Alive After Five: Tribute to Phil Pollard

Knoxville Museum of Art, November 2011

This past Friday night was set to be a night one might enjoy the talent and personality of Phil Pollard at the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Alive After Five show. His “Band of Humans” was set to play the show and it promised to be a special event. As it turned out, it was to be a night of tributes, memories, collecting money for his children’s education and saying goodbye to a larger-than-life and much loved figure within the local arts community.

Michael Gill hosts Alive After Five, November 2011

Lydia Sainikova at KMA, November 2011

 Phil died unexpectedly earlier this month and the music community reacted strongly (see Wayne Bledsoe’s article). When news of his illness first broke, Facebook was filled with pleas for prayer, hopeful updates and ultimately word that he had passed at an early age leaving a family shocked and without a father and husband. Bernadette and Scott West chartered a bus to take anyone who wanted to go to the funeral, which seemed to me to be about as thoughtful a gesture as I’ve seen in a long time.

Collection Hat in front of Stage

 The tribute at the KMA was billed as featuring “Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet with Lydia Sainikova, Black Atticus and Ben Maney.” Michael Gill emceed and, appropriately, a stove-pipe hat was turned upside down in front of the stage for donations to an education fund for Phil’s girls.

Ben Maney performs at KMA Phil Pollard Tribute

 The opening set by Lydia Sainikova who, contrary to promotional materials, was not joined by Black Atticus, which was disappointing, highlighted her range as a performer from a pop standard (the name of which evades me) to a Russian folk song and several others which I assumed must be personal compositions. She is a very talented musician and singer from Russia, who now calls Knoxville her home.

Beautiful version of  “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Next on the stage was Knoxville keyboard stalwart, Ben Maney. He performed several songs including several solo and several with various musicians. The highlight of his set was a heart-felt rendition of a great song by Tom Waits, “The House Where Nobody Lives,” one of my all-time favorites.

Assembled musicians perform “Empire” at KMA Phil Pollard Tribute

I wish I knew the names of the musicians who joined him on stage, some of whom are pictured here. The young lady who played cello added a beautiful touch to the music. I was able to thank her when I saw her at the Market Square Farmer’s Market the next morning. The woman who fronted the group and performed vocals on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and brought the house down. Next various members of the ensemble traded verses on R.B. Morris’ “Empire,” which has to simply be one of the best songs ever written by a Knoxville artist. It’s one of my favorite songs by anybody.

I had other places I needed to be on a First Friday night, so I headed out into the night with thoughts of a very special person who is no longer with us, but who made everyone around him a little better with his wit and humor. I’ll leave you with a recording of the Tom Waits song mentioned above. Take time to listen to it, look at the photographs and to ponder things missing.