Best Seat in the House

For new WAC Chairman Phil Abbess, the good times keep rolling

By Darrick Meneken  |  Photos by Dave Estep

Phil Abbess joined the WAC two decades ago. In that time, he’s become one of the Club’s most recognizable faces, immersing himself in member leadership as well as many clubs within the Club. When those who know him think of Phil, two words generally come to mind—good times!

It’s Saturday night and Phil Abbess, the WAC’s new Chairman of the Board, is standing across the street from CenturyLink Field. Upstairs, wife Michelle is hosting a few friends for pre-concert drinks on the rooftop deck of The Wave, a shiny condo building on the south edge of Pioneer Square. Phil and Michelle, along with 18-month-old daughter Sophia, live in West Seattle, but a friend offers his place here when the couple needs a quick hangout. Dressed in Levi’s, a gray T-shirt, boots, and a baseball cap, Phil leads the way upstairs.

“It’s going to be the best suite in the house,” he says. “Fifty people. Kenny Chesney. The environment is going to be ripe.” It’s still a few hours before Chesney takes the stage, but the rooftop pre-party has begun.

Phil knows good concert seats like few others. As co-owner of Flame Productions, he and a business partner hold the exclusive rights to produce Live Nation events in a three-state area. Among his friends, Phil is the guy to call when they need seats. Tonight, it’s Chesney, the current king of country music, along with Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett—headliners in their own right. “Country knows how to do it,” Phil says. “Stack up the acts, pay everyone, and sweep up the money.”

Phil took over as WAC Chairman on August 1. At 43 years old, he’s the youngest person to hold the role since Rob Dunlop (2009–2010). He’s also quite likely one of the most socially connected people you’ll ever meet. When he’s not securing private suites to sold-out shows, he’s hosting a couple hundred of his closest friends at tailgate parties outside Seahawk and Husky football games. “I just love people and bringing people together,” he says. “That’s also one of the reasons I love the WAC so much. I tell people how great the Club is all the time. Once they experience it, membership really sells itself.”

Backstory

Phil’s WAC story began in 1998 during his final year at Western Washington University. His roommate at the time was a professional handball player being recruited by the Club. Phil was his doubles partner. They joined together.

“The tour pros affectionately referred to my off-hand as a rusty gate,” he says. “It was pretty much worthless.”

Phil quit playing handball a decade ago. By then, he was entrenched in the WAC, serving on multiple committees, joining the 20s/30s group for dozens of events, serving as a pit boss in the Jubilee casino, and playing in the WAC basketball league and with the Golf Club.

“Phil has been significantly involved in WAC governance for well over a decade,” WAC President & CEO Chuck Nelson says. “He has experienced and contributed to all the WAC is about—a full-service social, fitness, and professional club. The WAC team is excited to work with him to continue to push the Club forward.”

A few years ago, Phil even earned a sommelier designation with the WAC Wine Club. “Now everyone thinks I know what I’m doing,” he jokes.

One of Phil’s best WAC memories happened in 2007 when his name was announced as the winner of the Jubilee grand prize, a new Mercedes. “It was a pretty big evening,” he recalls. “My parents were here. That was pretty special.”

Phil used to attend 100-plus concerts a year—from small club events to stadium shows and festivals at the Gorge Amphitheatre. In 2003, he and two friends purchased the production company from the former manager of Queensrÿche. The ownership group is now down to two.

“We have the exclusive contract to provide concert production services for Live Nation in Washington, Oregon and Idaho,” Phil says. “Back in the day, it was like having two jobs as we were figuring out what was going on. Now it’s so mature, and my partner is so good at it, I’m not in the trenches anymore.” He still enjoys the benefits of deep connections in the music industry and now attends about 30 shows a year.

“Music brings people together,” he says.

Early years

Phil was born and raised in Los Angeles. Both parents worked in medicine, and the family moved to Bellingham the summer before Phil started high school. “My parents grew tired of the traffic and populace,” Phil says. “It was a little bit of a hit from riding my bike down the storm drains to the beach.”

Phil attended Sehome High School and stayed hyperlocal for college at Western Washington University. On the south end of Sehome Hill, his high school and college campuses abut.

Phil’s parents are now both retired and still live in Bellingham. Every December, Phil gifts them two Jubilee tickets and a night at the Inn at the WAC. “They look forward to it every year,” he says. “That’s always a special night.” Phil’s lone sibling, older brother Russell, lives in Virginia.

After graduating from Western with an accounting degree, Phil took a summer off to race mountain bikes before moving to Seattle to begin his career. He worked for public accounting firms downtown and in Bellevue, including for a large international firm, before going out on his own with Abbess Consulting a couple of years ago. “All my clients are friends,” he says. “Which is awesome.”

Many of them are also WAC members. When he’s working downtown, Phil can usually be found in the WAC Café, Voogd Library, or Torchy’s or Hagerty’s. “I meet clients at the Club all the time,” he says. He also spends time at the Club working toward a master’s degree from the University of Washington. “I like to say the WAC is my office,” he says.

Finding love

It’s often said that WAC membership fosters business and social connections. The Club has also led to many romances, including that of Michelle and Phil Abbess. Michelle, the WAC’s former Director of Member Services, and Phil began seeing each other in 2012. Early WAC dates included Curling 101 and Tubing & Brews.

They spent much of 2013 traveling—to Las Vegas for New Year’s, Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and Spain for the running of the bulls, among other European stops. A year later, during a trip to Puerto Morelos, just south of Cancún, Phil knelt on one knee and proposed. The following July, they exchanged vows in a ceremony attended by many WAC members.

“Everything’s a highlight,” Phil says, looking back on his first 20 years of WAC membership. “But meeting Michelle, that’s the best.”

The couple welcomed Sophia Clarene Abbess into their lives in March 2017. “As far as how I use the Club to work out, that hasn’t really changed,” Phil says. “I usually use Men’s Fitness on the 5th Floor or play basketball.” His social use has remained consistent, as well, with one key difference. “Now we can drop Sophia off at WeeWACs,” he says.

Phil and Michelle, along with friend Cal McAllister, a veteran of the Seattle creative agency world and a WAC member, also started a business venture together. Near the end of this year, they plan to publish a celebrity chef cookbook, Chemo Kitchen, that will bring delicious recipes to cancer patients, many of whom experience changes in their taste during treatment.

Says Phil: “The concept is, let the doctors fight the war—we want to help you win a battle.”

Good times!

Regarding those tailgate parties we mentioned earlier. About 10 years ago, Phil and some friends bought an old ambulance to convert into a pregame headquarters. They had it wrapped in Seahawk and Husky colors and outfitted it for its new life in the parking lot outside games. Phil’s pregame parties have become so popular that Anheuser-Busch now sponsors the ambulance.

“It’s a great setup,” Phil smiles. “There’s a couple of 50-inch televisions to watch the games while we’re tailgating. It’s really a community. I’ve met a lot of people through it.”

You’ll find Phil at most home games during the fall, and he often flies to the Super Bowl no matter who’s playing. All told, he’s been to the big game seven times, including all three with the Seahawks.

As our night at the concert nears an end, Phil looks up from a conversation and out toward the stage. Kenny Chesney is singing one of those feel-good songs that have gained him cross-generational popularity. Nearby, a couple of moms free from their kids for the night are dancing in the suite, waving their arms and singing out loud. Phil smiles. “This is what it’s all about,” he says. “People out having a good time.”

Which is how he wants people to think of the WAC, too. “There’s so much to do,” he says. “It’s more than working out and leaving. The key to being an engaged member is exploring the Club. If I can accomplish one thing during my year as Chairman, I want to help members understand that.”

—Darrick Meneken is Content Director at the Washington Athletic Club. Reach him at dmeneken@wac.net.

As published in the September/October issue of WAC Magazine

—Posted August 31, 2018

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