Utah Phillips

Utah Phillips, the folk musician with the big white beard and the great stories, has been having some health issues recently. Last Wednesday his son, Duncan, posted a letter from Utah here — the gist of which is that Utah Phillips is doing better, but still faces major health challenges.

Like many of his fans, I like Utah Phillips not just for his music and his hilarious stories, but for his integrity and for his commitment to social justice, and yeah, I’m proud to claim him as a co-religionist (he’s part of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Nevada City). Looks like I won’t get a chance to hear him in concert again, but at least he’s still alive and writing songs and podcasting.

People across the country are hosting benefit concerts for Utah Phillips — Pete Seeger and Dar Williams held a benefit concert for Phillips back in April, at which time Seeger pointed out that folk singers don’t get health benefits as part of the job. There’s a benefit concert coming up in Chicago on June 14, and no doubt more to come.

I almost never post other people’s videos on this blog, but — in case you’ve never experienced him live, here’s a taste of Utah Phillips singing and telling stories at what must have been one of his last appearances before he stopped performing. The story about his daughter (about five minutes in) is hilarious:

Or you could listen to this, his most famous story.

3 thoughts on “Utah Phillips

  1. Patrick Murfin

    I am proud the Bruce Phillips–U. Utah Phillips, Golden Voice of the Great Southwest–to generations of fans is an old friend and fellow worker. We are among that small group of folks who have been both members of the Industrial Workers of the World–the legendary wobblies–and UUs. I last saw him, fittingly at the IWW’s 100th Birthday concert held at People’s Church (dually affiliated with the UUA and UCC) in Chicago in 2005. I still play his music regularly and feature it in the annual Labor Day services that I conduct at my home church.

    If you haven’t heard Utah Phillips run and find some of his great recordings–especially those where he weaves his impressive story telling skills amid the songs. These performances will change your life. I am not kidding.

  2. jinnis

    Thanks for the post Dan. I had never heard of him before. I will pass his name along. And the video is great, too.

  3. Dan Schatz

    Sadly, we lost Utah on Friday. He died peacefully in his sleep next to his wife. Utah had been a founding member of his fellowship in Nevada City, CA, and though he often made light of his UUism, it was extremely important to him. He was sometimes known as “U. Utah Phillips” (a take-off on the country singer T. Texas Tyler); a few weeks ago I joked with him that it stood for “Unitarian.” “Well, you figured it out,” he said.

    The various benefit concerts and other projects that were planned for Utah are still going ahead, as a memorial and a way to make sure Utah’s family remains well supported. If one of the concerts is in your area, I advise you to go to it. If you see a Utah Phillips CD, pick it up – the songs will astound you with their beauty.

    An obituary is posted at Utah’s website: http://www.utahphillips.org.


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