Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Joel Mabus on Utah Phillips

From the Folk Alliance List-serve, June 4, 2008:

Like a lot of us, I've been thinking lately about Utah Phillips -- his life
and legacy. It is a joy to read the many stories and remembrances.

I have a lot of memories on, off, and behind the stage with Utah. If one
were to ever write the history of this thing we call folk music in the 20th
century, Bruce would weigh heavy in the chapter on the 1970's -- an often
overlooked decade in folk. As the Joni's and Bob's and JT's were marketed
as flavors of rock by the major labels, and the downtown commercial folk
clubs closed up or re-invented themselves, the folk movement took a left
turn towards community.

In the era when "Midnight Special" came to mean glam-rock on Friday night
TV, small rural folk festivals started up, run by cabals of shanty-singers,
banjoists and dulcimer players. Unitarian basements opened up. Rounders
rolled, Philos flipped sides and Fish Flew in Chicago. And small,
democratically-run folk societies sprung up in college towns all over
America from the ashes and detritus of the folk boom. This is the soil
where Utah Phillips rooted and grew strong. It is also where I started a
career, along with many of my compadres of a certain age, plowing along
where Uncle Utah and a few others busted sod.

The folk circuit I have worked these past 35 years is not the world of
Newport, Carnegie Hall and Columbia Records. The mighty wind had long blown
out to sea before I got onstage. Utah was good about reminding us that one
could make a living -- not a killing -- in folk music if you kept your
powder dry, your boots laced up and fixed your own breakfast most days.

But for all the quips, quotes, songs and stories I have been recalling these
past weeks, I have one enduring image of U Utah Phillips:

A serious labor organizer, heavy-weight thinker, first-rate story-teller,
damn-straight songwriter, and pretty good singer. A man of dignity who
walked tall and always carried a red rubber clown nose in his vest pocket --
and wasn't afraid to use it.

Aloha, my friend.

Joel Mabus

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