Phil Keaggy: “Yes, There is such a note.”

February 10, 2013

Judging by the size of the crowd in the back room performance area of Nashville’s World Music store, it’s hard to believe that the man taking the stage is a seven-time recipient of the GMA Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year and twice nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album. The seating is limited to sold-out crowd of 100. Performing his one man show is Phil Keaggy, Christian musician and undeniable legend of guitar.

To say that Phil Keaggy is a good guitar player is something of an injustice to the man’s ability. He is commonly ranked among the top three finger-style and finger-picking guitarists in the world, but that is only a portion of what makes the man so incredible to listen to and to watch.
Phil took the stage, wasting no time of the hour and a half he planned for his set, jumping right in to a frenzy of acoustic guitar that can only be described as awe-inspiring. His finger work is almost difficult to comprehend as he strings notes together in a delicate series of tones that resonate to fill the entire room.


The stage in front of him is filled with pedals, which he continually plays with, using loops and delays to create what any rational person would assume is a quartet of guitarists playing together. Phil used his setup to create rhythm behind his playing, throwing loops of harmonics and pseudo-bass lines into the mix, and even shouting and singing into the body of his acoustic, laying tracks of his voice down with the rest to create his own harmony with. He did this without missing a single beat and kept a smile on his face through the entire show. It’s refreshing to see any performer who seems to enjoy their work quite as much as Phil Keaggy does.

One of the incredible things about Keaggy’s performance is his transformation of a cover. Most artists are well-accustomed to spinning their own take on a famous song, but Keaggy goes far beyond that. Half way through the set Keaggy calls a friend, Mike Pachelli, to the stage to perform a few songs together, leading in with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love.’ It is truly astonishing how Keaggy can take something as comparatively simple as a Dylan song and turn it into something so rich and layered. He utilized the skills and techniques he is known for but did so in such a way that he didn’t overpower Pachelli’s playing. The two blended their sounds together to create something new and complex, but simultaneously recognizable as the original song.

There is a noted playfulness as Keaggy continued the performance. He launched into a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Take My Love With You,” which he prefaced by saying he had “learned this yesterday,” expressing, tongue-in-cheek, that at his age it takes a little while to learn a song, earning ripples of laughter from the audience. His performance of the song, much like his cover of Bob Dylan, was unique, flawless, and showed no indication of unfamiliarity with the song whatsoever. The same unique exploration of the sound was present in a later cover of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”
There is emotion in the sound that Keaggy creates. He prefaced a later song, entitled “Let Everything Go,” by telling a short anecdote about riding his bike and chasing hot air balloons on a sunny day. As the last notes of the symphony he alone created floated through the air, it’s almost impossible not to feel as though you yourself are standing in the sun, watching those balloons float away into the sky. It’s an awe-inspiring experience, to say the least.

Time flies by when you’re watching someone as enthralling as Keaggy perform. Before we know it, 90 minutes has passed and the set ends. Phil approaches the mike, thanks the audience for attending, and makes a simple request that the crowd help support the Blood Water Mission in their efforts to combat water crises in Africa by buying an album, from which a portion of the sales will go directly to help missions overseas.

Naturally, none of the audience wants to leave without hearing more. The performance is personal, and when the request is made, Phil graciously accepted and approached the mic again to perform a song titled “True Believers.” There is nothing held back. He purposefully and wonderfully combines trapping, high-flying moments and more traditional acoustic styles. Coming back again to his light-hearted nature, on the last chord of the song, his fingers stretched like a circus contortionist over the frets of the guitar, he looked up at the audience, smiled and said, “Yes, there is such a note,” and finished.

At his heart, Phil Keaggy is purely a man of God. His humility onstage and simple enjoyment of the sounds he can make are inspiring enough. It’s fair and fitting to call his sound ‘divine.” If there is any proof that there is a God, it’s that someone so imbued with the message he believes can create something so beautiful as a result. Maybe God decided it was high time to break into the music business. –Jordan Frye, Contributing Writer