The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #111459 Message #2358637
Posted By: open mike
05-Jun-08 - 04:16 PM
Thread Name: Utah Phillips Tribute May 31 - Nevada City, CA
Subject: RE: Utah Phillips memorial remembered
Here are excerpts from a letter by KVMR radio show host in Nevada City.
Wesley Robertson wrote this open letter to a music festival list:
.....KVMR had been Utah's home community station for the last 20+ yrs and since his death has been a vehicle to help inform people of his passing and to get the word out about his memorial service ect..
Since Utah passed KVMR and Nevada City in general has been in a
collective state of mourning over Utah. Due to Utah's history with
KVMR people like Michael Moore and John McCutcheon have been calling
in doing interviews ect....KVMR programmers all rose to the occasion playing unique snippets from Utah interviews and special songs by him, Kate Wolf and the national folk community. One programmer played an interview that he had hosted with Utah and a Vietnam Vet. They were talking about the horrors of war (of course Utah was radicalized by what he witnessed in Korea). I found myself crying like I had when the interview was first aired a few years ago.
My own little contribution to KVMR's emersion with Utah's final days had me doing a tribute to Utah the Saturday before he died. I had planned a few months ago that I didn't want to wait for him to die to do a tribute to him. I chose May 17th to dedicate my two hour show to him as he turned 73 on the 15th. I had several local folkies to be in the studio to play Utah songs and share stories. With the Rose Tattoo guys poised to head to town I interviewed a couple of them to promote the show and they of course told Utah stories. Utah was listening in
to the broadcast and when he heard Che Greenwood say Utah's trips to the Kate Wolf Festival were over Utah took offense and called the studio to correct Che. I asked Utah if he would mind if I put him live on the air to correct Che and he said no problem. He then did about a 15 minute interview letting us know how he was in training to attend Kate Wolf Fest. again this year. He also shared how he had recently found a folder with lyrics he had written but not put to music and that was a project he was excited about finishing. I'm proud of the fact that he heard all the nice things that everybody was saying about him.
His memorial service last Sunday was amazing. It was at the little
league park Utah used to go to regularly to see the games. It was one of the last places he was seen in public at. I just heard moments ago on KVMR that there is a movement to rename the ball park in honor of Utah....a beautiful setting the park...Large pine trees surrounding it, ... With him being from Cleveland his favorite team was the Nevada City Cleveland Indians. That team kind of hosted the service and passed out the Memorial Programs.
John McCutcheon, Amy Goodman, Ramblin' Jack and lots of Utah's Rose
Tattoo fraternity were there. Like Amy Goodman, The Rose Tattoo family had been booked to be in the area for their annual gathering long before Utah took the westbound less then a week before they all arrived. It was some stunning cosmic dance that all the pieces were in place for these folks to be arriving in Nevada City in time for the memorial!! It was one of the most moving emotional roller coaster rides I've ever been on. Tears to laughing and then more of the same!!!
The service started with the little league team throwing out the opening pitch. About two thirds of the way through the service they stopped for the 7th inning stretch and had people sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" although the anarchist were encouraged to sing any song they wanted to!!! Even though it was mentioned how the staff that ran the concession stand at the park had been warned to not serve Utah any hotdogs due to his condition he would still try to order hotdogs only to be told that they were out even though he was the first to get in line. His sister confessed to Utah's wife that she did sneak him some chili dogs at the park!!!
I think it was Utah's sister that also shared how Christmas was very
special for Utah. A tradition that he enjoyed was each year he would
look forward to receiving a rocket from somebody somewhere as it was
known that he loved launching a rocket. Without fail before Christmas
a rocket would arrive. The family would then go to Pioneer Park (where the little league is located) for the launching. With the men folk gathering around to prepare the rocket for launching the woman folk-
referred to as the Rockettes-would stand close by to encourage the process and tradition!! For the memorial service they then revealed a rocket to be launched for the occasion!!! Unfortunately after a dramatic countdown the rocket didn't blast off. Not to be thwarted though an impromptu gathering of men folk gathered around the rocket and secretly prayed that the universe rescue this mission.......they then tried again.......and then again.....on the 3rd effort...it was airborne!! I'm convinced that Utah had mischievously stalled off the launching as long as he could but then acquiesced as he knew the little league park needed to be cleared for a game at 3pm!!!!!
Someone mentioned how that before there was Google there was Bruce! He
had such a stunning memory.
The local librarian mentioned how he told her he had his library card
hidden in a book that he knew nobody would ever check out. She begged
that she didn't want people rummaging through the library looking for
his card. I suspected that maybe that was a way to get people to go to
One person after the next told the most amazing, moving and cute
stories. One of the nurses from his cardio-vascular unit shared a
typical Utah moment. She shared the story of her first meeting with Utah when he became a patient. She had recognized his name but it wasn't until he arrived that she then realized he was this guy she had seen around town. She said that right after she was introduced to him that he showed her a locket that he had and he opened it to reveal
what he said was his mother's ashes. He then faked a sneeze and blew the dust everywhere. With Utah appreciating the stunned look on her face he doubled over laughing!! She said she always brought him sand from her desert visits to him after that so he could re-load.
It was also shared how Utah went to weekly meetings with the other
patients in his cardio-vascular unit. These meetings must have been very interesting as talk sometimes meandered to current events as this group had older members of the Nevada City area, most of which that had more main-stream America views on the war ect.. compared to Utah's very
progressive left wing positions. These meetings were known to get a
little heated but Utah was usually very calm and polite with how he
interacted with his fellow patients.
John McCutcheon shared how Carl Sagan had said once that the universe is so vast that in-spite of the time that had elapsed since Jesus had
ascended that he would still be in our galaxy-ascending. McCutcheon then suggested with that in mind that every song that had ever been sung on Earth was still lingering in our galaxy and so Utah's voice
was able to intertwine with all of the powerful voices through the ages. He also suggested how cool it would be for Woody Guthrie to be able to show Utah around to his new community!! McCutcheon then led the crowd singing , "So Long, It's Been Good To Know Ya"!!!!
People from the Peace Center of Nevada County and the Hospitality House
(for local homeless folks)-both of which Utah helped to create-shared
some powerful stories. It was mentioned how Utah had attempted to create homeless shelters in the past but had been unable to get the critical mass of support necessary together to make such a project manifest. In Nevada City, Utah found a community that had the core energy in place that could take Utah's ideas, hopes and aspirations and give them life!!!! Utah loved Nevada City and Nevada City loved Utah!!!!!!!!
Utah's wife , Joanna, came out at the end of the service. She said that
she certainly wasn't the gifted speaker that Utah was and how even
though she sometimes could be an eloquent speaker she wouldn't be at
that moment. She then proceeded to say some some eloquent things. She
was very poised considering the occasion. What a gracious woman!!
Utah's son, Brendan, then led the gathering in a Hymn that I think they
said Utah wrote with Joanna and Utah's son Duncan (whom had acted as
the host for the service, with great dignity) on stage with him. It was
such an appropriate farewell hymn. The crowd was singing along....at
about the end....Utah's son got choked up and couldn't continue with the lyrics as he started sobbing......he continued with playing his guitar though....I think the crowd willed him a collective surge of strength and he then was able to finish the song as he then collapsed to his knees on the stage!!!! The service was done.
A local singer songwriter and player of crystal bowls told me after the
service how she saw this arrangement of Angels in a circle above the
ballpark. She said they formed this circle with their wings touching
wing tip to wing tip. She said their was this circle of energy circling
up from the ball park up through the middle of the Angel's circle.
Towards the end of the service I looked up into the sky and I laughingly saw what I thought looked like Utah's face. It was a kinda large pure white cloud formation with what I could make out as his long white beard and some other facial features. As I continued to focus on the cloud it rapidly-like a time lapse video sequence-disappeared within about 2 minutes. A large cloud formation and quickly....gone!!!!! ...I was not under the influence of anything
!!!!!!! The whole service was just so magical.