A broken-winged angel
The social conscience Bruce “Utah” Phillips brought to Nevada County lived on Sunday as the community laid one of its most famous to rest.
About 800 people packed Phillips’ beloved Nevada City Little League field to hear accolades, tears and emotions flow, surrounded by the friendly environs of America’s pastime. The renowned folk singer, poet and peace activist died May 23, at home in Nevada City at 73.
Wearing a Cleveland Indians cap to pay homage to his father’s favorite team and roots, son Duncan Phillips led the crowd in a “People’s National Anthem, the rules are you sing whatever you want,” and they did.
Duncan and brother Brendan Phillips noted that his father eschewed Major League Baseball and its corporate interests, preferring the purity of Little League.
“It was never about folk music, it was about possibilities,” said friend and fellow folk icon John McCutcheon. “Utah Phillips was and is one of the great pillars of American folk music.”
The musician was also, “an exquisite guitarist,” McCutcheon said, who “instructed us in the fine art of freight hopping… singing like some broken-winged angel.”
Nevada County Librarian Mary Ann Trygg publicly thanked Phillips for backing the Madelyn Helling Library with concerts, remembering Utah’s tribute to Woody Guthrie that drew 300 to the facility’s community room.
Libraries were a refuge for Phillips in his youth and continued to be throughout his life, Trygg noted.
The way he used the Nevada City facility also showed a bit of his character.
“He hid his library card in the library in a book he said would never check out,” Trygg said.
Jim Fleming managed Phillips’ career and said he always paid attention to two things all great artists do.
“He had incredible respect for the audience and incredible respect for this space,” Fleming said, gesturing to the stage built above home plate.
“He made it look effortless, but there was a lot of work and rehearsal in it.”
Seated listening to the memorial service was Kyle Turiello, 14, of Nevada City, who had handed out programs in his Cleveland Indians cap. Turiello wore the cap the past two years as a member of the Nevada City Indians.
“They wanted us to represent Utah because he was at every single one of our games the last two years,” Turiello said.
Family and friends said Phillips was there with them Sunday, he was just sitting in a different grandstand.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 477-4237.
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