NEWTOWN SQUARE–First Fridays at Burlap and Bean hold special meaning to headliner Charlie Phillips. He began playing First Fridays for about three years and since then, the Newtown Square coffeehouse has grown to showcasing national acts as well as local favorites.
Burlap and Bean also never forgets who was there when they first opened their doors. Phillips is grateful for the steady gig, but also takes pride in being able to pick a talented local to be his opening act. On Friday, July 1, Phillips brought the acoustic duo of The Elmira Branch to the stage. This evening also featured a meet-and-greet with Burlap and Bean's artist of the past month Suzanne Kreitzburg.
The openers, The Elmira Branch, is made up of close friends Wes Wright and Wade Phillips. They just returned from college and admitted they had limited rehearsal for the performance, but their close harmonies show they were never really apart.
While their soft vocals have simple textures, their guitar work was anything but easy. Wright and Phillips combine a dynamic combination of plucking, strumming and a few unique moves. They also have the perfect synchronicity of sound between their whisper-like voices and soft guitars.
The Elmira Branch's lyrics are extremely personal and reflective. Topics include leaving for home and the effects of distance between loved ones and of course girls.
"Stupid boys writing songs about girls," joked the band about one song in particular.
Phillips opened his set with a few original songs, but decided to take requests from the audiences for the majority of the night. He likes to keep First Fridays upbeat, "like a party atmosphere."
Phillips' music tends to cross into several different genres like blues, rock, and ballads.
He hesitates to refer to himself as the modern idea of a "singer/songwriter" because his blend of music doesn't always fit the way the genre has been labeled recently. His website lists him as a performing songwriter which captures more of his image.
"I love to perform and I think in the performance–that is where I come out. My personality is certainly on the record too, but I love to perform. It's another whole side of what I do and what I love to do," Phillips said.
Passion is apparent in everything Phillips produces, whether it's his music or his yoga studio in Glen Mills. He writes music as it comes to him, starting new songs on guitar or piano.
"It's usually just me, so I'm only hearing one voice and one melody and one voice at times. I think of the sound of the songs as the texture of the song and that tends to come once I record it," explained Phillips. "It's sort of like a painting; it layers on top of one another as the song evolves in the recording process. It becomes richer, fuller, and deeper and that's where the sound a texture comes from."
Phillips has been recently following a new mantra, "When you stop chasing things, things come to you." When his last album came out in 2009, he gave a copy to WXPN DJ Helen Leicht. He waited and waited to hear his track on her show; a year and a half later he had given up on making her play list. When he decided to let go a little, Leicht, in fact, began playing a few tracks. It took some time, but a watched pot never boils and good things come to those who wait. And Phillips is proof that all these sayings are true.
He also has been letting go about his music. His latest album is being produced locally by Derek Chafin and is bringing a few new things to the table. Phillips has seen an evolution in his sound and is enjoying the "collective energy of other people."
Phillips' songs are filled with a classic rock vibe paired to lyrics of loss and rebirth as seen in lines like, "So many candles I can burn." Throughout everything, he tries to maintain a feeling of love in his music and the expression on his face which he attests to during his performance.
In honor of the late Clarence Clemons, Phillips wanted to play a few Springsteen tunes and also opened the floor to requests. The evening was filled with a plethora of requests including a pretty dead-on Jethro Tull tune.
Phillips added a slinky twang to his voice to cover Tom Petty's "Stop dragging my Heart Around." At the end of the show though, The Elmira Branch was brought back up and both bands combined forces for The Band's "The Weight."
"The whole music and performance has been a real inner journey for me," said Phillips. Friday's performance showed the community of Newtown Square that it is glad to be along for the ride.
Catch Charlie Phillips every First Friday at Burlap and Bean, but just a reminder it is a non-BYOB evening.