Looking over the shoulders of two dozen of my closest friends,
I admire the fireworks shooting into the sky through tear-soaked
eyes. Across the muddy field of 65,000 phans, each person is dealing
with reality differently. Some hug their friends long and hard;
some clutch their own skulls, elbows raised, as if the applied
pressure to their heads will somehow turn back time. A lifetime
of memories echo violently in my own head as I peer at the surreal
mud pit around me.
the varying reactions lies the same single truth: Phish is done.
The resonance from the six-set weekend in Coventry, Vermont hovers
obstinately in the air, unwilling to stop vibrating. Trey, Page,
Mike, and Fish take a final bow and walk off the stage. It is
done, indeed. The era is over.
Now all I have left is a dry mouth, the shakes, and an experience
of a lifetime burned into my synapses like a wrought iron Phish
logo seared into the grey flesh of my brain—and onto the
soul of my heart.
As the Phish generation, from our first show, the music blew
our minds—on many levels: musically, culturally, chemically.
For some of us, it was the first time we saw a band play a twenty
minute jam! Plus, every show was different. Other good bands played
the same show not only night after night, but year after year.
No offense, but every time I saw the Samples from 1994-1996, I
got all my favorites—but not a lot of surprises.
One Big Happy Phamily
Phish dramatically opened our lives to an amazing group of friendly,
intelligent, beautiful, driven, successful people. That makes
sense: amazing people are drawn to amazing music. Everyone seems
to be an artist whether they know it or not.
is so much love in the group, and without the usual male/female
pretension, you can stop to talk to anyone without the typical
social boundaries. We’re all beautiful people and we’re
here for one reason—for the music. Phish tour galvanizes
the amity among friends—even those friends you’ve
The distinctive crowd is easy to spot—guys are noticeably
scrubby, with moderately long hair and beards. Women are dressed
in free—sometimes hippieish—clothes, looking good,
displaying their natural beauty without being self-conscious.
Perhaps these peps would have their defenses up in the city, but
not here. There’s nothing to worry about; nothing to shield
themselves from besides goodness.
Phish was something to become a part of, a sum greater than the
parts. The band always invited us to contribute to the energy.
As an audience, we helped to create the community and Trey always
thanked us in his eloquent rambling. Through this intimate involvement,
we became insiders to an incredible assembly.
Take for example on March 6, 1992 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
when the band began their secret language experiment. A subtle
signal noise, followed by a Simpson’s rif and suddenly “dooh!”
rang out throughout the audience in a tone that Homer himself
would be proud of. Sure, it was silly, but we’d never been
a part of something like this before.
Following the culture of other adamant fans, we began collecting
bootlegs of live shows. We spent months of our lives painstakingly
labeling each and every song from each tape—and we even
put in philler songs when the music left a few empty moments on
our analog media.
Phish taught us about music—about what we should listen
to but hadn’t heard of yet. Perhaps we would have missed
the Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Who, and
even the Beatles. Phish was our door into good music, and taught
us to be active listeners.
And the band has always had fun with us. Take for example on
July 16, 1999 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in New Jersey, when
they introduced The Boss himself, to help play “Born to
Run.” I actually thought it was Bruce Springstein up on
stage! Of course it was just Tom Marshall, the band’s long
time friend and lyricist, doing his thing. Just like when so many
thought Tom Hanks came out for New Years 2002-2003 to sing the
vocal drum solo at the end of Wilson. Yeah, they mess with us,
but they keep us on our toes.
It's All About the Music
The Phish subculture is one of surprise and delight—and
why not with a band doing something different for every single
show. Including some things that just shouldn’t be possible.
As Trey comments on Bittersweet Motel, “They could
urinate in the ears of their listeners and the fans would be there
to record it.” Yes, experimentation isn’t always successful,
but you wouldn’t have the sick rhythm 21 minutes into Piper
if they didn’t play the first 20 minutes.
has been amazing to see the sound change over time. What sets
Phish’s music apart, is the band’s ability to listen
and rhythmically flow together like the water molecules in a river,
dancing around one another while navigating the raging downstream
currents. What impressed me from the very first show I attended,
was their ability to take a jam into the depths of chaos, to seemingly
lose all control in a raging quagmire of notes, then simultaneously
shift right back into the melody on a dime. Intense discordant
harmony and rockin’ pandemonium—then right back in
where they left off with surgical precision. After the song ended,
phans peered up at the smoking strings of Trey’s guitar
in disbelief, leaving people nothing to say but “Oh my God!!!”
And with well over 600 songs in their repertoire we never knew
what they were going to play.
Phish carried a massive force that has been together since at
least 1965, when the Grateful Dead began. They hit their largest
fanbase when Jerry died in 1995 and all the dead heads jumped
on tour. With them came an entire culture of hippies. Momentum
that gained steam from the Beat Generation, was stoked by the
cultural revolution of the 1960s, carried for decades by the Grateful
Dead, and deposited firmly on Phish’s doorstep. This crowd
didn’t even necessarily go to the concerts, but rather went
to the lot to sell ganja food, drugs, beer, grilled cheese sandwiches,
oven-baked french bread pizza...anything that would sustain their
to this infusion however, Phish was doing just fine in terms of
adoring fan base. In 1995, after phans found every possible hole
in the perimeter of Denver’s Red Rock’s Amphitheatre,
the town of Morrison nearly pulled the plug on any future Phish
shows. To prevent this, the band agreed to play four shows in
1996 to give phans greater chances of getting tickets, thus alleviating
the spike in ticket demand. What they didn’t realize is
phans don’t just want to see one show, we want to see them
all! Thus the exile scheduled for 1995 was simply put off by one
year and the four-show Red Rocks showdown went down in history
as one of the most amazing runs Colorado has ever seen.
The massive touring entourage was in full effect all the way
up until they went on hiatus in 2000. Phish had been touring so
incredibly hard for so long, playing up to 200 shows per year.
This not only sustained an internal organization of tour managers,
merchandisers, and publicity reps, but Phish sustained an external
dank veggie economy.
"Ideas that would take me all around
Personally, I had mixed feelings about the
extra group of travelers going to the lots. I didn’t understand
the culture until I became one of them for a six-show run in July
of 1999. Flying into Manchester, New Hampshire I had no plans,
six Phish tickets and a flight out of New York’s Laguardia.
Public transportation got me within ten miles of the first show
and my thumb took me from there.
Serendipity introduced me to a crazy guy named Matt with whom
I rode from Massachusetts to New Jersey. For several days I lived
in a series of state parks up the New England route—and
I was only afraid for my life a few times!
At the camp entrance at Massasoit State Park, us tour rats arrived
as an amalgamated mass. Once we checked in to our campsite as
two people—carefully observing the “rules”—we
merged back into the collective. Our single campsite was home
to about a dozen brothers and sisters, about half of whom were
not going to the shows, but rather peddling their wares to the
wealthy clean cut kids who drove Grand Cherokees and went to the
shows for any number of reasons—a primary one however, being
I don’t necessarily support this drug economy philosophically,
I came to appreciate an amazing group of people who refused to
live the American status quo lifestyle. I quickly realized my
tremendous envy of what I referred to in my internal monologues
as, “God’s children.”
Looking back, I was caught up in the throes of corporate serfdom.
I was torn because my whole spirit was being devoured by my jobby
job. I was trying to make it big in corporate America and these
people were only concerned with the most basic of activities.
(e.g. Where to get supplies for the night of selling grilled cheese.)
On tour, the beautiful summer day, shining sun, and trees were
my closest companions and I was particularly attuned to scents
and subtle sounds that I was otherwise oblivious to against the
ruckus murmur of the rat race.
“Man, what am I doing?!?” I thought, painfully admitting
to myself that I was totally sold out to the man. The fact that
these beautiful vagabonds could make a living on the road, doing
nothing was surprisingly inspirational to me. These people just
took one day at a time.
“CAN’T THIS WAIT ‘TIL I’M OLD? CAN’T
I LIVE WHILE I’M YOUNG!?!”
Now the hiatus disbanded the vagabond bunch. The logistics of
Phish tour requires plane tickets. However, the same culture exists,
but in a form distilled by motivation and means. The same people
that went to shows five years ago and got spun out of their gords,
are still going to shows, but with a refreshed gusto for the music
instead. And the same free philosophy exists.
The incredible driving music seems to have sat well as inclination.
Now the average audience member holds a “real” job
and spends their booty on plane tickets and hotel rooms in the
pursuit of the pure music that brought us all together in the
Now you look around the lot and there are less Volkswagen busses
and more Grand Cherokees. The youthful generation has matured
into a group that contributes to both worlds.
I have never in my life seen a more beautiful group of people:
Responsible, free; experimental, wholesome; honest, fun; epicurean,
respectful; capitalistic, philanthropic; accepting, self-sustaining;
and above all, loving.
after twenty-one years of pouring every last bit of soul into
tour—for up to 200 shows a year—the time has come
for changes. Trey has led the decision to call it quits to honor
the amazing entity that Phish was, and not let it become a nostalgia
act. As much as that’s hard to hear, it makes sense.
Trey, a Libra, needs his space. This sign of the zodiac, symbolized
by scales, emphasizes balance in life. He has a lot of music to
put out and has the choice to either burn out or cruise along.
And obviously it has been a hard decision for him: “Don’t
want to be anything when I don’t know when to stop.”
Now he can spend more time at his barn, the bohemian paradise
in the woods of Vermont where he can put out music for years to
As for the phans, we heard it once at Shoreline: “Let
it Be”. Let it be.