to load our own luggage. I dropped Shane’s guitar a couple times just to get the feel of being a real baggage handler.
From that point on we had smooth sailing. We had a nice show that night at a lovely Palm Beach residence. It was a birthday party for this gentleman’s wife, with about 150 guests attending. Our opening act was the 5 daughters of this couple, who sang a song for their mother. We were told that The Kingston Trio had been a household staple during the years that these girls were growing up and they knew all of our songs. Sure enough, they sang along on everything and as we started “MTA”, one of the daughters jumped up on stage and sang my part. She brought down the house!
As a point of interest to some of you who may be performers, we very rarely do private concerts such as this. It’s a little hard to describe, but even though The Kingston Trio can draw a crowd of 2000 people to a concert venue and keep their attention for 2 hours, a private party is a whole ‘nother animal. While I stop short of accusing these audiences of rudeness, there are several factors that work to create an entirely different set of circumstances for us.
First of all, this was a family affair with people of all ages. The people came to this party to honor the lady of the house on her birthday, so it’s not like we were the main attraction. Our music was recognizable, at least, to most of the guests, but we found ourselves in the position of a hired band as opposed to concert artists. People wanted to talk as we performed and, oddly, they wanted to dance to our music.
Since we don’t do these types of events often it took us a few minutes to realize that they didn’t want to hear us talk. In fact, several people even admonished us from the audience to stop talking and just play music. Bob, being the comedian that he is, was somewhat baffled by this and after telling a few more jokes despite the crowd’s lack of response, he finally settled into a different pace with less verbal communication. All I can say is, they paid for us to be there – they even sent a private plane to make sure we got there. It’s their party - they can dance if they want to.
The next day brought the end of this little adventure. After a relatively uneventful 7-hour trip back to Denver, I slept once again in my own bed. Ah…home again!
Not for long, though. Four days later I was back on a plane headed for Norman, Oklahoma, for a show at the Sooner Theatre, another vintage movie house that’s been beautifully restored. Our show there on Dec. 12 went well, and we were scheduled to drive from there on up to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for a show on the 14th.
The promoter in Arkansas called us on Friday and said that their little town was snowed in so badly that nobody was able to get in or out. They postponed our show until springtime, sending us home two days early. No corporate jet to save the day this time!
Although we all could have used the money with the holidays upon us, it was nice to get home and tackle that 10-page “honey-do” list that was waiting for me. We really enjoy traveling around the country and bringing the music of The Kingston Trio to people everywhere, but I always look forward to the trip home. Meri usually picks me up at the airport and is anxious to hear about our adventures. I told her that we’d remember December of 2003 every time we sing “The White Snows Of Winter.” Happy Holidays!
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