It was in Savannah where Phillip Phillips began his path to "American Idol" fame.

Now the singer/songwriter is returning Nov. 8 to headline the fourth annual Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Marathon & Half Marathon finish line concert. Cranford Hollow will open for Phillips.

Musical talent runs in the family.

"My mom plays piano and also sings Sunday at church," Phillips says. "Both my sisters sing beautifully.

"I was the late bloomer," he says. "I started playing guitar at 14, but didn't start singing until I was 18."

Phillips' brother-in-law was his inspiration.

"He was dating my sister at the time," Phillips says. "He would come visit every now and then.

"He played the guitar sometimes, and it inspired me to take up the guitar. It took off from there.

"I'd listen to music all the time," he says. "I taught myself and fell in love with it."

The moment he first picked up a guitar, Phillips knew he had to do something in music. He played locally, then auditioned for "American Idol" in Savannah, earning a ticket to Los Angeles and eventually winning the entire competition.

"For the big break, 'Idol' was great," Phillips says. "It's a great platform. There are so many things that could not have happened without 'Idol.'

"It wasn't so much being an idol. I never watched the show.

"I've gotten to do some amazing things because of 'Idol,'" he says. "But you've got to work hard."

One of the most exciting things to happen since Phillips won was the opportunity to open for John Mayer and Bruce Springsteen.

"Walking out in front of 90,000 people was unreal," Phillips says. "I was terrified. I thought I was going to puke.

"But then the whole crowd started singing every song with me," he says. "It was definitely an honor."

Phillips writes all the songs he performs.

"I write about life, experiences," he says. "Sometimes it's from my imagination, but when I think about it, it is something I've gone through, or it might be about a friend."

A native of Albany, Phillips spends his down time at home.

"I'm not doing anything," he says. "I'm just being lazy. I'm good at that, too."

But Phillips also uses the time to work on his music.

"I'm always kind of practicing," he says. "I'm always fiddling on the guitar, trying to write new things. Sometimes, it's more serious than others."

Phillips has a new album out called "Behind the Light."

"It's got more energy and is more on the rock side of things," he says. "It's got this harmony about it that's really nice.

"It's an honest album that transcends well live," Phillips says. "The crowd has been digging the songs. It's been a lot of fun."

Although it was his singing that earned Phillips his "American Idol" title, he considers himself a guitar player first. He's looking forward to returning to Savannah where his journey began.

"I want to see people dancing on the ground and having some fun," he says.

Promoters call the Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Marathon "a 26-mile block party."

This year's marathon will be Nov. 6-9 and will feature two new challenges: 5k and 1-mile races on Sunday afternoon. Online registration is still open at

The event will include two days of running with the marathon and half marathon on Saturday and the new 5K, 1-mile and KiDS ROCK Savannah races set for Sunday at Daffin Park. Both the 5K and 1-mile races will finish inside Grayson Stadium.

"Our primary goal is to give runners a memorable weekend experience," says event manager Erica Wood. "With many of Savannah's best bands set to perform along the course and two new challenges for runners to take this year, 2014 is shaping up to be one of our best events yet. There is still time to register to get in on the fun."

Each running event will include a post-race beer garden, entertainment along the course and a finish line celebration party.

Marathon weekend kicks off with a free Health & Fitness Expo on Nov. 6 and 7 at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center. The expo is open to the public and will feature running products, services and free samples from fitness experts.

The main event on Saturday will start downtown at City Hall and wind through the Historic District, finishing at Forsyth Park, where the finish line concert will take place. More than 17,000 participants are expected.

Along the route will be 16 stages. A total 23 local and regional bands will perform on those stages throughout the race.

One of the bands is Leeward Fate, based in Raleigh, N.C.

"We play in Savannah every year for the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon," says band member Tom Miller. "We just released our third album, 'No Ordinary Kind.'"

The band has been together about six years. In addition to Miller, Daniel Nickels and Richard McCorkell are band members, and Jim Hill helps out when the band is touring.

Nickels lives in Savannah, so the band members meet in Raleigh for one week a month between tours.

"We're rock, pop and original rock pop," Miller says.

The band members wrote most of the songs on the new album.

"We wrote most of it in North Carolina as well as Savannah," Miller says. "It came out in July. There's a song in there called 'Georgia' that is somewhat of an anthem, of sorts."

There are 10 songs in all on the album.

"We worked on it for close to a year and a half," Miller says. "We come out with an album every two years."

The band has played the marathon every year since its inception in 2011.

"The biggest reason we play it is it's probably because of all the charities involved," Miller says. "And seeing a person have this personal goal and achieve it through running is rewarding.

"We also do it for the people on the sidelines supporting them," he says. "The best reason for me personally was something that happened the first time we played the race."

The band had just finished up and was packing the gear.

"The runners had already gone by," Miller says. "Some were walking it. I looked up and saw the two cars at the end that make sure everyone is off the road.

"And then I see this person running. This guy's a quarter mile away.

"When he gets closer I see he's a double amputee, with prosthetic ski legs," Miller says. "We could tell he was in excruciating pain."

The band members immediately got the equipment back out.

"We set the drums back up and everybody plugged back in," Miller says. "We played 'Land Down Under' by Men At Work.

"The runner picked up a little bit. We found out later he was a Gulf War veteran.

"It's people like that who are why we do this," Miller says. "He was overcoming his personal impairment to reach his objective."