News of the death on May 23rd of folksinger and storyteller U. Utah Phillips made me wish I had had the chance to hear him live. There would have been a lot more talking than playing, some of it hysterically funny, some poignant and moving. A lot of hip, progressive 20 somethings were introduced to Phillips through his collaboration with Ani DiFranco, and most notably their 1996 CD The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, combining his classic stories with her contemporary scoring. They cut a second disc in 1999 called Fellow Workers, but their previous effort was the true groundbreaker.
Utah was the son of union organizers, a rider of rails, hobo troubadour and pacifist army veteran. He was a great fan of trains. Before a heart condition forced him to cut back his appearances, he was a road musician who played 120 shows a year. He was loved by many.