It’s early Sunday afternoon, April 14, at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival campground and not everyone has recovered from the night before.
But Susan and Eric Phillips were ready to go. With Eric on guitar and Susan on tambourine, the pair made their way from campsite to campsite bringing a little musical sunshine to the bleary-eyed festival goers, playing original numbers like “I’m Special,” “Devils” and Susan’s favorite: “Mommy and Daddy.”
The “Mommy” here is Susan, 70, who experienced Coachella for the first time this weekend with her son Eric, 43, who’s been 10 times. “It’s kind of like my happy place,” Eric said.
Because of that, they say Weekend 1 was prime mother-son bonding time for a pair that have always been brought together by music. The invite started as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion from Susan that Eric should bring her next time — he was totally on board.
While Susan was definitely one of the older people at the festival, where even Eric’s peers are easily outnumbered by twenty somethings, the duo fit right in rocking out to Childish Gambino in onesies or donning bedazzled looks — and found a community of people that spanned generations and backgrounds.
“The thing I’m most surprised about is how courteous and generous all my neighbors are,” Susan said at her campsite. “My neighbor over here is bringing me stuff to wear at night, this one is getting me all glammed up.
“I’m gonna hate to go back to reality where people don’t talk to you.”
Phillsy Philz and His Mom
For Susan, reality is back in The Villages, Florida, where she moved with her husband after retiring from her job as an office manager in Pennsylvania. Eric lives in Las Vegas with his wife and their blended family (six kids total) and teaches sixth-grade math.
Music has always been their thing, Susan and Eric say. Eric traces it back to 1979 in the back seat of his parents’ car: “I remember singing ‘I made it through the rain,’” breaking into a line from Barry Manilow’s song of the same name.
They first took their musical talents to a bigger stage two decades ago when Eric, who has always played in local bands, decided to team up with Susan for performances at bars near their hometown as Phillsy Philz and His Mom.
They broke out songs from those gigs at the campground Sunday and were most recently on stage at a Vegas bar about a year ago. They describe their music as “weird folk songs,” while their performances are just as wonderfully odd — dressing up as tennis or baseball players and swapping outfits mid-set.
Here are mom-and-son duo Susan, 70, and Eric, 43, with “Devils.” It’s his 10th and her first Coachella — but music has always been a big part of their lives as you can tell. pic.twitter.com/7Ktkzuc12b
— Chris Lindahl (@cmlindahl) April 14, 2019
“Eric likes to do a lot of crazy things when he performs and I just fit right in,” Susan said.
Susan says she mostly listens to music from the 1960s, so she needed help getting up to speed with the Coachella lineup — she needed to learn the songs so she should sing along at the festival, after all. Eric stepped in with a playlist.
Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” and Sophie’s “Lemonade” quickly became some of Susan’s favorites: “It’s a quirky song that I fell in love with,” Susan said of “Lemonade.”
“We’re excited today for Lizzo, that’s the big one,” Eric said Sunday afternoon. “We’re going to try to get right up front.”
For Tame Impala and Childish Gambino, the onesie-clad duo were seated in the section for people with disabilities — Susan used a wheelchair pushed by Eric to make traveling long distances at the festival a little easier.
They were one of the last people at Tame Impala, who performed a psychedelic set complete with lasers at the main stage Saturday night. “The visuals were amazing,” Susan said.