First Annual Boston Folk Music Festival, Featuring the Kingston Trio

Mr Jack Lipkis of Woodmere, Long Island enchants us with this embarrassing recollection from his “folkie” days in college:

When I went to Boston University I was in a little folk-music combo. This was back during the folk-music fad of the early 60s. We called ourselves The Bijou Folkies. The name was sort of an “in” joke. In those days the Harvard swells were supposed to call BU “Bee-Jew.” They stopped doing that some years later, when Harvard became about half Jewish. Big joke on them!

So we were The Bijou Folkies. We sang folk songs, or what were supposed to be folk songs. Songs about the joys of being a lumberjack, and how kisses were sweeter than wine.

There were three of us in the trio, except when one guy, our bassist who looked like the funny little guy in The Weavers, walked into a milk truck near Kenmore Square and had to drop out. What a spaz. That made us a two-man trio, which was really “bijou,” I mean in the other sense of the word, which means tiny and jewel-like. If you forgive the pun. Groan!

We weren’t all that good, but my friend Dave who played banjo and harmonica went on to run the Colony record store in the Brill Building in New York, so I guess he must have known something about music. We played mostly in bars and coffeehouses, when we played at all. Then we got this idea to start a Boston Folk Festival and play on the Boston Common. We got a couple of other combos and folk singers aboard, but we didn’t have a big name. We needed a big-name combo if we were going to do this right.

Everyone knew The Kingston Trio, and we thought maybe we could get them, since they were very popular in Boston for some reason. I wrote their record company, then I wrote the 7-Up company, then I wrote their agent, but never heard back.

Finally, around spring semester, I tried calling their agent. Long-distance, person-to-person! The agent told me they were all booked for the year, but might be able to squeeze in a set if this were a charitable event. I already told him it was a charitable event. And the agent said, “Okay, well the cost is $50,000, which they will donate to charity.”

I figured we could manage that, since it sounded like all we needed to do was give them an IOU for fifty thou, and then they’d push it back at us across the table. But it turned out the agent wanted a cashier’s check in advance so he could deduct expenses and his percentage. So to make a long story short, we didn’t get The Kingston Trio for our Folk Festival.

We’d already printed up our posters and flyers and they all announced The Kingston Trio in great big type, and The Bijou Folkies (that was us, remember) and other acts in really little type. I was bummed about the waste of money, but Dave, the guy who went on to run the Colony record store in New York, had another idea.

“Why don’t we get three negro singers, and say they’re from Kingston, Jamaica? Then we got a trio, and we can call them The Kingston Trio. And when people say, They’re not The Kingston Trio, we say—‘No, these are the real, original Kingston Trio, they’re from Jamaica and everything. They’re suing that white-boy group for using their name and stealing their songs. You don’t want some whitebread Pat Boone version, do ya? We got the real thing here!’”

I thought this was a great idea, a feasible idea.

Easier said than done, though. You wouldn’t believe the hostility that black people, or Afro-Americans, or negroes as we called them then, had for folk music. I went over to the Negro Table in the BU buttery (they always sat together) and tried to talk up the idea. They nearly pulverized me. “You muhfuh white people always stealing our culture, you and your Pat Boone honky tunes!”

I got out of there quick, but I was really mad. After all we’ve done for them!

So much for the Kingston, Jamaica, Trio.

Well our Folk Festival was now only two weeks away, and we had to find a solution or call it all off. Big waste of money on the posters. Then Dave remembered the Tingley girls, a pair of twins we knew. Real tough-talking swamp-Yankee broads—but they were from Kingston, Rhode Island! Or pretty close anyway. We teamed them up with a fat girl we knew. (She had a lovely voice, the Tingley girls couldn’t sing at all and mainly shook tambourines.) And there was our Kingston Trio, all set to go.

Not too many people showed up at our Folk Festival on the Common, though this wasn’t because we didn’t have the real Kingston Trio. Actually we had an electrical problem. Our amps all had grounded plugs, and we brought the wrong kind of extension cords, so nothing worked. We all did a set without amplification, then it started to rain and we packed it in. A few people stopped by to watch us, but mainly they laughed.

“It’s a learning experience,” Dave said to me as we left. We drove the Tingley girls and their friend to a diner on Commonwealth Avenue, because we owed them that much.

I was grateful it was the end of the school year, so people wouldn’t have much chance to make fun of us.

Next day, though, our Folk Festival was all over the Boston Herald. “Scam! Fraud! Schlockmeisters Promote Phony ‘Kingston Trio’ Combo! Can’t Even Sing!” And the paper said many worse things, but that’s the Boston Herald for you. I never found out who spilled the beans.

Was my face red!