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At around 1:00 on Sunday afternoon, clouds in the sky above the 2008 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival cast an ominous pall and the wind gathered strength.
Wea€™ve never forgotten Phila€™s (and Jeffa€™s) buoyant spirit that day, coming hand-in-hand with his amazing voice and inspiring songs. With the advent of his new album Robots and Romance (folkier than the title might suggest), ita€™s time to give the man his props.
Phil was born in 1975 in Saranack Lake, New York, a part of the Adirondack mountain region. Phil sang in school choir from 3rd grade on and additionally, picked up trumpet study in the 6th grade.
He describes himself at that time as a a€?closet writer.a€? Phil decided that, if he couldna€™t play songs on the radio, hea€™d write his own. After high school, Phil attended college at SUNY in Potsdam, New York, up near the Canadian border.
After graduation, he taught chorus and a a€?general music classa€? at a middle school in Ticonderoga, New York. Back in New York someone had given him a tape by Martin Sexton, and later, in Burlington Vermont, he caught one of Martina€™s live shows. The lyrics to a€?Open Range,a€? one of the favorites for this author, contain the album title. No mere navel-gazer, Phil shows on this CD that he can generate stories a€?from the ground up,a€? using outside stimuli. While Phil continues to follow a career as a performer, he is also very proud of the job he does as a teacher in the Vermont school system, instilling the love of music in his students. Wea€™re guessing that Phila€™s innovative approach continues to pay dividends in helping him to build on his already-considerable performance talents. The last few performers to play their showcases at the Acoustic Live booth gathered inside as rain fell. As hail, carried on a 70 mile-per-hour wind, buffeted our shelter, Phila€™s sideman, Jeff Kimball, sang a song about the Titanic. When the wind subsided, it was still raining, and Phil and Jeff announced that theya€™d play their set. Since 2005, hea€™s been a valued performer in every Falcon Ridge and NERFA showcase wea€™ve held. He played trumpet through high school in both the jazz and marching bands, thereby achieving full band geekdom (as opposed to the author, who achieved geek status while throwing spitballs in study hall).
Crane School of Music, a part of SUNY at that location, is certified for Music Education, and that became Phila€™s major. While there, hea€™d drive one-and-one-half hours each way once a week to play the open mics at Caffe Lena, in Saratoga. In 2005, he was selected as one of the 25 a€?Emerging Artistsa€? at Falcon Ridge, picked to play two songs at the Friday afternoon showcase. Around the campfires, into the wee hours of the morning, he soaked up the songs of players, many with hundreds more miles on their tire treads.
While the themes deal with contemporary issues, theya€™re expressed with the traditional tools of acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin.
The opening track, a€?Drive-ina€?(and cover art) is a call to remember the pleasures of a now-disappeared form of recreation. After a robbery occurred a few blocks from where he lives, he wrote a€?Hold Upa€? from the viewpoint of a desperate man needing to care for a sick wife. Another fascinating song-profile is a€?Annie Hold On,a€? an ode to photographer Annie Liebovitz. In my t-shirt, I was chilled to the bone, but I wasna€™t about to run out to the car for a sweatshirt. At each showcase he played for us, in addition to his stellar voice, wea€™d invariably hear a melody that seemed ready for radio airplay, a cut above our average showcase performer.
There was instrument training, enabling students to teach different instruments and weekly vocal lessons. In Martin, he saw a€?folk music with a rock attitude.a€? After this, he began writing in earnest.
Or a crash in a rented DeVille.a€? The central figure tells the listener to look for his demise in an old cowboy film on TV during a couch-potato Saturday afternoon. Phil had noticed that the photo in the newspaper looked a lot like him (his co-workers did also, generating a lot of teasing).
Almost a doo-wop number, ita€™s done a capella in harmony with hand claps as the only accompaniment.
As he states: a€?One big thing that I offer my students that many schools dona€™t is that we put on a coffeehouse concert twice a year with my Middle School and High School chorus students.
Or a crash in a rented DeVille.a€?A The central figure tells the listener to look for his demise in an old cowboy film on TV during a couch-potato Saturday afternoon. The performers played their songs under one canopy while the sparse audience spread out under that one and a second canopy tethered to the first.
Renown jazz pianist Dave Brubeck visited and played a new piece of music he had written, with the choir accompanying him. He spent time alone, a€?woodshedding.a€? Phil recorded each song he wrote into a tape recorder. He finishes with, a€?I thought Ia€™d follow in the gunslingera€™s path, but theya€™re all in some Hollywood grave. They get experience choosing a song, rehearsing it with guitar or piano players, using microphones, talking to an audience a€¦ These are skills I didna€™t learn until I was out of college, and ones that I use all the time. We sang along to the Titanic song, laughing as the situation (we hoped) seemed like a miniature version of a sinking ship. More often than not, his smiling face would be the first to greet us on day one, when we pulled into the parking lot at the festival, as he directed cars into the proper lane. Hea€™d practice on an acoustic guitar at home but would play an electric when he jammed with his friends.
Never a huge fan of classical music, Phil said he felt a€?out of place.a€? Nevertheless, Phil graduated with a degree in Music Education in 1997. Phil came to my attention that year, as someone to watch, after he asked to play a showcase slot at the Acoustic Live booth at Falcon Ridge. Suddenly the rain turned to hail and the wind ferociously pushed and pulled at our shelter, threatening to yank it out of the ground. For his closer, in a clear, high tenor, Phil sang his song "WQRZ,a€? about a radio station in Hancock, Mississippi, devastated by Hurricane Katrina, manned by a DJ who stayed behind to give out needed information, while others fled.
It carried some resonance given our own (much less dire) situation and very typical of Phila€™s propensity to see larger societal issues and craft songs about them to sing in his clarion voice.
Phil has played at every one of the Acoustic Live Falcon Ridge and NERFA guerilla showcases ever since.
At 1:55, a blurry picture I took shows audience members gripping the struts of the canopy to keep our structure from blowing away. Another photo, also marked 1:55, focussed outside shows other vendor booths totally closed, their sidewalls violently billowing and rippling in the wind. Another photo, also marked 1:55,A focussed outside shows other vendor booths totally closed, their sidewalls violently billowing and rippling in the wind.
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