Pleasing the public vs pleasing the experts or, why the Kingston Trio is like the Eiffel Tower

We went to see the Kingston Trio in concert the other night. It’s a strange set up, since the Kingston Trio stopped performing over 40 years ago. In their place, however, are three guys fully sanctioned by the originals, a sort of super tribute band, or maybe a clone band that carries the original name and has the original strong catalog. These guys have been doing this forever and they are very good. I once saw the original band in the 1960s and these guys actually put on a better concert in my opinion.


The original Kingston Trio

Anyway, the experience led me to read up on the KT and their history. The Kingston Trio revolutionized folk music in the early ’60s, and, some might say, music in general. Their finely crafted songs and harmonies raised folk music to heights of popularity it had never seen before, and spawned unknown numbers of imitations. American type folk music even became popular around the world. No folk group and very few music groups of any kind ever enjoyed the success and popularity of the KT.

For all their success, however, the KT were scorned by lesser, more traditional folk groups and even trade publications as not being “authentic”, or “pure” enough to the source material. This was ironic, because the KT never even claimed to be a folk group, let alone an “authentic” one. If you have ever heard “authentic” folk singing, with its monotony, droning vocals, rudimentary musicality, and repertoire of songs about obscure tragedies or dreary and dated subjects, you would understand why the KT did so much better. They were enjoyable and fun, and the public responded. Another criticism of the KT was that they weren’t “socially aware” enough and didn’t participate in the fashionable protests of the era. What this really meant was that they were more interested in pleasing the public than in posturing. After all, nobody goes to congress for entertainment, why go to a folk concert for politics?

So the Kingston Trio became immensely popular with the public while being dismissed by the “experts”. As strange as this sounds, the phenomena is really quite common. It even extends to historical landmarks.

I am currently working on a book tentatively titled “The Secrets behind the Structures”, giving the inside story of some of the world’s landmarks. Here is a webpage devoted to the project. Anyway, in researching the book, I frequently come across beloved structures that were condemned at the time by the experts. Gothic cathedrals, for instance were considered ugly and too ornamented and elaborate by many architects and critics when they first appeared. The term Gothic was a term of derision since the Goths were the barbarians that sacked Rome. The common people, however, looked on the Gothic cathedrals with their soaring spaces and stained glass as a vision of heaven itself.


The Eiffel Tower was condemned as a rusty industrial eyesore by the intellectuals and artists of Paris, but ordinary citizens looked on in wonder and awe at Gustav Eiffel’s achievement. They still do.

Tower Bridge, now a beloved London Landmark, was criticized by many artists, architects, and city planners of London because its quasi-Gothic architecture didn’t match the nearby Tower of London. Now, even China has built a replica.

So, if the experts didn’t like the Kingston Trio, who did?

Everyone else.

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