With a little help from his friends
● By Richard Gaw
For two consecutive nights last week, the Kennett Flash was the scene of a sold-out spiritual gathering, with all of the informality of a pass-the-guitar hootenanny. It was a two-night retreat of tears, smiles and remembrances, and even though the man for whom all of this love was given was not there, his presence was all over the room.
On April 24 and 25, two dozen musicians celebrated the life of singer/songwriter Billy Penn Burger by opening up his extensive music catalog and ripping through two 21-song, two-set concerts that drew overflow audiences on both nights.
In between songs, several musicians reflected on the man they called “ a selfless musician,” “a generous friend” and someone “who touched all of our lives.”
Concert organizers said that the first show sold out in days – several people were turned away – which created a need for a second show, which also quickly sold out and required the Flash to add additional seats. Planning for these shows began last November to serve as a tribute to Burger, who died on Jan. 6, 2018. Although the twist of fate led to these shows being a celebration of Burger's life, and not just his songs, musician Dennis Melton said that the concerts are proof that a person's artistic contributions last forever.
“Just about all of the people involved in these shows have added Billy's songs to their concert and recording repertoire,” Melton said. “Many of the people involved have gotten to know Billy's music all the more through the preparation for these concerts. For me, I have focused on his songs in a way that I never did before – the meaning of the stories, the depths of his emotions, and the simple twists of his songs.”
Before the start of the second show, Burger's daughter, Rae Wixom, admired the sold-out audience that occupied nearly every corner of the venue. “I think my dad would have been honored and humbled by the turnout, and from the beautiful memories that are coming from these shows,” she said. “It's really the only way to celebrate his life. Other than our family, music was my father's entire world. He was happiest playing, and I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and hear my father playing his guitar.”
Before he kicked in to Burger's “In Love This Way,” musician John Lilley reflected on the moment he rekindled his friendship with Burger, who had largely abandoned music at the time of their reunion in order to focus on other obligations. Lilley spoke about how much he enjoyed Burger's songs, and how he encouraged him to pick up the guitar again, to write and perform.
“[Billy's] heart has made me a better person and his heart made all of you here better as well, because he touched all of our lives,” Lilley said. “That's what Billy was about, and he had all of that.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.