Multi-instrumentalist and master arranger Adam Phillips has discovered a musical formula that has Santa Barbara enthralled. His Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara is the band in residence at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara Historic Park, and their quarterly concerts there consistently sell out. Approximately 40 musicians of all ages gather each Thursday evening to learn the next concert’s material and entertain the patrons at Telegraph Brewing Company for free. When they perform at the Presidio, Phillips and his players put in an extra effort to create something memorable, and this show, which was dedicated to folk and folk-related rock music of the 1960s, was no exception.
Exotic instruments and lavish, string-heavy arrangements give the Folk Orchestra a distinctive sound even when they are playing familiar material. The band opened with a gorgeous, moving rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” with Phillips playing the melody on a Galician bagpipe known as the <em>gaita</em>. Electric guitarist Bear Erickson delivered thoughtful, imaginative solos on a pair of classics, “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix in the first set and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison in the second.
Phillips used his clear, supple voice to great effect on “Kathy’s Song” by Simon and Garfunkel and to lead the audience in sing-alongs on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “The Parting Glass,” which has become the group’s signature closing number. If you were ever in doubt about the vitality of our city’s homegrown music scene, here’s your answer. The circle is unbroken.