On the Move: Local Folkies Rally to Preserve Utah Phillips' 'Caboose' | Live Culture

On the Move: Local Folkies Rally to Preserve Utah Phillips' 'Caboose'


Utah' Phillips' flanger car - DAN BOLLES
  • Dan Bolles
  • Utah' Phillips' flanger car
North Ferrisburgh residents might hear a folky ruckus emanating from Covered Bridge Road this Saturday, June 17, the likes of which hasn't been heard ’round those parts in many a year.

That's because an all-star collection of folk musicians of both local and national renown are gathering on the former site of Philo Records. They'll be paying tribute to one of the most famous songwriters — and certainly the most famous hobo — ever to (occasionally) call Vermont home: Utah Phillips.

  • Courtesy of Megan Humphrey
  • Utah Phillips
The concert, dubbed "A Celebration of Utah Phillips and Philo Records," is a benefit to raise funds to restore a unique piece of Vermont folk music history: Phillips' "caboose," a renovated 1890s train car in which the itinerant folk singer lived while he was recording at Philo. Phillips released three albums on the famed Vermont folk label.

Phillips, who died in 2008, bought the 40-by-8-foot caboose — technically, a flanger car — from Central Vermont Railway in the late 1970s for $500. He had it moved from St. Albans to Philo Records, where it sat on 50 feet of track. It's been there ever since.

Steve Pilcher and his partner, Deb Gaynor, bought the Philo Records property, including the caboose, from label founder Bill Schubart in 1985, three years after Rounder Records acquired the imprint. The couple renovated the recording studio into their home — pre-Philo, it had been a pig barn.

Pilcher has been maintaining the train car over the years, including re-siding the exterior and installing new windows. But he says the upkeep is increasingly more than he can manage.

"I looked at it and said, 'It's not getting any better under my care," Pilcher said recently during a tour of the train car.

Recently, Phillips' son, Duncan Phillips, has spearheaded an attempt to save the car. Provided he raises the $25,000 to move it, his dad's caboose is destined for the Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture in Mt. Shasta, Calif., where it will be restored and kept as a museum and tribute to Utah.

"I've been a steward of this caboose for 30 years," Pilcher explained. "But now there's a real chance to restore it and turn it into a museum."

"We have learned so much from our mentors," said Rik Palieri. "So there comes a time a to give back to those who gave to us. I felt this was the time to do it."

Rik Palieri, Inside the flanger car - DAN BOLLES
  • Dan Bolles
  • Rik Palieri, Inside the flanger car
Palieri is a Hinesburg-based folk singer who first met Phillips in the early 1980s. He has patterned his own wandering, hobo-like career on that of Phillips, whom he considered a close friend and mentor. He said that preserving the caboose is the perfect means of preserving Phillips' legacy.

"To have an archive of Utah Phillips' writings, his memorabilia, for the younger generations who never had the pleasure of meeting him, and to have it in a flanger car, a caboose like this, what a tribute," Palieri enthused.

He added that, though the focus of the show is Phillips' caboose, it is also an opportunity to honor Philo Records.

"You never really appreciate what you have until it's gone," he said. "Philo meant a lot to a lot of people around here. So, this is a way to pay tribute to that, as well."

The lineup bears that out. Several performers are Philo alums, among them local folk singer Jon Gailmor and guitarist Paul Asbell. The latter recorded on the label with his acclaimed jazz band, Kilimanjaro.

The remainder of the slate is a multigenerational program aimed at drawing a connection between Vermont's folk music past and present. Performers include fiddler Pete Sutherland, Grammy-nominated folk singer Dan Schatz, a reunion of the folk group Bread and Bones, Rick Ceballos and Lausanne Allen, Phil Henry, the New Economistas, Young Tradition Vermont and Palieri. Also on the bill are Phillips's sons, Duncan and Brendan Phillips.

"This music can bring different people from different generations and cultures and ideals together," said Palieri. "And Utah was always trying to bring that message of hope and peace and working together. That was a big part of who Utah Phillips was. And his legacy is more important today than it ever was."

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