Utah Phillips said "a bum is someone who drinks and wanders, a tramp is someone who works and wanders, and a hobo is someone who dreams and wanders."
Storyteller, songwriter, poet and labor organizer, Phillips also was an avid train-hopper. His first recorded album, "Good Though!" unveiled such songs as "Queen of the Rails," "Starlight on the Rails," "Daddy, What's a Train?" and his famous "Moose Turd Pie" — his tall tale of working as a gandy dancer repairing tracks in the southwestern desert.
Phillips' concerts were a mix of spoken word and song. He attributed his success to his personality.
What: The Caterwauling Caravan
When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 17
Where: Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, Ashland
"It is better to be likeable than talented," he would say.
A celebration of the life of Utah Phillips, featuring Dakota Sid Clifford, Brendan Phillips and Kuddie singing and telling stories, backed by The Western Skies Orchestra — with harmonica player Homer Wills, mandolin player Travers Clifford, pedal-steel player Drew De Man and upright bassist Mub Fractal — will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, June 17, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, Ashland. The show will include songs by Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels and Woody Guthrie — along with many anecdotes and stories. Admission is a suggested donation of $10 and will be available at the door. Call 360-789-2308 for information.
"My dad was a singer, songwriter, a traveler and a union man," says Brendan Phillips, 35, of Nevada City, Calif. "He talked a lot about hobos, trains and transients. It was during the days when he could wander the country on a network of trains. It's a big part of our country's history."
Utah Phillips met folk singer Rosalie Sorrels in the early '50s. It was Sorrels who started playing his songs, and his music began to spread. He left Utah in the late '60s for the modern folk scene happening in New York.
"He was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World," Brendan Phillips says. "His philosophies included nonviolence, nonhumiliation of anyone and the idea of gentle personalism, the idea that everyone deserves dignity and love. It we stand together, we can stand up for people's rights."
Brendan Phillips and the others are on their way to help Sorrels celebrate her 80th birthday at her home in Grimes Creek, Idaho. The group will kick off its sojourn with a show on Friday, June 14, in Nevada City before playing in Elk Grove and Santa Rosa, Calif., then Ashland, Eugene, Portland and Spokane, Wash.
"Dad played in Ashland many times before he passed away about five years ago," Brendan Phillips says. "Folk artist Nancy Spencer will join us to play musical saw."
The Long Memory — Utah Phillips' idea for a permanent archive of his songs, episodes of his Nevada City radio show "Loafer's Glory" and contributions from other storytellers — is a shared history of things that connect us and our communities, Brendan Phillips says.
"Dad collected information and stories, and he shared them around the country. It's something that lives with us. It was his idea to use this knowledge to help shape the future. He'd say 'The Long Memory is accessing our past to work in the present and shape the future.'
"This concert will not be a tribute show," he says. "It will be a celebration of Utah Phillips, Rosalee Sorrels and The Long Memory. We're carrying on that tradition."