Saturday, February 7, 2015

Phil Keaggy -- Live at Lee Street -- Concert Review

© 2015 by Bob Wingate

Photo Courtesy of Tripp Edwards
   Phil Keaggy’s sold-out show at the Lee Street Theater on Friday night was billed as “a night to enjoy one of the most admired guitar artists today.”  True to life, Phil, armed with only an acoustic guitar (and a few fancy foot pedals), electrified the crowd by a combination of lightning fast blues riffs, an array of alternate tunings, and beautifully melodic chord progressions.

   But the Keaggy “Live at Lee Street” event was much more than a musical show.  It showcased the talent of the musician, but it also highlighted the remarkable personality of the man.  Phil, admittedly still recovering from a winter cold, struggled at times with equipment and his own complex song arrangements, but laughed it off and warmed the audience with his wit, humor and charm.

The marquee at Lee Street Theatre
  The show pleased a few old fans, and made a few new ones in the same night.  Longtime fan Bill Hayes says, “Phil never ceases to amaze me with his combination of musicality and technical prowess!  His music is both moving and inspiring all at once… He is easily my favorite guitar hero!”  While new fan Kristi Nesbit shares, “I was pleasantly surprised with the Phil Keaggy show!  Very talented musician!  He was also very funny and had the crowd laughing.”

   Phil’s show started out with a young man named Gladius opening up with a few amazing classical and flamenco tunes, sharing a remarkable story of his hand and finger paralysis and recovery through numerous surgeries and physical therapy. 
   Phil then took the stage and pulled out a mix of instrumental and vocal tunes, with crowd favorites such as the instrumental “Shades of Green”, the soulful ballad “Let Everything Else Go,” and a cover of the Beatles’ George Harrison tune “Here Comes the Sun.”  Phil mused at one point in the show that he had a set list with him, but it was “seven pages long.”  He balked at a couple of songs, questioning whether he would be able to pull off the high notes in “Salvation Army Band,” but saying, “I’m going to go ahead and get it out of my system,” and getting a huge ovation on the ending when he nailed it perfectly. Requests for his classic rocker “Time” were repeated more than a couple times, until Phil relented, saying he would play the opening riff, but when he got started, he dove right into the song, wowing everyone with an extended guitar solo.

   One very poignant moment happened when Phil introduced a song about his oldest sister Ellen, relating how they experienced the loss of their mother on Valentine’s Day 45 years ago when she and two others in the family were involved in a head-on car collision.  His mother’s death spurred Ellen to share her Christian faith with Phil and his younger sister, and both of their lives were forever changed in the process.

   David Brumbeloe Jr. remarked about the show : “Excellent. I’ve listened to Phil’s music for over thirty years, but this is the first time I’ve ever been able to see him live.”

   Local fan Liz Hood, who has enjoyed Phil’s playing for many years, said she was “blown away by Phil Keaggy and his incredible gift of music—and his ability to laugh at himself!”  One of those laughable moments was when Phil was looking for a piece of plastic used in concerts for a special musical tone, and Liz was called on the fly to deliver a pair of scissors from her purse to use in cutting that plastic down to size.
   Seeing Phil Keaggy perform “live” in my hometown was a lifelong dream for me. Friday night fulfilled that dream. I was introduced to Phil Keaggy’s music back in 1975, when a college friend plopped one of his LP’s onto a turntable and allowed me to witness this guitar virtuoso for the first time.  Over the years, I’ve been to so many of his shows, I stopped counting at 25.  I’ve traveled to Atlanta, and Front Royal, VA, and Akron, Ohio to see him perform.  But I’d never been able to see him play in my own hometown.   Last summer, I took one of Phil’s concert flyers down to Lee Street Theater director Justin Dionne and asked if they would consider booking my favorite guitar player. Imagine my surprise and delight when it happened-- just like that !

   Another dream was realized when Paul and Piper Hightower traveled all the way from Sacramento, CA here to Salisbury NC to see Phil Keaggy perform.  Piper surprised Paul for his 30th birthday by orchestrating this amazing trip to see his favorite guitarist. Phil was so moved by their cross country journey that he invited them backstage and allowed Paul to play his guitar.  (See article in Saturday’s Salisbury Post).

   It was a fun evening.  A time for old and new fans to experience some great music.   And to be inspired at the same time.   Thanks Phil for a wonderful concert.  And—please come back to see us again soon.