You probably won’t hear this news on your local radio, nor read it in your newspaper. Blogs – even good lefty ones – have also been largely silent. A great force of nature, truth and integrity passed out of our collective lives this past weekend with the death of Bruce “Utah” Phillips.
Back when a healthy folk music scene still existed, Utah Phillips passed through my town every couple of years and performed at a small venue called “The Blue River Cafe.” Beyond the music of labor organizing songs and folk tunes he had written and gathered in his cross-country travels, Utah Phillips instructed green young’uns like myself in our country’s labor movement history. He was the real deal. Genuine. A card-carrying Industrial Workers of the World “Wobbly.” A true American patriot and hero.
Then, a couple of years ago, I had the honor of meeting Utah Phillips in person thanks to the long friendship between him and Greatest Husband. I was nervous, as I tend to be when meeting people for the first time, and especially so because I had admired him for so long as a performer and political activist. I needn’t have been. As soon as he discovered my family’s working-class, home-town roots, the conversation flowed and I was fairly astonished at how much he knew about my city’s political and immigrant history.
We met one more time a year ago, and made plans for him and his lovely wife Joanna to stay at our home this spring. His declining health prevented that visit from taking place.
There’s a good biography and video of Utah Phillips performing at a festival one year ago. Check it out. And, while I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife, I have a hard time believing that a force as gigantic as Bruce “Utah” Phillips can exit this world all at once. His formidable energy is still out there. I feel it.