Saturday, May 24, 2008

Utah Phillips 1935-2008

After a long and valiant struggle with heart problems, Bruce U. Utah Phillips has left us. He was 73. I got an email this morning from my friend Mitch Podolak of Winnipeg (founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival). Mitch was a longtime supporter of Utah's and had kept me and many others informed of his condition for quite a few years.

There is a lovely letter posted on the KVMR website, something Utah wrote to his friends, family and fans last week. KVMR is Utah's hometown community radio station in Nevada City, CA. They've also posted an obituary.

I never knew Utah personally, and I admit that I first heard him on the albums he did with Ani DiFranco, which I think did bring him to the attention of a younger audience. Some years later I drove five hours from Missoula to Billings to see him perform on a lawn at Montana State University. I wasn't sure why it was important, but I just had a feeling that it was a rare opportunity I shouldn't pass up. He performed with his old friend Mark Ross of Butte, MT. They bantered back and forth in a way only old friends can. They told stories and sang songs about the struggles of the country's working class, about revolutionaries, soapbox preachers, and railroad tramps. He already has heart problems then, but he was determined to keep touring as long as he could.

He was a rare character in the folk music and activist communities, really a national treasure, and this is a big loss for all of us.

1 comment:

Matt Winters said...

Just watched the video here. The Idaho Blackey oatmeal story is one of my favorites! I have entertained many with it over the years.