A lot of folks know Josh Phillips’ raspy-rich voice and the soulful optimism of his band, Josh Phillips Folk Festival. But didya know he’s also a champion ping-pong player?

Phillips won a regional ping-pong tourney last month, part of the Bud Lite Hard Bat Ping Pong Tournament. He played two nights and beat 10 people in the single-elimination challenge. Now Budweiser’s flying Phillips and his girlfriend to Las Vegas in late June to compete for $100,000 – and putting them up at the Venetian hotel for three nights. What are his odds? Spork asked.

What you might not have known about soulful Folk Festival frontman Josh Phillips. Photo by Jonathan Welch

“No matter what happens, I'm super excited about the trip and have a lot of good friends coming to cheer me on,” Phillips says. “I definitely think it’s funny to hold a sporting event in such a party city, but I am determined to stay focused and play well. I might stay an extra day or two to party a little bit, and possibly play a couple of shows.”

Turns out Phillips was a ping-pong prodigy in his early years. He got started at the prime age of 6 (at his home in Long Island), and apparently had some serious skills – he traveled around the country playing in tournaments until he was 12. He had coaches from Russia, Nigeria and Yugoslavia, and won more than 200 tourneys and medals, including the gold medal in the Junior Olympics (his dad bought him a Super Nintendo as a reward).

“You have to be a wall,” Phillips says. “Return everything; let nothing by you.”

Phillips gave up ping pong because he got bored with it, he said, and that’s when he picked up the guitar. We’re glad he did, or we wouldn’t get to hear the Folk Festival at the Grey Eagle on Wednesday, June 3 — a guaranteed positive, booty-shakin’ goodtime. Folk sensations Now You See Them open. More info at www.joshphillipsfolk.com. Check out vids of Phillips winning the match at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZjG03cc100.

Phillips, humble as ever, says he doesn’t really know if he’s going to have a chance at winning. He expects cutthroat competition, and he’s training for the match. ESPN will air it in September.

So we wanted to know, are there similarities between ping pong and rock music?

“The women,” Phillips says with a wink.

In other offbeat tournament news, the U.S. Air Guitar Championships will be at the Orange Peel on Sunday, May 31. The competition travels to 25 cities and eventually ends up with one winner. Yes it’s serious, and in that, yes, it’s funny. More info at www.usairguitar.com.

Other Worthy Mentions No. 1: The Carolina Lane Arts Festival is Saturday, May 30, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’ll be on Carolina Lane and Chicken Alley and will feature many delights, such as a thrift and craft market (seems you can’t swing a yoga teacher without hitting one of those these days), live music from The Ventricles, Sys-Hex and Ash Divine, silent auctions, live mural painting, new media, folk art and graffiti art and a buncha other cool stuff. Carolina Lane keeps it real with a block party of sorts.

Worthy Mention No. 2: Flat-pickin’ legend Larry Keel walks it on in to White Horse Black Mountain for a show with his band Natural Bridge. White Horse is winning accolades for being a fantastic place to hear live music, and Keel with his astonishing acoustic power always puts on a mighty fine show.

Worthy Mention No. 3: If you didn’t get enough high-energy music at the Mountain Sports Festival, head on over to the afterparty Saturday night, May 30, at the Rocket Club. Brit-pop-esque band Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings open, followed by Asheville’s Due Panic and capped off with the dynamic Jen and the Juice. Tix $10.

Got random and useful news for Spork? E-mail ae@mountainx.com.


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