An Evening with
and Friends:
The Farewell Concert

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Photo of the Chad Mitchell Trio


Bids Farewell

by Bud Newman

Photo of the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club Closing out a career that began in 1959, gave its final U.S. concert on November 15 at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, before a packed house of enthusiastic fans from all over the United States and other countries.  The performance featured original members Chad Mitchell and Mike Kobluk, who formed the trio in 1959 at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.  Bass player, Ron Greenstein, filled in on vocals for the late Father Joe Frazier.  Joe joined the trio in 1960 after original member, Mike Pugh, left the group.  Joe passed in March 2014.  The Gaslight Singers, Side by Side, and Tom Paxton rounded out this memorable evening of folk music.

Photo of the Gaslight Singers
The show opened with an enjoyable two-song set by the original members of the Gaslight Singers, an early 1960s folk group that still performs occasionally.  The group includes Earl Mann, Martha Velez, Jeff Hyman and Alan Alcabes.

Photo of Side by Side
Next up was the veteran Washington, D.C. duo, (Doris Justis and Sean McGhee).  They have shared the stage with the trio ten times since January of 1986 when Doris organized the trio's first reunion, more than 20 years after Chad left the group.  The duo performed a very solid seven-song set, which Doris dedicated to the late Washington folk music radio host, Dick Cerri.  Highlights included John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” Dougie Maclean’s “Ready for the Storm,” and Si Kahn’s “Aragon Mill,” beautifully accompanied on harmonica by Paul Prestopino.

Photo of Tom Paxton Following Side by Side, folk legend, Tom Paxton, performed a robust 11-song set that mixed less familiar material with some of his classics, including “Ramblin' Boy” and “The Last Thing on My Mind,” which he said is “harder to sing these days than it used to be” -- an apparent reference to the recent passing of his wife Midge.  Interestingly, Tom had auditioned to replace Pugh in the trio in 1960, shortly before Frazier got the gig.  Throughout its career, the trio recorded many Paxton songs.  The trio was the first to record and release his “Come Along Home."  At the end of his set, Tom spoke warmly of his relationship with the Chad Mitchell Trio over the decades, even though he did not become a member.  “I've enjoyed their friendship and I've admired their career,” he told the crowd.  “They have put together 50 years of integrity.  They sang the songs they needed to sing.  I salute them and adios.”

After intermission, World Folk Music Association President Chuck Morse introduced the trio, noting that he first saw them live 51 years earlier and said "I have never been disappointed in a Chad Mitchell Trio concert."  He told the crowd "We're in for a treat tonight," and he was right.  Just before the trio performed, Doris Justis read greetings to the group from fellow folk veterans the Brothers Four, the Highwaymen, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary) and current Kingston Trio member (and former Limeliters member) Rick Dougherty.

Photo of the Chad Mitchell Trio The trio opened with the rousing “Mighty Day,” about the deadly hurricane in Galveston, Texas, in the year 1900.  Chad's incredible tenor voice sounded as powerful as it did in 1961, when it was the title song of their debut LP, Mighty Day on Campus.  They followed with the gentler “My Name Is Morgan,” from Typical American BoysReturns to Carnegie Hall live album in 1960 (while Pugh was still in the group) was the fast-paced “Vaichazkem,” sung in Hebrew.

Photo of Musicians
Mike then introduced the musicians backing the trio.  On guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica was Paul Prestopino, who Mike said joined the trio in 1962, and has played in every one of the group’s concerts (with both Chad and John) since then.  Also on guitar was Bob Hefferan, who joined the group during the John Denver years.  Bassist Greenstein has been filling in on vocals since Joe Frazier took ill several years ago.  (Paul, Bob and Ron were on stage all evening, backing up all of the evening’s performers.)

The trio concluded its portion of the show with “The Unfortunate Man,” “Tell Old Bill,” “James James Morrison Morrison” and “Lizzie Borden.”  Over the years, it was Joe Frazier who recited the short spoken opening to “Lizzie Borden,” about hatchet murders in Massachusetts, which goes “Elizabeth Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks.  And when the job was nicely done, she gave her father 41.”  This time, that part fell to Greenstein, who quipped that “I've waited 50 years to do this.”  Their encore was perhaps their best known song, Paxton's “The Marvelous Toy,” which made the Billboard Top 50 chart as a single in 1964 (as did “Lizzie Borden”).  During the encore, the trio decided to have a little fun with the audience by appearing to end “The Marvelous Toy” before it actually ended, singing “I never knew just what it was…” and then walking off stage.  After a short pause, they came back on to finish the song with “and I guess I never will,” and with that, brought the curtain down on their final U.S. concert.

Photo from the Retrospective Video

The trio's manager, Alan Jacobson, then took the stage to introduce a video montage he had put together of trio performances over its career, starting in the 1960s.  The video also served as a tribute to Joe.

Photo of the Finale

After the video, Mike invited the audience to join all of the evening’s performers in singing “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” along with a video from the 1987 concert in Charlotte, which featured Chad, Mike, Joe and John Denver (the only time the four of them had sung together on stage).

Asked after the concert to reflect on the fact that their performing career as a group was ending, Mike first thanked Ron Greenstein.  “Ron did a very excellent job filling in for Joe under trying circumstances,” Mike said.  “Obviously, we could not have considered doing the evening without Ron and we owe him great thanks.”  “It was so much fun re-living long lost memories with friends from all over the country,” he added.  “We were amazed at the number of folks who traveled great distances to help us celebrate this special farewell event.  We also owe them great thanks.”

Whether you attended the Chad Mitchell Trio's Farewell Concert or not, you will certainly enjoy both the two volume DVD set and the two volume CD set recordings of the concert.