By Kaitlin Gurney
As former Monkee Peter Tork crowned Miss Lewisville Lawn Party 1999 with a rhinestone tiara, the Monkee fan mania and Saturday afternoon
neighborhood festival momentarily became one.
But the divide between die-hard fans who had traveled from as far as
British Columbia to see Tork and the people who just walked down the
street to see their neighbors continued as Tork and his performing
partner James Lee Stanley took the stage in the evening.
Tork and Stanley's followers encircled the Shallowford Square stage,
clutching Monkees memorabilia and singing along to the music. In the
grassy areas set far back from the stage, families picnicked and chatted
with neighbors, keeping a sharp eye out for the children running
gleefully through the crowd.
Aware of the divide in the audience, Tork joked, ''Some of you will stay here until I roll over and go to sleep. Others of you, I need to entertain.''
For many Lewisville families, the evening's music was the unexpected
culmination of the longest Lawn Party ever.
The festival began at noon Saturday with a craft fair, classic car show
and games for children. A thunderstorm about 10 p.m. sent most of the
audience running for cover.
Brad Trogdon of Greentree Drive spent his first Lawn Party on a picnic
blanket with his wife and four of his five children.
''We just wanted to get out of the house,'' he said. ''The only thing I
remember of the Monkees is the television show.''
Margaret Wilkinson of Winston-Salem and Irene Foster of Runnymeade Acres
looked out among the families with a grandmotherly air. The pair said
they enjoyed listening to the music, although they had never heard of
Tork or Stanley before. ''I liked the other one better,'' Wilkinson said
when Tork began to play after Stanley. ''He had a good voice, and he
shook his legs like Elvis.''
But the Monkee fans had a family atmosphere of their own.
Joanna Parsons of Clayton, N.J., and her friend Phyllis Andreacola of
Mount Laurel, N.J., Monkees fans since the 1960s, said they could always
recognize other loyal fans at concerts, many of whom they met in
Internet chat rooms focusing on Tork.
''It's like a big community,'' Parsons said.
''We'll talk on the Web and figure out who is going to what concert. And
it's gotten so James (Stanley) looks for us in the audience and waves.''
When Parsons met another ardent fan, Micki Ivey of Ferndale, Mich., who
brought a wood tiki statue from one of the Monkees' television episodes
to the Lawn Party, Parsons licked the statue. ''I had to,'' Parsons said
afterward. ''It was part of the show.''
Kurt Schmiemann of Durham said he was impressed by the way the Monkee
craze spanned age groups, pointing to 13-year-olds with 'I love Peter''
painted on their faces alongside 1960s' Monkees followers in their late
''It's a family because it bridges the gap between generations,'' he
Published: May 27, 1999
They might as well go ahead and call it TorkFest. Although the Lawn
Party (Lewisville's eighth) started out as a spring fling celebrating
the arts in the area, the event has become an annual festival featuring the music of Peter Tork and James Lee Stanley.
Peter Tork is a member of The Monkees, the chart-topping teenage pop
band that made history in the '60s, and is still a retro-pop music
phenomenon today. Unless you're too young to know better or are clueless
about American pop culture, The Monkees TV show (about a madcap quartet of musicians modeled on the Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night") and subsequent hit records, made Tork and his bandmates (Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones) national media sensations along the lines of today's Backstreet Boys and 98deg.. "Last Train to Clarksville,"
"Daydream Believer" and "I'm A Believer" were just a few of the band's
huge radio hits.
Peter has steered smoothly past those days as an honest-to-goodness teen idol, and has sailed into the present as a successful solo artist. He's an accomplished musician/actor/producer who plays piano, banjo, guitar, sings. And he has one quick wit and wry sense of humor. These days he keeps himself busy recording and touring with various groups, even slipping in a guest spot on television now and then.
His musical match these days is James Lee Stanley, a equally
accomplished musician, sometime thespian and master quipster. The two
have been friends for a good 35 years and musical partners for at least
the last half decade. Both were on hand this week via telephone to give
ESP an update.
"Peter's working on a solo album with my able assistance," said
"The title song is called `Probably Never,'" interjected Peter, "and it used to be called "Once In A Blue Moon," but it's taking so long...." Laughter ensued.
Rumor has it that during their sets on stage together, the two
present equal measures of tom-foolery and music. The experience of
interviewing both Tork and Stanley at the same time certainly presented
proof positive; interspersed with a whole lot of laughter and double
entendres, the 30-minute conversation had the feel of an Abbott and
Costello skit, such was the energy and constant interjection, and just a hint of one-upsmanship.
"There are four songs pretty much done," continued Tork about the
new recording, "and we've come up with a real fresh approach to "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," a song we're considering revamping." That
particular song, a classic '50s hit by Elvis Presley, was the very song
Peter has said piqued his initial interest in becoming a rock musician.
"And I have eight songs in the can for my solo album and this time
it's with a band," James piped in. Stanley's previous solo album (Free
Lance Human Being), was just voice and guitar. "It was chosen as the
Best Record of the Year by Fi Magazine," grinned James. "They also
called it a `masterpiece' and was named one of the top 200 records of
In addition, Tork and Stanley spent last year touring behind a
recording project that they did together two years ago called Two Man
Band, which was a concept Stanley says his label (Beachwood Recordings)
put together. "The original idea was me doing a record with various
The second release of that series, Two Man Band II (which Stanley
recorded with musician Michael Smith), "is being mixed now. I'm hoping
to do a Volume III with Peter, if we can put together another set of
Peter also has a side project called Shoe Suede Blues, which recently
recorded some tunes live and is planning to release a complete album
within the next six months. Although Stanley is not a member of the
band, he is serving as executive producer for the Beachwood release.
(It's not as confusing as it sounds. Stanley is the president of
Beachwood, which has a catalog of about 40 records, and Peter records
for the label with various musical incarnations.)
Along with the tour dates that Stanley and Tork are doing as a duo
(the current slew of sold-out dates takes them from Pawling, NY, to
Philadelphia, and through Virginia before hitting North Carolina), Peter
will tour with Shoe Suede Blues beginning in July in the Baltimore/DC
area. The quintet actually started out as a pickup gig (benefit shows
and the like) and as momentum built up, members began sticking around.
SSB includes members from a few seminal L.A.-based blues bands (Blues
Underground and the King Brothers Blues Band).
And who knows, Peter's fans might even be treated someday to gigs
from the Tork Trio. Peter says he's been doing some duo dates with his
brother who plays keyboard ("He's more musical than I am and does
cartoons and print illustrations for a living in Boston") and
24-year-old son Ivan, who plays drums. "I'm just dying to make a Thorkel
"That would be Tork cubed," piped in Stanley with a laugh.
"And if there were back-up singers in my band," joked Peter, right on cue, "they'd be the `Tork Wenches.'"
,p>And then there's all that television. Peter has done some guest spots on "Wings," "7th Heaven" and the ABC sitcom "Boy Meets World" (he plays Topanga's post-hippie dad), and Stanley just filmed his last episode of "Deep Space Nine," in April. The series will soon end its long run on UPN, (but you'll be able to see him in reruns). "It runs every night in L.A.," beamed James, "and even though I don't really watch the show, I've seen me a dozen times!"
And if that weren't enough, Stanley is getting his interactive
musical comic book collaboration with the creator of the "Cathy" comic
strip off the ground and into the hands of buyers. "We've got it all
written and the songs that go with each chapter are done, and it's ready
to launch." Stanley added that he's optimistic about upcoming meetings
with the folks at QVC and HSN (two of the major cable shopping
With all this hustle and musical bustle, it's a wonder the two have
the time to play such a small festival like the Lewisville Lawn Party,
much less anything else, but for the past three years, Peter and Stanley
have found the time to thrill the ever-increasing crowds that clamor for more and more Tork.
The Lawn Party (which begins at noon on Saturday, May 22, see
accompanying story), has become such an anticipated annual event (due in
large part to the Internet) that the word is out about this festival,
and fans are coming in from areas outside of North Carolina, perhaps as
far away as Texas and Michigan.
"Well, that certainly makes us happy," said Peter.
The two will have plenty of opportunity to spread that happiness
around on Saturday on the Lawn Party main stage. James will play solo at 7:15 p.m. followed by a solo set from Peter at 8:15. The two will
perform together at 9 p.m., and then Peter will perform with local swing
blues group Blues-A-Matic at 10 p.m. We won't spoil the surprise here,
but make sure you stick around for a very special event following the
The dark magic of Hollywood is such that an idealistic young guitarist and songwriter from the East Coast can be transformed into a Monkee, find fame and fortune, and end up feeling less chimp than chump.
Peter Tork was a respected member of the Greenwich Village folk-music scene long before he won the role of the loveable-but-doltish bass player in The Monkees,a 1966 comedy series about a fictitious pop group. To his confusion and eventual consternation, the folk musician became an actor pretending to be a rock'n'roll musician.
"The Monkees were not supposed to be a rock group;we were the cast of a TV show about a rock group," Tork said. "That we would actually make good records and tour had all the likelihood of the cast of ER getting together and deciding to start a medical practice."
As often happens in a business that manipulates reality, life suddenly began to imitate art. The popular television show, which lampooned the cultural import of The Beatles, turned Tork and his fellow pin-up primates--Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz--in to a manufactured musical phenomenon.
Top song writers were brought in to craft songs for The Monkees. Studio musicians were hired to make records for the ad hoc quartet. But as the hits piled up and the money rolled in, Tork began to squirm.
Here he was, a proven musician, a member of one of the most popular groups in the world, and his contributions to the band's music were minimal.
Tork was a smart and witty man, a capable musician who had sung with Stephen Stills, boogied with The Beatles and hung out with Jimi Hendrix.
But to the rest of the beat-crazed world, he was just a cute and brainless Monkee, caged and exploited for the entertainment of others. People gawked at the Monkee. People laughed at the antics of the Monkee. People screamed at the Monkee. But nobody really knew the Monkee.
A disillusioned Tork left the group in 1968. He was the last Monkee to join--at the urging of Stills--and he was the first one to leave.
"Of all of us, I was the one who took the most pain," Tork said. "But looking back, I think it was misplaced idealism that caused me that pain, not the actual phenomenon--the thing that Michael Nesmith calls 'the artifact.'
"As a musician, I feel extremely lucky that we got to make one album, Headquarters, that was exactly the album I hoped to make."
Nearly 30 years after he left the group, Tork is balancing his own musical career with sporadic tours and records with the reconstituted Monkees.
From Tork's perspective, Monkeeing around is now a far different experience. Nostalgia aside, people come to amphitheatres to see the band out of appreciation for its musical legacy--not to partike of a passing fad.
And this time around, The Monkees alone are calling the shots and making the music. The days of the Pre-Fab Four are over.
"That's all true, but personally, I'm in it for the money," Tork said laughing. "Truth is, I respect and admire my partners. And we are having a wonderful time on the road.
"And when I'm not with the Monkees, I can do my own thing."
At the moment, Tork's "own thing" centers on his long-standing partnership with James Lee Stanley, a veteran singer and songwriter.
Friends for 34 years, Tork and Stanley are in the middle of a six-week tour of acoustic-music clubs to promote their first album, Two Man Band.
The duo's 2 1/2 hour show--which includes solo sets by each musician--has won glowing reviews in such bastions of acoustic music as Boston and Nashville.
"We are having a great time together," Stanley said. "I admit that it is Peter's celebrity that brings the bulk of the attention to us. But Peter shines in this configuration. People come away from the shows impressed. They are never bored. They are..."
"That's right--revulsion and retching tend to occupy their time, " said Tork, ever quick with a quip. "Why, I've seen people's psoriasis clear up just watching our show."
Stanley and Tork met in 1963 when Tork, the banjo player for The Phoenix Singers, a folk vocal trio, was playing a club in Virginia.
Tork was setting up his stage gear when a passing waitress caught his eye.
"All of a suggen, this skinny kid--James--jumped in front of this beautiful waitress and began to boogie," Tork said. "She looked at him, put down her tray and boogied right back at him. I sat there and thought, 'What magic does he possess that would make that woman dance with him like that?"
I've been trying to get that from him ever since."
Stanley laughed. "Peter still hasn't figured out it was my mom."
Tork fired back, "Well she looked a little older, but what did I know?" A fast friendship was born. Tork went on to Monkeedom; Stanley went to Los Angeles to seek his fortune as a singer and songwriter.
Stanley has released 13 albums, all on his own label, Beachwood Records. Tireless touring as an opening act for such big names as Bonnie Raitt, Chicago and Stephen Stills has helped him amass a loyal, and profitable, following.
As a songwriter, Stanley's work does not fall into any easily defined category. It's a little bit country, a little bit pop and a little bit folk.
"And that's been my problem, " he said. "People think I've been involved in this frantic search for identity when perhaps I'm just talented.
"Still, I've been blessed with enough success to avoid having to work within the music industry. I make my records in my own studio, and sell them directly to my fans through my mailing list.
I'ts only been recently that I've started looking to having a publisher represent some of my songs."
He laughed. " I may not live in Nashville, but I know where it is."
Stanley has augmented his musical career by working as an alien in Star Trek movies and on the syndicated television series Deep Space Nine.
"I am usually a Bajoran, but I have also been Vulcans, Romulans, Cardassians and Klingons," Stanley said. "I like doing it. We actually have people come to the shows because they are Star Trek fans. They want to see an alien up close, without the rubber on his face."
Tork interrupted. "People say, 'Hey, it's the Monkee and the alien.' You can just imagine how much we like that. It's like having somebody go nuts over a sneaker they saw you wear."
Tork and Stanley harbor no illusions of fame and fortune. They have had no contact with major record companies, nor do they have any interest in a major-label deal. They make music to celebrate the joy of friendship.
"Of course, I know that James is secretly thinking, "I'm gonna suck Peter dry and use him up." Tork said, laughing. "So our plan, if we have a plan, is to play what we play, and do our best to attract people who might enjoy what we do.
"As we do that, we will have a good time. We can make music together and remain the best of friends--and that is rare these days."