Few music groups have been able to sustain a fan base as passionate and dedicated as that of Phish, and this entertaining guide rewards those fans with everything they need to know about the band in a one-of-a-kind format. Packed with history, trivia, lists, little-known facts, and must-do adventures that every Phish fan should undertake, it ranks each item from one to 100, providing an indispensable, engaging road map for devotees old and new.
About the Author
Andy P. Smith is a writer, entrepreneur, and marketing consultant who has been attending Phish shows for more than 20 years. He is the Arts Editor at Greenpointers.com, founder of PhanSite.com, and the author of The Last American Gypsy: Chronicles of Phish Tour 2004. His writing has also appeared in JamBase.com, FreeWilliasmburg.com, Quartz, Vice, and The Village Voice, among other publications. Over the years, he has produced content for Wieden+Kennedy, The United Colors of Benetton, MINI, PBS, and the Northside Festival. As an avid music lover and impresario, he has booked shows and DJ’d gigs all over the country, continually seeking out new sounds and music communities worldwide. He has degrees from NYU and Pratt Institute and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and their weird dog, Luigi. You can find him on social media at @apsmithnyc or through www.apsmith.nyc.Jason Gershuny has photographed and written about concerts and festivals since 1999 for a variety of music news media outlets including but not limited to Jambase Magazine, Glide Magazine, and Billboard Mobile Beat. During that time he has covered a variety of festivals including High Sierra Music Festival, The Northwest String Summit, and The Portland Blues Festival. He has also reviewed and shot photographs for individual concerts such as Phish, moe., and String Cheese Incident. He has reviewed albums and interviewed various musicians such as George Porter Jr., Steve Kimock, and Karl Denson for publication. Outside of the musical journalism realm, he was the Oregon team Leader for the national voter registration organization Headcount for more than a decade. He attended the University of Buffalo, graduated from the University of Arizona with an undergraduate degree in Sociology, and received his Master’s degree in teaching from Lewis and Clark College. Since first seeing Phish in 1993 in a dusty fairgrounds in upstate NY, he has seen them more than 200 times. He lives with in Portland, Oregon, with his loving wife, Mindy, his precious daughter, Izabella, and his two cats, Luke and Leia. He has been a social studies teacher in a variety of grade levels for more than 15 years.Mike Greenhaus is co-Editor-in-Chief of Relix magazine.
Read an Excerpt
Four (or Five or Six) Dudes in Vermont
What is Phish? On its surface, that seems like an easy question to answer. But Phish is certainly more than the sum of its parts.
Phish is a band, a progressive rock fusion jazz psych jam band with a fervent following, performing live shows across America never repeating a single set, constantly exploring the vast possibilities within musical performance. To laymen, "Phish is kinda like the Grateful Dead, right?" But that's just uneducated presupposition, kind of like saying, "All pizza tastes the same."
Phish is surprising. Phish is inspiring. Phish is a community, a culture, a vibe. Phish is an institution, a religion, a kingdom, a world unto its own. Phish is a misspelling, a Secret Language, a middle-aged man wearing a muumuu. Phish is a vagabond circus, a classically trained pandemonium. Phish is a live performance, a jam, a journey.
But more literally, Phish is an American band formed in Vermont in 1983. Led by guitarist Trey Anastasio (b. 1964), Phish includes Mike Gordon (b. 1965) on bass, Jon Fishman (b. 1965) on drums, and Page McConnell (b. 1963) on keyboards.
The initial group included Jeff Holdsworth on guitar and vocals and briefly Marc Daubert on percussion. While Holdsworth was very much a cofounder of the band with Anastasio and penned a number of songs still included in Phish's repertoire ("Possum," "Camel Walk"), he left the band in 1986 after visiting Alaska and experiencing a spiritual awakening.
While Page McConnell, Phish's keyboardist, is undoubtedly vital to the sound of the group, he was not an original member of the band. He joined Phish in 1985, making Phish a five-piece group until Holdsworth left the band, thus cementing the Phish lineup that has remained unchanged for more than 30 years.
Ernest "Trey" Joseph Anastasio III, aka Big Red, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and soon moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where he and his sister, Kristy, came of age. Both of his parents worked in education, his father as an executive of the Educational Testing Service and his mother as a children's book author and editor at Sesame Street magazine. Anastasio attended public and private schools, graduating from The Taft School, a private prep academy in Connecticut, where he met collaborators Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life (see chapter 10). It was at that time he formed his first bands, Red Tide and Space Antelope. He then enrolled at the University of Vermont, initially as a philosophy major, where he posted a flyer seeking a bass player.
Michael Elliot Gordon, aka Cactus, was the bassist who answered the ad. Growing up in Massachusetts as the son of an abstract painter and a founder and CEO of a chain of convenience stores, Gordon also attended prominent high schools as a student. He enrolled at UVM as an electrical engineering major and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree — and a new band.
Jon Fishman, aka Henrietta, grew up in Syracuse, New York, where he started drumming at a very early age. He was quite accomplished by the time he graduated high school and moved to Vermont to attend UVM, where he joined Gordon, Anastasio, and Holdsworth to form the band, initially and briefly called Blackwood Convention. Then, of course, the band changed their name, making Fishman the eponymous member, with just a slightly different spelling.
Page Samuel McConnell, aka Leo, aka The Chairman of the Boards, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where he fastidiously studied the piano, playing in bands as early as middle school. His father, Dr. McConnell, worked in research and development at McNeil Laboratories, where he helped develop Tylenol and magnetic resonance testing. Page McConnell, like Anastasio, attended private prep academies, including a boarding school in Massachusetts, before attending Southern Methodist University in Texas. After two years he transferred to Goddard College in Vermont, where he would meet Anastasio, Gordon, and Fishman.
The band played their first gig at UVM on Friday, December 2, 1983 (see chapter 6). Phish's first gig to include Page McConnell was May 3, 1985. And the rest is history.
Over the decades, Phish has released 13 studio albums, hosted 10 weekend festivals, and played more than 1,600 shows. They've grossed hundreds of millions of dollars through album sales, live gigs, merchandise, webcasts, downloads, and films. And yet, Phish has never had a hit single, significant radio play, or mainstream accolades.
In 2000, they took a hiatus for a couple of years and then broke up for five years (chapter 75), and since returning in 2009, Phish has performed and toured regularly, though not as extensively as their prolific glory days in the 1990s. But many would say they're now playing as well as they ever have.
The Phish fan base is perhaps the only true link to The Grateful Dead, as both audiences embraced the counterculture lifestyle of living on the road, following the bands on tour from show to show, effectively building a traveling city with its own economy, rules, and traditions.
To that point, Phish is more than four dudes who met in college in Vermont. Phish have built something larger than themselves. Phish's grassroots growth is unprecedented, mainly due to their unique live performances. No two shows are the same.
Yes, Phish is a band, four musicians playing in a traditional rock band lineup of guitar, bass, drums, and keys. They've got it simple. But to say Phish is just a band is to miss the point entirely.
Phish is a cultural phenomenon, one that simply started with four (or five, or six) dudes in Vermont in the mid-1980s.CHAPTER 2
Career Overview and the Three Eras of Phish
Since the new millennium, we have seen many tech companies launch, update, and reboot their products by using decimal-based designations such as 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Whole-number jumps often signify huge changes to the product. Within the world of Phish, there are three distinct eras (1.0, 2.0, and 3.0) that signify different phases in the band's history. These segments are based on periods of touring and marked by the breaks between those phases.
The designation 1.0 refers to 1983 to 2000, 2.0 is 2003 to 2004, and 3.0 is 2009 to present.
The 1.0 era is considered by most die-hard fans as the pinnacle of Phish. Phish 1.0 refers to original Phish, from their first concert in the Harris-Millis Cafeteria at UVM on December 2, 1983, until the final note of the October 7, 2000, show at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California.
Prior to Page McConnell joining Phish in 1985, Phish actually had two other members in the band — Jeff Holdsworth, who was a guitarist at the band's inception until he left for good in 1986, and Marc Daubert, who was an official member of the band for a few months in the mid '80s. Finally, in May 1986, the familiar Phish lineup of Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman, and Page McConnell took shape.
For the next 14 years, Phish toured relentlessly, crisscrossing the nation, and at times, the world, traveling to Europe and Japan multiple times. They went from playing empty cafeterias to smoky bars to classic theaters to sold-out arenas and giant festivals. The miles, musical moments, and monster jams created a totally unique global Phish phenomenon.
Phish hit their self-proclaimed "high point" (as Trey, Mike, and Jon proclaimed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly) during the legendary Big Cypress Millennial Show in Florida during the New Year's run in 1999. Phish played two nights of incredible music, including a seven-plus-hour all-night set after the unofficial start of the new millennium. They felt they had created the greatest spectacle of their career, and were unsure where to go from there.
As Trey said to the Burlington Free Times, "For the first time, we had something [Big Cypress] we knew we couldn't out-do. Our whole career, we had been pushing this big, cool ball steadily uphill; not nine months after Big Cypress, it started to feel like it was starting to roll downhill."
In the fall of 2000, not nine months of Big Cypress, Phish announced they were going to take an indefinite "hiatus" as Trey penned a public letter explaining the motivation. Even though no time frame was given on the return, it was clearly worded to be a pause and not an end.
During the break, band members found a variety of outlets to keep their creative juices flowing. Side projects like the Trey Anastasio Band, Page McConnell's Vida Blue and the Spam All-Stars, Jon Fishman's Pork Tornado, and Mike Gordon's work on the movie Outside Out took the forefront of the band members' attention during the hiatus (see chapter 81).
Ultimately, the break didn't last long, and Phish returned after 26 months on December 31, 2002, at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Phish was back, and Phish 2.0 had officially begun. The tranquil opening notes of "Piper," built into a frenzied intensity, officially ringing in the new phase of Phish.
Phish 2.0 was brief, not quite 20 months, and was a time period known for some incredibly long and unique jams. As with any era of Phish, there were standout moments and shows that left the fans amazed, such as the It Festival, the legendary bust-out of "Destiny Unbound" at Nassau Coliseum in New York on February 28, 2003, and the bust-out-filled Star Lake show in Pennsylvania later that summer, on July 29, 2003.
But with all the good produced during Phish 2.0, under the surface, problems within the band were brewing. A series of infamously sloppy and uninspired shows in Las Vegas in 2004 made it clear that the band was not firing on all cylinders. Something was amiss.
A little more than a month after the Las Vegas shows, Trey sent a letter to the fans stating that he felt, in part, "Phish has run its course and that we should end it now while it's still on a high note." The end of Phish, or at least Phish 2.0, was at hand. They scheduled one final summer tour to say goodbye.
The final shows of Phish 2.0 took place at a festival in Coventry, Vermont. The intent was to have a giant final celebration of the band and their fans, but the weather leading up to the weekend and the lapses in the music left people feeling less than celebratory by the weekend's end (see chapter 86).
Unlike the end of Phish 1.0, this was a clearly defined breakup, not another hiatus. There was no guarantee that the band would ever get together again. In fact, Anastasio made it clear to everyone that this was indeed the end of Phish.
During the five-year breakup, the band members took some time away from the stage together, yet still found themselves engaged in creative solo projects and collaborations. Trey, Page, and Mike each had separate stints touring under their own names. In 2006, Trey and Mike teamed up with Joe Russo and Marco Benevento to form G.R.A.B. Trey also collaborated with some orchestras. Jon took on drumming duties for the Yonder Mountain String Band for a while. There were opportunities to see the band members play, just not necessarily together.
Yet the most important event of this time period was also one of the darkest moments of the band's history. In 2006, Trey Anastasio was arrested in Whitehall, New York, for misdemeanor drug possession, driving while under the influence of drugs, and aggravated unlicensed operation. Trey had hit rock bottom and acknowledged this when he spoke to the Washington County Felony Drug Court in June 2016.
"The night I got arrested, I couldn't go 10 minutes without taking something," Anastasio said. "Nine years later, I don't think about drinking or drugging anymore." He added that it was "a gift to get arrested and be put through the paces to get sober."
Trey Anastasio used his experience to become an advocate for drug recovery programs. When speaking on behalf of the importance of the drug courts on Capitol Hill in May 2009, Trey said, "My life had become a catastrophe. I had no idea how to turn it around. My band had broken up. I had almost lost my family. My whole life had devolved into a disaster. I believe that the police officer who stopped me at 3:00 that morning saved my life."
And so, by 2009, by his own accounts, Trey had regained his footing and was clean and sober, and the band members were ready to give Phish one more reboot.
After five years of nonexistence, Phish once again graced the stage. They chose the legendary Hampton Coliseum — "The Mothership" — in Hampton, Virginia, to start things off. The Phish 3.0 era was launched with one of the most epic moments in Phish history. When they walked onstage for the first time in nearly a half a decade, the audience erupted in joy. When they began the first few notes of the classic "Fluffhead" for the first time in more than eight years, the crowd went absolutely wild (see chapter 88).
Phish 3.0 is a revelation. Phish fans around the world "feel the feeling" that we once forgot, and the band continues to create incredible moments, runs of shows, and tours.
Phish 3.0 has had its own microevolutions and epic tours. Fans are once again discussing and debating which 3.0 run was the best (cough Summer 2015 or Baker's Dozen), or which Phish 3.0 jam was the deepest (cough cough "Tahoe Tweezer"). They are even daring to compare the all-time greatness of Big Cypress to the immense achievement of the 13-show Baker's Dozen residency (see chapter 13).
We are in a new, mature, and healthy age of Phish. Much of the fan base has grown up along with the band and is introducing the musical magic to an entire new generation of phans. Trey has written a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, Hands on a Hardbody, and Mike Gordon has become a front man of his own nationally touring Mike Gordon Band (M.G.B.). Jon Fishman was even elected to public office in Maine on the Lincolnville Board of Selectmen. They've released new albums and have continued their longstanding New Year's Eve and Halloween traditions, and have even started new traditions, such the annual Dick's Labor Day run of shows in Colorado.
Phish 3.0 is becoming an entity all its own and is now fully hitting its stride. With this newfound vibrancy and health, it seems the catchy lyrics of "Blaze On" can be seen as a mantra: "the worst days are gone, so now the band plays on, you got one life, blaze on." Apropos for a band that's been playing and creating together for more than 30 years, wouldn't you agree?CHAPTER 3
Influences and Inspiration
Needless to say, as characterized by Phish's multigenre musicality, its band members have drawn inspiration from a variety of predecessors. Phish is influenced by 1960s rock, '70s disco funk, '80s pop, and more.
In an interview with Charlie Rose in May 2004 to discuss the band's decision to break up, Anastasio also shared some thoughts about which great musicians inspired him to pursue the art himself. When asked about the comparison between Phish and the Grateful Dead, Anastasio said, "It's not true in the sense that [the Grateful Dead] is probably the greatest band in American history." He continued, "Well, I'm just going to talk about Jerry now... . I probably only saw two rock concerts that completely transported me; one was Bruce Springsteen in 1978, he was doing "Rosaletta," and every single person in the entire arena was locked to that guy. That made me want to be a musician. The other times were the first and second times when I saw The Dead. And what I saw was a guy — Oh no no, another one, Zappa. I saw Zappa a number of times and he was just as intense — but Jerry Garcia was an absolute wonder to behold. When he walked onstage, he had every single person in that room riding on his every eyebrow move. And I've never seen it again. And now I know that some time has gone by how lucky I was. He was such a great singer and such a great songwriter. And that's the thing I don't see people talking about as much. But when I saw the Dead what I saw was people singing along. And hanging on this guy's every inflection. And it was done with tremendous soul; he was the most soulful singer I've ever seen. There's never going to be the next Jerry Garcia. There's never going to be the next Grateful Dead."
Anastasio then goes on to herald Bill Monroe as the inventor of bluegrass music, as well as Frank Zappa and Little Feat's Lowell George.
But let's be honest here. Many of Phish's early shows — 1983, 1984, 1985 — featured Grateful Dead covers such as "Scarlett > Fire," "Eyes of the World," "Help Is on the Way," and "Slipknot!," among others, an undeniable influence on Phish's early years to say the least.
Page McConnell was also a Deadhead. In a 2008 interview with ABC, McConnell said, "When I would see [the Grateful Dead] in concert, it would be a different song every night that would be my favorite of the evening. It wasn't any one song in particular that kept me coming back."
McConnell continued to list influences, including The Allman Brothers' "Jessica" and a handful of songs by Elton John, specifically "Amoreena," which, McConnell said, "I think I heard for the first time when I saw Dog Day Afternoon."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "100 Things Phish Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"
Copyright © 2018 Andy P. Smith and Jason Gershuny.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Mike Greenbaus ix
1 Four (or Five or Six) Dudes in Vermont 1
2 Career Overview and the Three Eras of Phish 4
3 Influences and Inspiration 9
4 "You Enjoy Myself," aka Bring out the Trampolines! 12
5 Welcome to The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, aka Gamehendge 15
6 UVM and the First Gig: "Do You Know Any Flock of Seagulls?" 18
7 Know Your Jams: Type I vs. Type II 21
8 Jam Vehicles 23
9 CK5 27
10 Words and Lyrics: Tom Marshall and The Dude of Life 30
11 Building a Musical Costume: Halloween 1.0 34
12 Big Cypress: NYE 1999 42
13 The Baker's Dozen 47
14 Madison Square Garden 64
15 Junta (1989) 68
16 Dance Like No One Is Watching, aka Surrender to the Flow 70
17 Audience Participation (How Many Times Should I Clap in "Stash"?) 72
18 Phish and the Internet: Growing Up with the World Wide Web 74
19 NYE 1995: Gamehenge Time Machine at MSG 78
20 The Clifford Ball: A Beacon of Light in the World of Flight 81
21 Phish Destroys America and the Island Tour 83
22 The Grateful Dead/Phish Conundrum 86
23 Meet the Phans 90
24 Stroll Down Shakedown Street 96
25 Hit the Road, Do a Phish Tour 100
26 A Picture of Nectar (1992) 103
27 Chilling, Thrilling Ziggy Stardust 105
28 Great Cover Band or the Greatest Cover Band? 109
29 The Oh Kee Pa Ceremonies 111
30 From The Simpsons to the Super Bowl: Phish in Pop Culture 112
31 Side Projects 115
32 Dorm Room Demos: The White Tape(s) 120
33 Nectar's in Burlington: Come for the Phish, Stay for the Gravy Fries 122
34 Colorado '88 125
35 The Secret Language 127
36 Lawn Boy (1990) 130
37 Weaving and Teasing 133
38 Amy's Farm, August 3, 1991 135
39 Paul Languedoc and the Instruments 137
40 Rift (1993) 139
41 NYE 1991-1994 140
42 Bittersweet Motel 145
43 Podcasts: Analyze Phish, Helping Friendly Podcast, and Under the Scales 147
44 Gear Up: Essentials for Phish Shows 150
45 Thank a Taper, aka Blanks and Postage 152
46 Visit Red Rocks 154
47 Phish Playing in the Elements 157
48 Hoist (1994) 159
49 Hanging with the Band, aka Bedroom Jam Sessions 162
50 "Auld Lang Syne" > Balloon Bombardment > "DWD" 165
51 Run, O.J., Run 167
52 Phish in Billboard Charts 170
53 A Live One (1995) 172
54 Deer Creek, Alpine Valley, Great Woods: The Great American Barns 175
55 Couch Tour 178
56 The WaterWheel Foundation: Phish Giving Back 180
57 Analog, Print Phish: Daniac Scbvice and Beyond 182
58 Choose a Side: Mike Side, Page Side 184
59 The Great Went (1997) 184
60 Billy Breathes (1996) 187
61 "Fight" in a Glow Stick War 190
62 The Story of the Ghost (1998) 193
63 NYE 1996-1998 196
64 The Phish Song Cognition Theory 201
65 See Phish at The Gorge 203
66 Score a Miracle Ticket 207
67 Lemonwheel 210
68 One for $3, Two for $5, aka Shakedown Economics 212
69 To Party or Not to Party 218
70 You Snooze. You Lose 223
71 Phish Art: PTBM to Posters, Lot Shirts to Koozies 226
72 Camp Oswego 230
73 Phish on TV on Top of the Ed Sullivan Theater Marquee 233
74 Farmhouse (2000) 235
75 Breaking Up Is Hiatus to Do 237
76 Bust-Outs, Rarities, and Debuts: Song Statistics and Tracking Setlists 241
77 Jimmy, Poster Nutbag, and a Dog Named "Harpua" 244
78 Guess the Opener and Gamble on Phish Setlists 247
79 Round Room (2002) 249
80 Historic Guest Sit-Ins; From Jimmy Buffett to The Boss 252
81 NYE 2002-2003 254
82 It 258
83 Phi$h 261
84 Fans Phucking with the Band 263
85 Undermind (2004) 266
86 Coventry: A Final Farewell? 268
87 CashorTrade: The Face-Value Ticker Crusade 272
88 "Fluffhead": The Resurrection 277
89 Joy (2009) 279
90 Exile, Columbus, and Phish from the Future 281
91 NYE 2009-2012 285
92 See Phish at Dick's: A 3.0 Tradition 289
93 Step into the Freezer: Tahoe "Tweezer" and Other Ebenezers 296
94 3.0 Festivals: Festival 8, SuperBall, and Magnaball 299
95 Fuego (2014) 303
96 Big Boat (2016) 305
97 NYE 2013-2016 308
98 Phish and Politics 318
99 International Phish 320
100 Phish.net and The Mockingbird Foundation 324
About the Authors 326