This Saturday marks the re-release of Utah Phillips’ classic songbook Starlight on the Rails at Ken Sanders Rare Rooks, with performances by local musicians inspired by the late songwriter’s work.
The Trappers, along with The Folka Dots and The North Valley, will play original material at the free-to-the-public party, as well as Phillips’ songs.
“We feel very honored to be a part of this tribute show to honor such an incredible musician that we can all learn from,” said Dan Buehner, frontman of local Americana band The Trappers.
“Utah Phillips lived deliberately, and dedicated himself not only to change but to motivating this change in the world,” added Corinee Gentry, of The Folka Dots. “That takes conviction. I’ve always really liked Utah Phillips for that.”
While Phillips’ legacy is alive locally, his work is also remembered nationally, by musicians such as Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. She was “super-psyched” to work with Phillips on music projects later in his life because “he was such an important person,” Ray said in a phone interview this week.
Phillips’ influence seems to be inspiring another generation of emerging local bands. “I think people want to look at the pioneers,” said Shawn Smith, bassist for The Trappers. “Appreciation for authentic music has grown.”
Before the Phillips party, the Trappers are scheduled to busk at the new City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City, a tradition that Phillips and The Trappers take pride in — bringing songs about troubled men and women to the people without a filter.
The band members grew up in disparate places, but all separately absorbed influences such as Gram Parsons and Hank Williams Sr. Lead guitar player Johnny Ranck spent weekends growing up on his family’s cattle ranch in Wyoming, and when he drove his dad’s pickup around the ranch, he listened to songs by Bakersfield music pioneers Buck Owens, Don Rich and Merle Haggard.
Buehner said he learned how to sing by harmonizing with Levon Helm on The Band’s albums.
And when Tyler Pexton went looking for a pedal steel guitar, he couldn’t find one locally. “I had to order the pedal steel from Nashville,” he said.
Buehner had been a fixture of the local scene for years with alt-country band The Trigger Locks, but two years ago The Trappers were created with drummer Michael Swanson and Pexton. Ranck joined shortly thereafter. Smith is a more recent addition, who says the music of Wilco led him to finding bands in the same genre.
The unofficial motto of the band is that they are a rock ’n’ roll band that emphasizes the “roll.” “We flow more,” Buehner said.
The Trapper’s self-titled debut album, recorded at Salt Lake City’s Counterpoint Studios, was released in 2010. The goal for 2012 is to tour — and busk — as much as possible.
“We have a direction we want to go,” said Swanson.
The band’s direction, urgency and heritage bring to mind “Starlight on the Rails,” the title song of Phillips’ songbook:
I can hear the whistle blowing
High and lonesome as can be ...
The miles can tell a million tales
Each year is like some rolling freight train
Re-release of Utah Phillips’ Starlight on the Rails
When • Saturday, March 24 at 7 p.m.
Where • Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 South 200 East, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Free; copies of the book will be available for $30
Bands • The Trappers, The Folka Dots and The North Valley, which includes Dane Sandberg, Spenny Relyea, Jon Butler, Kramer McCausland and Spencer Sayer (members of former bands Mountain Hymns, The Descriptive, and The Spins).