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Kansas City's Irish Band The Elders Announces COVID-Related Death of Guitarist Steve Phillips

Steve Phillips (left) was known for his great on-stage energy.
Brian Rice
Steve Phillips (left) was known for his great on-stage energy.

Family, friends, and fans of Kansas City’s iconic Irish rock band The Elders are mourning the loss of the group’s multi-instrumentalist Steve Phillips, who died from COVID-19 complications on September 29.

The Elders’ Facebook page is lit up with thousands of emojis depicting tears and hearts, and hundreds of comments about Phillips’ generosity of spirit, musical talent, on-stage energy and genuinely kind nature.

Dan Regan, longtime friend and one of the co-founders of Kansas City Irish Fest, says Phillips was “just a quality, good guy. We don’t have enough of them and it’s really sad to lose one.”

According to Regan, Phillips had been in hospice for about a week before he passed away.

The musician had pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung disease characterized by scarring of the lung tissue which slowly decreases a person’s ability to breath.

“What I understand is that the COVID combined with the pulmonary fibrosis was just too much; the combination of the two wasn’t survivable,” Regan says.

The Elders' Steve Phillips passed away on Tuesday.
Brian Rice
The Elders' Steve Phillips passed away on Tuesday.

Phillips and his bandmates formed The Elders in 1998. For years they were a local pub band until their involvement with Irish Fest led them to join the national Irish Fest circuit. Eventually, they toured internationally and released 10 albums.

In the early 1980s, Phillips was part of rock trio Steve, Bob and Rich, later called The Rainmakers, which also recorded and toured internationally.

“As far as his musical legacy goes, he’s best known as part of The Elders now, but with Steve, Bob and Rich and The Rainmakers, Steve is an internationally well-known and respected musician,” Regan says.

Though best known as a guitarist, Phillips also played the mandolin and sang. He brought a rock and roll sensibility to The Elders from his earlier bands.

Regan says, “In his other bands he had really been a Kansas City music legend for years before The Elders even got started. The quality of his musicianship and his songwriting was some of the best I’d ever heard.”

The band played in events that led up to the inception of Kansas City Irish Fest, and during the inaugural festival in 2003. They played every year until what they billed as their farewell performance in 2018, though that same year they also headlined the Plaza lighting ceremony and a New Year’s Eve show.

In addition to his friends, fans, and the broader Kansas City music community, Phillips leaves behind his wife, Becky, children, and grandchildren.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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