AN EVENING WITH PHIL VASSAR
I was really looking forward to seeing Phil Vassar perform at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. It was billed as an acoustic show with Phil, his piano and a guitarist. That’s it. I was wondering how he was going to keep the energy going but I needn’t have worried. I came away amazed, not only by his talent but by the man’s natural ability to entertain.
The Birchmere is a prestigious music hall located in Alexandria, VA where artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, k.d. Lang are among the many who have performed there. In music circles the reputation of The Birchmere is legendary and for this reason Phil Vassar was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Opening for Phil was a talented young singer /song writer named Jennifer Hanson whose father happened to play and tour with the group “Alabama” for 18 years. He was there that night supporting his daughter, cheering from the back of the room. Jennifer played guitar and sang “Beautiful Goodbye” and “73”. She performed two other songs she wrote which became hits for other artists – “A Different World” for Bucky Covington and “Leave the Pieces” for The Wreckers.
Phil took the stage with casual familiarity, shaking hands with folks in the front, thanking everyone for coming. He said he’d wanted to play at The Birchmere for a long time and was glad to finally be there. He started the evening playing and singing “Black and Whites” then invited his guitarist, Jeff Smith, to join him on stage. There was an easy camaraderie between Phil and Jeff born from years of playing and touring together. The verbal jabs and laughter flowed freely.
Sprinkled among the many jokes and funny reasons to buy Phil’s “Greatest Hit’s” CD were a few tidbits about the various songs Phil has written. “Carlene” is a song about Cindy Crawford; “My Next Thirty Years” was written on his birthday; “An American Child” was written for his daughter, Haley; he wrote “Six-Pack Summer” on a boat in Tennessee; and “Last Day of My Life” was written after the loss of a good friend.
Jeff Smith gave an exceptional solo performance of Sting & The Police’s “Roxanne” while Phil took a brief break from performing a total of 17 songs for the evening (see set list).
Phil interacted with the audience easily and often, taking requests and accepting a drink now and then. Phil hails from Lynchburg, VA and attended James Madison University so he’s a “local boy” and it wasn’t long before it became apparent there were some very special folks in the crowd. He acknowledged his college buddies, family members and most importantly, his mom. Twice he apologized to her for a slightly off color remark. It was endearing to see his sensitivity to her presence in the room and his delight at having her there for his performance.
I had the pleasure of meeting one of Phil’s fraternity brothers before the show and I asked him if he had any stories to share about Phil. He thought for a minute and said, “You know, we were all busy getting our degrees and getting married but Phil was single minded. He always said he was going to Nashville and we teased him about it. But you know what? He did it! Here I am paying good money to see him sing his songs. He was focused and I really admire him for accomplishing what he set out to do. And what’s great is he’s still the same, approachable Phil. He doesn’t put on any airs and I love that about him.”
I think everyone came away from his performance “loving that about him”. Phil made all of us feel like old friends. It was indeed my pleasure to spend an evening with Phil Vassar.
Phil Vassar’s Set List:
• Black and Whites
• In A Real Love
• Love Is A Beautiful Thing
• My Next Thirty Years
• Little Red Rodeo
• An American Child
• Six-Pack Summer w/ Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer)
• Bye Bye
• Last Day of My Life
• Just Another Day In Paradise
• Rose Bouquet
• I’m Alright
• Roxanne (by Sting & The Police, performed by Jeff Smith)
• I’ll Take That As A Yes
• Summer Loving (from the musical Grease)
• Joe & Rosalita
• Piano Man (by Billy Joel)