So, the California Guitar Trio — after getting refreshed from a tour through Italy recently — was supposed to play in Park City, Utah, Saturday night to launch the southwest portion of another United States tour as the group celebrates 21 years together, right?

People began making their way in to the sculpture garden at Salt Lake City’s “A” Gallery to find a seat soon after the doors opened. By the time the California Guitar Trio started performing Saturday night in a rather impromptu private concert, the seats were full and standing room was at a premium for a very intimate show. (Photos By John G. Miller)

Something happened with those plans for Park City late in the game, and instead of going up I-80 along Parley’s Canyon the group stayed closer to home for band member Paul Richards, and his wife Stacey threw together a private show at the sculpture garden at Salt Lake City’s “A” Gallery instead.

I’d never been to a California Guitar Trio (CGT) show before, though I’ve been a fan of their music for years.  I got on Paul Richards’ Facebook friends list a few years ago, perhaps in part because we have a mutual friend, Hugues, in Montreal who’s done some great photography work for them through the years, and Hugues and I are big progressive music fans and “like-thinkers” in other areas as well.

Along with that, I shared some CGT music in a blog playlist a while back, which got a Facebook “like” from Paul and bandmate Bert Lams.  But — despite being Facebook friends and living in the same valley — I’d never had the chance to meet Paul before, although I’d long wanted to attend a CGT show in person and get a chance to see if I could take some photos of the band quite as good as my online friend Hugues.

Imagine my surprise last week when I got a Facebook invitation to Saturday’s private show.  It was a dream come true.  All the years spent admiring the brilliant guitar playing of King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp, the years spent appreciating the masterful teamwork of Fripp’s “disciples” in Richards, Lam, and Hideyo Moriya … it was all coming full circle, finally.  Any plans that I had for Saturday night changed in a heatbeat.  I was not missing this chance to see CGT, especially in such an intimate setting.

My lovely wife Amy and I arrived at the gallery about 15 minutes after the doors opened, about 50 minutes before the trio came out to play.  We met Paul’s brother, Mark, at the door, provided a donation that paled in comparison to the quality of the music I knew we were about to hear, and chatted briefly with him before making our way further into the gallery.

Hideyo was strolling through the gallery as well, and after making sure it was him I introduced Amy and myself to him.  Same thing with Bert.  I saw who I thought was Stacey chatting with people near the wine table, but I thought we’d save introductions and chatting about our mutual admiration for American Eskimo dogs until after the show.

After looking at paintings and sculptures inside and getting a feel for whether some of Amy’s own artwork might be a good fit for the gallery, we made our way to the sculpture garden.  There were several people already waiting there with limited seating.  We were still early enough to get prime, front-row seating just a few feet away from the effects boxes on the floor, perfect for taking some photos.

I was “flying” already.  A gorgeous setting, a lovely lady by my side, meeting some world-renowned musicians and shaking their hands … “flying.”

Beauty and …
“The Beast”

As the time for the show drew nearer, Hideyo came out and carefully placed two sheets of paper with the setlist written on them next to the effects boxes.  I could hear guitars playing in a side area, fingers warming up.

The setlist, held down by a cable so a slight breeze doesn’t blow it away.

Mark Richards soon came out to welcome the crowd to the gallery and to the show, and to introduce the band.  It was show time.

Paul Richards (left) and Bert Lams.
Hideyo Moriya

The setlist had plenty of selections from the “Yamanashi Blues” album, which was fine with me because that’s been a favorite CGT album of mine along with “Rocks the West.”  It was “Yamanashi Blues” that I played to test out my new pickup truck’s stereo system and to get into a “stereo war” with a neighbor up the street back in 2002 when the neighbor insisted on playing hip-hop at full bore.

They played the surfing tunes, they played the classical pieces.  Paul talked about how NASA woke up shuttle astronauts in space once with their music and how thrilled they were by that as astronomy buffs, before they launched into the song “Andromeda.”

Through it all, I couldn’t quite decide which player to watch at any one time.  It was fascinating to watch their teamwork, those fingers and picks flying, the form of communication they had without speaking words.

Their work with the effects boxes answered a question I’d long had in my mind — do they play electric guitars on these songs as well?  Especially when they did a song like Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” and I felt like singing along on what would otherwise have been the vocal parts.  I learned that Paul Richards can be a beast with a tube on one finger to play slide guitar.

They challenged the musicians in the crowd by having them guess the time signature on a song by a favorite group of their own, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, as they played “Perpetuum Mobile.”

The answer was 15/8.  And someone did guess it, although it did stump my music teacher wife.  She’s not quite used to this “progressive rock” stuff, not that I haven’t tried.

For the first time, I got to watch and listen to them perform a complicated Bach piece using a technique taught to them by Robert Fripp himself in one of their educational sessions — “circulation,” in which each player takes one note and plays not just the proper note but at the precisely right time, and they continue to do that throughout the song in rotation until it’s finished, demanding intense listening and teamwork.  It was flawless.  It was awe-inspiring.

I was blown away by the CGT ending its show before the encore with “Ghost Riders In the Sky” and blending in The Doors’ “Riders On the Storm” with perfect timing.

They ended their encore with “Happy Trails to You.”  I couldn’t help but sing along from the front row, and others joined in as well.

We made our way inside, looked more at the artwork, and walked over to introduce ourselves to Stacey Richards.  She hugged us like she knew us personally, and through the magic of seeing Facebook photos that are shared we talked for a while about American Eskimos, that mutual love that we have for those dogs.

The group signed CDs, chatted with guests, shared laughs and conversations.  I finally got to introduce myself to Paul, and as soon as I said we were mutual friends with Hugues, he said, “Oooooh, okay!” with a smile on his face.

Facebook can be a cool little thing.  It helps to open up doors to private concerts and (hopefully) new friends that I never would have expected to be opened to me, and it allowed Amy and me to have a photo taken with three amazing musicians.  All at the drop of a hat.  All because a CGT show in Park City fell through with late notice.

Amy and I headed outside toward the car, stopping to say goodnight to Mark Richards and offer our gratitude for the invitation to a memorable evening of art, music, and conversation.  I put the top down on our convertible, and switched the CD changer to play “Yamanashi Blues” as we drove out of the parking lot.  And then I had one of those “V-8 moments” where you just feel like slapping yourself in the forehead.

Why didn’t I get that well-played CD from the car and take it inside to get it autographed???!!!


7 thoughts on “An evening with the California Guitar Trio

  1. Great story, John! When CGT played in Madison last year,Kay, my son and I all went to see them (at the same club I sing live band karaoke). They were phenomenal, of course played “Echoes”, and Brian (Oilers Fan on Progressive Ears, the forum that John & I are both on) was their merch guy. When I walked up to the merch table Brian said, “You’re Geezer on PE, right?” & Kay almost dropped her teeth (figuratively). I had met Brian several years before and recognized him as well.

    As they always do, CGT recorded their Madison gig and we bought the instant cd-r!

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