A “Thank You” 20 Years in the Making

I have wanted to meet Sam Phillips since 1986. That dream has become increasingly strong over the years since then, as her songs have become the most personal and important to me out of any music I’ve heard. If I had to choose ten songs that have meant the most to me in my lifetime, about half of them would be hers.

Last night, I discovered that our dinner table for a party of six was placed directly in front of the microphone. Couldn’t have been closer. And then, about 40 minutes after a stunning performance that included almost the entire new album, a few from Fan Dance, a hilarious spoken letter of adoration for Stephen Merritt of Magnet Fields (“I know you cannot return my love because… you… can only love someone… with man parts… but… I think if we gave it a try… your man parts would be enough for both of us…”), and a couple of covers, Sam emerged from backstage.

I was finally able to shake her hand and thank her for her music and the story of her life. It is, after all, the story of Leslie Phillips becoming Sam Phillps that became the inspiration for me to start writing about art for Christians, and the provocation for me to start the Looking Closer Web site. When I told her the story, she was rather bewildered by how far back I traced the progress of her creative vision and its influence on my work. When I reminded her of the time she had shared some Thomas Merton with me online, she did seem to remember that. And she gave me the information I need for an interview later.

I can’t remember much of what I said. But I’ll treasure what I can remember… of the show and the conversation afterward.

Oh, and let it be known, drummer Jay Bellerose is a joy to watch and a thrill to hear.

It was the first show of the tour. I highly recommend you watch for her visit to your neck of the woods.

Set list:

  • How to Quit
  • All Night
  • I Wanted To Be Alone
  • Open the World
  • Red Silk Five
  • I Want to Be Your Man
  • Taking Pictures
  • Animals on Wheels
  • Wasting My Time
  • I Dreamed I Stopped Dreaming
  • Draw Man
  • When You’re Down (Didn’t make the cut for the album, although she wishes it had, in retrospect. GREAT song.)
  • Reflecting Light
  • Fan Dance
  • If I Could Write
  • Say What You mean
  • One Day Late
  • (encore: a gospel song by Sister Rosetta Tharpe… “I’m a Pilgrim Traveler.”)

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  • Anonymous

    I think “I’m a pilgrim traveler” is a (Sister) Wynona Carr song — based on St. James Infirmary, they say.


  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    She didn’t say the name of the song. It had something to do with the way the Lord keeps guiding her, every mile of the way, or something like that. Ring any bells? I’d love to track down the song…

  • Anonymous

    I’m looking very much forward to the interview.
    Which Rosetta Tharpe song was it?

    And a few recomendations: Jim White (not the Dirty Three guy – though he’s great too), Eleni Mandell, Alasdair Roberts and Williard Grant Conspiracy.

    -You may call me Zimmy

  • Anonymous

    Now I’m really kicking myself for missing the Seattle show. I did get to see her years ago in Nashville with T-Bone accompanying (and many moons ago in the Leslie CCM phase), but her new material is so good.
    Jeffrey, I’m glad the night was all you envisioned it to be. JW

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Well… perhaps I will write a proper review eventually. But that wasn’t the point of the post. The point of the post was just to record what was for me the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

    But, since you asked, the music was smoky, spooky, razor’s-edge sharp, and very much in the style of the album: piano, strings, drums, and Sam on both acoustic and electric guitar. Musically, Bellerose was the highlight of the show. But regarding Sam, sitting right up front I could see pretty clearly, and I swear I saw her eyes misting up with tears on more than one song. These songs from A Boot and a Shoe are emotional, gruelling journal entries, and it must be tough… and yet catharthic… to perform them live.

  • Terry

    Hey, that’s not a review it’s a fan gushing;) I have a chance to see Sam next week in Toronto but am wondering about making the trip. How about the music? It sounds like she played with a band? Was there a T-Bone sighting?