Everyone in the folk world knew Travis Edmonson, most crediting him with some influence on their careers, but all bowing to him as a supreme entertainer.
Ron Fitz reflects on interconnections within the folk movement, the special place of Travis Edmonson, and how all this fit into his own life.
The Folk Era passed me by, for the most part, but after receiving a Kingston Trio album from an older sister, I was hooked. It was a sound that was simple. Guitars, a banjo, and voices combining into something that made my heart soar. I spent the early 1970s scouring the LP bargain bins for other folk artists. I became familiar with the Limeliters, Brothers Four, Mitchell Trio and others much more obscure.
I also discovered Bud & Travis. I don't know why I didn't immediately like the Spanish-influenced songs, but that would come later. At that point I put two great Civil War songs this duo performed plus a rather philosophical piece, onto a homemade mix tape folk anthology. Those songs were "Two Brothers," "The Hills of Shiloh," and "Things I've Saved."
I must've struck gold on the first try, because even though I heard those same songs performed by other artists, I always felt the Bud & Travis versions were the finest.
Years passed and I learned more about folk music and the people who created it. I learned a lot of the history involved with the genre, from labor unions and the Dustbowl, courtesy of Woody Guthrie, to political injustice exemplified by the blacklisting of the Weavers. I discovered common roots among my favorite performers, and by golly, they may have been competitors on a commercial level, but they actually knew each other as friends and colleagues. As individuals, they wrote songs and arranged music for one another. Folk music really was a relatively small world all its own.
I only focused on music as a hobby when there was time. Most of my life became consumed by making a living, paying the rent, keeping the car running and such. That was life. Distractions came and went, including an unknown but familiar-sounding song on a Glenn Yarbrough album. It was called, "Sleep My Love." During an episode of the TV series "Northern Exposure" I heard "Bonsoir Dame" by Bud & Travis, and lost memories fell into place. I realized language and lyrics were the only difference between the two songs.
"Bonsoir Dame" was then on my list of Holy Grails to add to my collection. Sadly, finding desired songs on 20 to 30-year-old LP records in good condition had grown difficult, and while the compact disc industry was growing, it wasn't catering to my tastes in music. Eventually, a "Best of Bud & Travis" CD became available, and it featured the song.
I think a good half of my education came off the liner notes on albums and CDs. I read about the tragic fate of Bud Dashiell and that a short-lived teaming of Bob Shane and Travis Edmonson apparently left no recorded legacy. I found out about the Gateway Singers. I learned of many more events and developments in the Folk Music world that happened without my knowing.
I eventually realized that opportunities to see my favorite performers in person were growing more and more limited as we all aged and my health took some downturns. I saw John Stewart sing and play in my hometown, and learned about the Trio Fantasy Camps he'd been holding in Scottsdale, Arizona. I found my way to Phoenix and attending the concerts of Fantasy Camp V in 2004, where Travis Edmonson was among the camp guests. In that rich time I spent with the campers and other folk fans I found out a great deal about the Kingston Trio and John Stewart's influences.
Personal admiration and reverence laced every word John and Nick Reynolds spoke about Travis. Not only was the man's contribution to Folk Music phenomenal, he was a survivor, projecting an awesome, unstoppable spirit. Even confined to a wheelchair, he was sharp, vital, and full of life. This was quite significant to me; I attended concerts at that time because I wanted some joy in my life before my deteriorating heart finally gave out. But I was able to forget that for a while; I was in the presence of my singing heroes and this man in a cowboy hat, they regarded as a real legend.
Fantasy Camp V featured the first performance of the Shane/Reynolds/Stewart Kingston Trio in close to 20 years, the appearance of the Grove/Zorn/Haworth configuration of the Trio, and folk legend Travis Edmonson. On the final day of the camp, I was in the hotel lobby hallway and saw Travis being wheeled toward me. So how does one show awe and respect to greatness? How does a clod like me show honor to a legend? I could feel my jaw dropping as these thoughts raced through my head.
I was wearing my concert hat, a black felt fedora. As he came near, I whipped off my hat with a flourish, held it over my heart, and bowed my head in his direction. He smiled at me and brought his right hand up to the brim of his Stetson in a brief salute that acknowledged my gesture. Maybe my exaggerated moves were a little silly. But it felt like the right thing to do. And I felt truly honored that this great man noticed me.
The final night of concerts featured Travis performing an authentic Apache Good Luck Chant, and he led the campers, and camp guests on stage in a rousing rendition of "Everybody Loves Saturday Night." I will never forget that night.
Travis Edmonson left a legacy of music, courage, and inspiration. He left me personally with memories that touched my heart and made my life all the richer. I have been privileged to walk the earth in the same time as Giants, and even more so to know the honor of shaking hands with some of those Giants.
Colorado Springs, CO
May 28, 2009
Old singing partners Travis Edmonson and Bob Shane at Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp
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Travis Edmonson made his breakthrough with The Gateway Singers, resident group at the hungry i
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