Woodbury piano man makes debut at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre
Phil Thompson is a pretty dapper dude. The Woodbury vocalist/pianist usually sports a suit and tie. He styles his hair and evidently owns a razor. In his Man About Town segment on WCCO-TV, he’s a suave tour guide to weekend happenings around the Twin Cities.
Thompson has performed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand in Macau and the US Open Tennis Tournament in New York. He’s played on cruise ships in Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and Alaska.
But beneath the show-biz sheen lurks a Rhinestone Cowboy. July 14-15, he’ll make his debut at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres with “Legends of Country.”
Thompson and a band of crack players will perform the tribute concert, which features classic songs by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Hank Williams, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks.
“For me what resonates with music is telling a story,” Thompson said. “I grew up listening to country music. That’s why I love country music the stories in it are so vivid and relatable.”
I love being able to tell stories with music whether it's love ballads or Lionel Richie or Michael Buble.”
As a teenager in Woodbury, country music was something of a soundtrack to his life.
“I remember cruising around with the windows down, listening to Alan Jackson,” he said.
Thompson began playing piano at age 4. He attended Woodbury Elementary and Middle School where he played in talent shows and coffee houses.
But Thompson didn’t start singing until his senior year at Woodbury High School. He joined the school choir, whose director, Daryl Timmer, imparted some life-changing advice.
“He said, ‘Hey, if you can play piano and sing it will open up a lot of new doors,’“ Thompson recalls. “I think a lot of the guy. Daryl Timmer was a great teacher, very patient. He kind of gave me the fundamentals of singing.”
Still, a career as a musician seemed kind of dicey. After graduating Woodbury High School in 2003, he did the sensible thing and studied entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota.
“I thought if I made music my profession it would kill the passion I had for it,” he said. “If it was my job I would end up hating it.”
He worked in investment banking, working 60-70 hours a week. That, he hated. He’d come home, exhausted and play the piano to decompress.
“I guess a light bulb kind of went off,” he said. “ I was sitting at the piano after a long day at work. I thought ‘Gee, maybe making this my profession wouldn’t be the worst thing.’”
Wedding and corporate gigs led to others, including performances at the Rogers Cup in Toronto the Atlanta Open tennis championship the Shanghai Rolex Masters and China Open.
After five years in Los Angeles, he returned to Woodbury, where he owns a home with his wife, Maria Vizuete.
“It’s been great to be home,” he said. “In Los Angeles we didn’t feel it was a community.”
While living on the West Coast, Thompson still maintained ties with the Twin Cities. He organized an annual charity CD titled “A Minnesota Holiday” that featured seasonal recordings by Thompson and fellow Minnesota artists such Kat Perkins, Brian Setzer, The Blenders and Nicholas David. The CDs, which are sold at Kowalski’s and on iTunes, have raised nearly $400,000 for charities such as Be The Match, Union Gospel Mission and Second Harvest Heartland. Volume Nine is set for release in the fall.
If you go:
Legends of Country starring Phil Thompson runs 8 p.m. July 14 and 15 at the Fireside Theatre at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, 501 West 78th Street, Chanhassen. Admission is $40 for show only, $55 for show and dinner. For more information, call 800-362-3515 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org