The Love is in The Journey, and the Juice Was Worth the Squeeze
by Russell S. Glowatz
It all began with a chance encounter with Sam Cutler at the Joe Russo’s Almost Dead show on July 21, 2017. An epic weekend was sprawled out before me, beginning with JRAD, before catapulting head first into The Baker’s Dozen on night two – strawberry donut night. Sam was extremely gracious – we discussed his part in Long Strange Trip, and he took a moment to take a photograph. I was enamored by the meeting, and thought it to be a good omen setting out upon my musical journey. Little did I know that only a few days later, Sam would head to a Phish show as well, proceeding to sodomize our favorite band in a scathing Facebook review.
The encounter and subsequent “eff you” he laid out in glorious fashion on the internet, highlights the intricate web that’s often weaved when seeing Phish. That photo of us was first a point of pride, yet quickly became a moment of chagrin before swiftly transcending into the hilarious heirloom it currently remains. It’s a mix of kismet and karma, with a dash of humor, and the joke is always on us! Over the course of The Baker’s Dozen, Phish enthralled us with what they do best – a fusion of supreme song, epic jams, and harmonious humor running the gamut from donut themes, to transcendent “Lawn Boy” improvisation. As a clan we pick up on the synchronicity and jocularity, throw it back in the bands face, only for them to flip it back on us.
Recently laid off, setting out upon the world of donuts was going to be a frugal affair by necessity. Budget and logistics permitting, I would be lucky to attend two of these shows – maybe three if the donut-shaped universe was on my side. Little did I know that when all was said and done, I’d have the pleasure to experience seven glorious Baker’s Dozen performances in person, with a few more on the couch to boot – and through all of this, I still had a few bucks in the bank at the end of session. It was the most pleasant surprise, and served as a stupendous silver lining atop of my newfound unemployment.
Perched at my seat in the riser section for night two, my first foray into a world that runs on dunkin’, a Phan walked by and handed me a fresh pack of pocket tissues – He said “You’re gonna need these bro – You’re gonna cry tonight!” While tears never materialized (until “On The Road Again” of course) , I certainly cried “Joy” on the inside, and this portable pack of tissues came in handy for the entirety of the run. Every night I carried those tissues in my pocket, and nearly every night they were used by myself or a Phan in need nearby. And when the mid-run Baker’s Dozen wook flu hit me like a bat out of hell, the tissues were there to soothe my soul. Thank you tissue man, not only for gifting me extremely handy show gear, but for reminding me that with the right attitude, you will always get what you need when you need it, if you give what you can when you can.
The law of attraction on steroids is often what many experience at shows and festivals, and this small yet relevant tissue saga serves to highlight that phenomenon. Little karmic anomalies dotted my whole run at YEMSG, from buying a bar stool ticket by accident on Jam night (turned out to be the best mistake ever!) to getting a miracle ticket on Powder night. That miracle ticket led me to taking in a show with one of my oldest friends – we haven’t been at Phish together since Jones Beach on the reunion tour, so it was a special moment to say the least – we partied like it was 2009. Showing up on Maple night with the expectation of a Jerry song (since it was his 75th birthday) – and getting a Drums & Space nod mid “46 Days” – plus a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” encore instead – reminded me to never have expectations at a Phish show. When I showed up with zero expectations the next night to Holes, I was rewarded with one of the greatest shows of my lifetime. With positivity and a heightened karmic awareness, synchronicity is boundless – and as a collective we achieved something otherworldly at The Baker’s Dozen – not everyone in the building felt it – yet most did – Lift off!
When it comes down to it, we all know it’s more than just a show, just a run, or just a festival – this is a community, our community, a lifestyle we choose to live and love. The Baker’s Dozen embodied the goodness that the Phish community offers in the most magnificent way. We laughed, we danced, we cried, we sang. We were stupefied, awestruck, amazed, and blazed. We made new phriends, met up with old compatriots, and ran into folks we never thought we’d see again. We tried new things, like Section 119 Spicy Chicken Sandwiches, or “Strawberry Letter 23” – And we basked in the familiarity of old things, like a favorite Phish t-shirt, Trey’s spaced guitar face, and the Meatstick Dance. This was more than a residency of shows – this was a fleeting love affair with a band beyond description and its eclectic followers. The feeling will certainly be revisited at shows in the future, yet it will be different by then – a different time, a different space, a different energy.
If one could bottle the dynamism of The Baker’s Dozen and distribute it far and wide, it wouldn’t be The Baker’s Dozen anymore. Just like everyone that experienced The Great Went, Big Cypress, Lemonwheel, or IT, this run slipped through our fingers as quickly as it arrived – and that’s the beauty of it! For a meteoric moment in time we experienced a flash in a pan, so bright, so beautiful, so full of boundless love, we’ll take memories of it with us through the rest of our existence. Now it lives in our photographs, videos, the soundboards, and our collective consciousness for eternity. This was a redefining run for Phish – and for me – an array of events that has catapulted my life and creative sensibilities in a new direction. All these weeks later, with a New Year’s extravaganza on the horizon, I’m still buzzing, as I’m sure are many of you.
Love, light, and good vibrations to you all. To the countless new phriends I made at The Dozen, until we meet again – see you for another Garden New Year’s in a few months. Our trip is short to YEMSG reprise – Seventeen in Seventeen! “When you bait the hook with your heart, the [Phish] will always bite.”
L’shana Tovah Tikateyvu! Phish does what they do best, and played a silly awesome joke on us with the announcement of New Year’s Run 2017 on the eve of the Jewish new year. Rosh Hashanah and 5778 will start off with a bang thanks to Phish. As half the band falls squarely in the Jewish camp, the nuance of announcing the run on this date may fly over some Phans heads, but not this Hebrew fella here. While I never thought it possible, my love for this band just jumped up a notch. Was this a coincidence? Maybe. Was it a planned, yet subtle joke? Likely. These guys rock the gags almost as well as their instruments – And it looks like we might get that 2017 Avenu Malkenu after all!
While this was the worst kept secret in the Phishaverse since the very end of The Baker’s Dozen, it’s now official and feels oh so sweet. Seventeen shows in 2017 is happening – Even Billy Joel can’t compete with a record run like this. When Phish is all said and done, they will have played 56 shows at Madison Square Garden, since their debut at the World’s Most Famous Arena on December 30, 1994.
For the 2017 New Year’s extravaganza, we are graced with a perfect show weekend, as New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday – And a Thursday to Sunday News Year’s Run falls in that magic sweet spot. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is the only word that comes to mind as thoughts turn towards New Year’s in every way imaginable. Into The Garden we go again for another Phish pageant of perfection!
Down to the details – The lottery pre-sale is already underway via Phish Tickets, and ends on Monday October 2, at 10 a.m. EST. Public on-sale for all the shows are scheduled for Friday October 6, at 12 p.m. EST. A limited number of 4-day passes are available. The rest of the brass tacks are available via the above link. Much luck to all on their quest for golden tickets!
Apples & honey, challah french toast, and Phish…ohhh myyyyy! Love and light to all of you in the New Year!
On the last night of the Dick’s Run and the end of the epic 2017 summer tour, Phish graciously offered us a free webcast so everyone that desired could share in the groove. During Meatstick, I was taking a couple of screenshots, as I sometimes do to create silly content down the line (weird but true). While I was intently focused on catching Trey in the midst of the glory that is the Meatstick Dance, another bright soul popped upon the screen like sunshine after stormy weather. I caught the above photo of this Phan, and quickly worked up a meme in her honor. Since then, she has been collectively dubbed #MeatstickGirl by Phans across Phish nation, as she added a bit of extra glitter to an otherwise energetic rendition of the tune. She has been honored far and wide across the interweb these past days, and deserves every bit of recognition.
Meatstick Girl was the highlight of couch tour for many that evening – Dazzling us with her spot-on execution of the dance, and her euphoric arm pump and freestyle moves, as Trey ripped into a stupendous solo after the choreographed caper was over. She reminded us that at a show we’re all players in the band, as the music plays us. Yet this is far from the first time an enraptured entity from the crowd has gained notoriety through a Phish webcast. As the term “webcast famous” is entering the lexicon of more and more Phans, Meatstick Girl will no doubt go down in the upper echelon of the webcast hall of fame. From the tuned in Nicholas Peter Orr, dubbed #Hoodboy, to the ethereal Nathan Tobey, knighted #StashGuy, and lest not forget the happiest man at The Baker’s Dozen (don’t have a name for this delighted dude), christened #CaspianGuy. All these folks are falling prey to the whims of the webcast gods, and their lives as Phans have been irrevocably altered, certainly in some ways, after their dance with simulcast serendipity.
Is this a good thing, bad thing, or does it fall somewhere in between? Luckily for us, Meatstick Girl has arisen out of the woodwork, and affably accepted a Stand For Jam invitation to participate in a good old-fashioned Question & Answer session. Initially I provided her with ten questions, certainly covering her newfound notoriety, but also encouraging her to dive deep on other issues concerning all things Phish. Then I came up with one last question, turning this epic Q&A all the way up to eleven.
The full complete Meatstick Girl - Fast forward to 2:26 for the part that made her webcast famous! Thanks to Joel Mazur & Mike Gregory for helping to curate this video!
Introducing (drum roll)………….Heather Craig! Heather wanted to take her time with these questions, felt empowered by the platform, and simply did not want to phone it in. Upon receiving her answers, she commented that “these questions struck many chords with [her] and [her] internal relationship with this magnificent music” – The spirit with which she attacked these queries and her articulately animated answers m̶e̶a̶t̶ mete that out…
Stand For Jam (SFJ): How does if feel to be webcast famous? Did you have any sense the camera was trained on you at that moment?
Heather Craig (HC): I had no idea the camera was on me, but when you’re down there, you always know there’s a possibility of being seen. I think that’s one of the great things Phish gives us all – the ability to be truly ourselves even when presented with the possibility of being observed by hundreds of thousands, whether it’s on the webcast or in the thick of the crowd. What we’re talking about is one of the most terrifying feelings – putting your freest self out into the world without any sort of reassurance of being accepted, but I feel that as long as you’re accepting of yourself, you’re open for whatever the moment asks of you. There’s this internal rhetorical question constantly being asked when I’m at shows: Can you let go of everything that’s holding you back and simply be with us right here for this small moment in time?
SFJ: With Hoodboy, Stash Guy, Caspian Guy, and now you, Meatstick Girl, how do you feel about Phans picking up on these webcast moments, making memes and making folks Phish famous? Is this an invasion of privacy? Where do you think the line should be drawn or if there should be a line at all?
HC: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”
I feel if happiness comes from making these memes, I’m all about it! Once the moment was over, it became etched in time and unchangeable. It’s no longer who I am – it’s who I was, a past moment. I personally don’t feel that it is an invasion of privacy. If I were a more reserved person who still wanted to be close to the source within the first 5 rows of the stage, I feel actions could be taken to ensure you don’t end up on the screen. One way could be to walk up before the show starts and introduce yourself to the staff and ask them nicely to not record you, or you could always wear a hat or get silly and rock a handmade mask to cover your face. If you don’t mind being further from the stage, then usually you can have a more private experience.
SFJ: How many Meatsticks have you experienced live? When was your first Meatstick? What does it take to master the Meatstick, as you have done? What’s your secret?
HC: I’ve experienced Meatstick live 9 times (9 times? 9 times.) *Bueller, Bueller* 😛 My first one was at Dick’s 8/31/12, when they spelled Fuck Your Face, an unbelievable show to recall! Whew! Anyway, I was shown the dance by a friend but never practiced it before going to the show. I remember standing in the crowd, around Page Side soundboard area, and I was singing along and a guy next to me says, “Nice! You know the Japanese lyrics, but do you know the dance?!” I think he then tried to teach me, but suffice to say, we both needed practice. Fast forward through a few years of taking out the Meatstick to Grand Prairie 10/25/16 where I followed Mike’s choreography, and from that moment the Meatstick dance became a movement my body would know how to recreate. I’m a student who has a great teacher. The secret to many things is silliness, and surrender truly is the trick. Phish has given me that insight, and I try to hold on (but never too tight) to that intention every time I walk away from one of their shows. So lighten up, and bury the Meatstick! 🙂
SFJ: In that moment, what were you thinking, if anything at all? Phish obviously brings you immense joy – What is it about this band and community that takes you to that point of euphoria?
HC: What I’m concentrating on at Phish shows is connectivity – less of a single thought and more of an emptying of mind, expectation, restraint, and turning my attention to everything I can soak up out of every little moment. Becoming a sponge or empty vessel – I let the music course through me, allowing it to undo any tensions I have mentally, physically, or emotionally. They’re my connection to source, a connection to my Self. Each passing year we all undergo trauma to the mind, body, and soul – kinks that need to be worked out through our own preferred method, and Phish is my way of release. The community of Phans is, of course, a beautiful support system as well that feeds my flame. I’ve gone to many shows alone and have felt completely at home, safe, and loved in a crowd of strangers. To then dance with them for 3 hours forms a bond that is hard to match elsewhere. Then to have all these people you’ve met and befriended across the nation, it’s like starting a fire from tinder pieces.
Alpine 2015, Night Two, Lot. The Harry Ladies (They really wanted a Harry Hood that night, and in their excited state kept saying "Haaaaarryyyy, Haaaarrrryyy!" in Heather's ear)
SFJ: When, where, and how did your love affair with Phish start?
HC: A friend gave me a copy of Island Tour ’98 and said with a smile, “To get you hooked.” Not thinking much of it, I gave it a listen on my way to work. 4/2/98 Stash 13:22 made my eyes water and ears fall in love. The contrast of the chaos to the bliss was too easy for me to relate to. I didn’t want to leave my car. I didn’t want to go in to work, and I like my job! I wanted to sit there and listen to them for another moment…and another…and another… I was enchanted. After that, I listened to everything I could get my hands on – live and recorded – and started attending shows as often as possible. “Was it for this my life I sought?” ?
SFJ: As a community, I’d say we’re nine parts love & light, and one-part stuff that’s troubling. Whether from the nitrous scene, to tarpers, GA etiquette, or the rising awareness of female Phan harassment, as a Phan yourself, is there any particular trend that concerns you in the Phishaverse today? Any ideas on how to rectify the issue(s), if there’s any issue(s) at all?
HC: This is an unfolding view of what happens when people are set free. It’s difficult to find the balance when people have different moral codes within that freedom. Without paying close attention, greed, overindulgence, and disrespect of all kinds seeps its way in through unseen cracks and decides to stick around for a while beleaguering equilibrium. What each of us can do to rectify these happenings is to observe the choices we each make and ask our freest selves within us if this is the environment we are truly wanting to foster. In regards to sexual harassment at shows, when it involves another person’s safety and comfort, being courageous and speaking up when we see disrespectful behavior around us is a huge step we can take and a responsibility we all have. We can’t force a change, all we can do is lead by example towards a more healthy, loving, and wholesome community.
SFJ: What’s your favorite thing about Phish?
HC: My favorite thing about Phish is how they bring hundreds of thousands of people together for a live experience and how they concentrate our attention for extended periods of time. For many of us, they are a form of meditation to guide us to our individual interpretation of freedom and happiness, so we can take that freedom and happiness and spread it around when we leave the shows. We take them and their lessons with us, that is an absolutely incredible accomplishment! It’s how minds are opened, it’s how change becomes workable.
SFJ: If you could ask one band member one question, who and what would it be?
HC:Trey, may I live in your pocket?
Seriously though, the band has been answering many of my unspoken questions since I began to pay attention – most of the questions came in forms I wouldn’t know how to pose succinctly or verbally, but I feel there’s already a healthy conversation that happens between artist and audience/audience member.
Heather at Dick's '16 - Swingin' Dick's - rocking super appropriate head gear! - Photo Credit: Michael Howard
SFJ: Request time: Name a song you’ve been chasing, but have never gotten?
HC: Bye Bye Foot or Shafty. There are so many I haven’t caught yet that I would love to hear live, but I know each one comes in its own time and place and if you go around expecting and wishing, you may miss many magical moments being gifted to you right then.
SFJ: If you could sum up this whole Meatstick Girl experience in three words and/or a phrase, what would they be?
Three words: “Shocks my brain!”
Phrase: After Meatstick, you chop wood and carry water.
SFJ: Any causes or charities close to your heart that you’d like to give a shout out?
So other than the happenstance of being caught on camera, what makes Meatstick Girl and her webcast cohorts so unique? I believe we see ourselves in these isolated moments, and in turn make these folks Phish famous to celebrate US! For those that get it, we have all been enraptured in the frenzied excitement of a Meatstick Girl moment, or worn the face of stupefied awe while a song was peaking, just like Hood Boy. Heather framed it best when she quoted The Beatles verse above – “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Trey told us “The Walrus was Jimmy,” yet perhaps he was really saying the Walrus is us all!
Before she was Meatstick Girl - Heather in all her glory soaking in the beauty that is TAB at Red Rocks - 5/31/17 - Photo Credit: Miles Chrisinger
Thank you to Heather Craig, aka Meatstick Girl, for wholeheartedly throwing yourself into this Q&A! You’ve not only awed us with your dancing, but now your prose.
Answers by Heather Craig,
Questions & Paragraphs by Russell S. Glowatz
Some people don’t think there is a problem. Other people believe it’s a small problem. Then there’s the folks that are sure the whole thing is blown out of proportion. Then there are the cats that just don’t care. GA issues, Phamily. This writer believes they are real, and has heard enough firsthand accounts from people on Facebook, in personal discussion, and has seen enough to know something’s awry. Maybe things have been the way they are for a long time, or throughout the entire history of Phish shows with general admission sections. Yet lately, as the chatter increases to such immense levels, it might get to the point where those in charge have no choice but to change it up.
Recently I wrote an article, Wilson, We Have A Problem: Ruminations on the Rumble at Dicks – It’s Only a Symptom, about entitlement and privilege in GA. I feel like I made a lot of good points, some people say bad points, yet needless to say through publishing that piece I’ve come to learn how provocative the subject remains with passion abound on all sides. One thing I failed to do in that previous piece was to provide any solutions. Now I got one. Before I dive in, I don’t pertain to be any expert on the workings of crowd control at concerts. I’m just a Phan like you that has an idea that could alleviate some (some being the opportune word) of the issues surrounding privilege and congestion in GA.
Firstly, rail riders will be pissed at my idea, and maybe me too, merely for presenting my opinion. Secondly, I cannot please everyone with what I say and I know that going in (still gonna say it though). Lastly, many have mentioned that the only true solution to the woes in GA is to go fully back to assigned seating on the floor. I believe there’s another solution that could mitigate many issues while saving our precious GA space to boot. Whether or not this is a viable solution, my hope is to stir constructive discussion on the topic. Maybe one of you has a major answer sitting on the tip of your tongue. Maybe by voicing it in a positive and nuanced way, someone that can do something about it will hear you.
So my idea is simple: Create a separate “pit” section at the front of GA (say roughly 10 rows-ish back). When all GA ticket holders enter the show, some will be randomly awarded special bracelets for the pit. One bracelet type will be for the first set, and another for the second. The pit will be cleared at set break to allow set two bracelet holders a chance to get up front. Adding to that, the tarp and blanket ban should stay in effect.
I wholeheartedly see this as a way to diffuse much of the craziness happening towards the front of GA, and also completely disband this kind of privileged group at the front of the stage. To the rail riders, I understand you put in the time and wait long hours, and under the current regime, you deserve your spaces. You work for them! Yet it just seems so stale when the people upfront contend to more or less know everyone that’s usually up there. It seems, even self admittedly, that the crowd more or less stays similar through entire tours (or entire legs of tours). Then there’s the other crowd of people who think it’s okay to push all the way up to the front when that area is already occupied. This Pit concept would alleviate the issues and pressure coming from both sides of the coin.
I think it’s high time to try something new! Too many negative reports coming from the front of GA. With the aforementioned idea (or one similar to it) we also will not lose GA to assigned seating, yet might just ameliorate the issue. #My2Cents
UPDATE: I’ve been alerted to a similar idea that’s already in play at Bruce Springsteen shows…and it’s been working!
You can find a link to the Boss’ Pit/GA policy here.
Thanks to Jason Goldstein & Paul Copoulos for pointing this out!
The majestic moment of magnificent bliss we’ve all been waiting for, the bombastic blockbuster of the summer, highly anticipated by Phans across the planet, is finally upon us. TODAY! In a short few hours, the epic 13-day residency by Phish at Madison Square Garden will commence. If the five show dress rehearsal that took place in Chicago, Dayton, and Pittsburgh, is any guide, we are in for an epic treat come Friday evening. All speculation points towards the Baker’s Dozen finding a high regarded place in Phishtory. The unique residential nature of the run at an indoor venue in the summertime has already been the talk of the town for quite some time. Since night one of Northerly Island, we’ve been collectively drooling over CK5’s massively mobile lighting rig. And if the boys deliver, which they certainly will on many, if not all nights of the run, we’re in for a spectacular exhibition in musical madness and psychedelic sorcery.
While the saying, “we are everywhere,” remains potently true in most corners of the planet, the phrase will take on new form over the next two weeks, as Phans from all throughout the world, of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds, will flock to the Big Apple in joyous delight. As each night’s Phishy extravaganza will only take up a fraction of our day, we’ll have lots of time to explore what the greatest city on Earth has to offer. Phans will be in coffee shops, pizza places, movie theatres, yoga studios, parks, museums, bars, hotels, massage parlors, restaurants, on the tops of skyscrapers (because they are grand after all), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Even an avid Phish Head chiropractor is offering special rates on adjustments for Phans in need all throughout the Dozen. As we traverse the city formerly known as New Amsterdam, wave that phreak flag wide and high. Let us know who you are, and if you’re not a #TarpNazi, chances are we’ll get along famously. New phriendships will manifest, new relationships formed. Maybe you’ll meet the future love of your life?! With the greatest spectacle known to mankind laying down roots in the finest city on this side of the Milky Way, anything is possible. In this time of the season, the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, Phish and New York City will throw down like never before.
There will be countless Phish-related events to check out, from pre-show booze cruises (see you at DeadPhishOrchestra!), to post-show late night euphonious extravaganzas. There will be kid oriented Phish cover bands playing (you don’t really need to hide your kids, or wives for that matter! The more the merrier!!!), and Phish-themed spin classes are very much a thing too! Where better to detox fresh for next night’s rowdy rager?! American Beauty, a bar and music venue down the block from MSG will be holding an inside shakedown of sorts, where you can find those goodies, from food, crafts, and beyond, that you’d normally seek out in summertime lots. Long story short, there’s something for everyone out there, even the most phinicky Phan can take pleasure.
When they say they circus is coming to town, they weren’t shitting you. The everyday earthlings might confront confusion when crossing through our scene outside MSG and beyond, but by and large our kind community will treat those bystanders with love and affection, and maybe even encourage a few to let loose and get down. This ain’t no fucking Barnum & Bailey. No animals were harmed in the making of this extravaganza! Maybe some braincells were lost, but the sacrifice is minute, paralleled with the payoff. We are a beautiful people! Except the Tarpers of course, who should leave their giant plastic sheets in their hotel rooms. Feel free to tarp your hotel bed, or build a sweet fort while you’re at it, but keep those synthetic monstrosities far away from the floor at MSG. Phans barely tolerate you as is, and I highly doubt MSG staff will be sympathetic to your cause to lock down a 30 by 30 space for you and your fifteen closest imaginary friends. You’ve taken much heat over the last week, Tarpers, but you really deserved it all. Yet you are Phans, which implies you might just be intelligent. Please take a clue and leave your pool covers and rolls of duct tape at home. Remember: “the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” Don’t be douchebags. It’s a simple request.
So in the end, I wrote this little piece in haste because I felt the need to put something on paper before we ascend into our psychedelic Phish-hole. Usually I take an inordinate amount of time to edit and proofread the drivel I publish, because it has my name on it, and I tend to be a maniacal about things I hold near and dear. Perhaps I’ve said nothing new here, or maybe you picked up a gem of inspiration that’ll be useful for your jovial journey into the imminent metropolitan musical mayhem. If you’re interested in any of the countless Phish-themed events taking place over the next weeks, please hit google to find out the details, or better yet, Facebook (I’d link you myself, but I’m too busy getting ready for the Dozen!).To say I’m psyched for this 13 show rodeo to commence, is the understatement of the millennium. This will be the highlight of my summer, as I’m sure is the case for many. While some of us will find ourselves with enough wind at our backs to scarf down all 13 shows, others will take what we can get and make the most of our experience. Cashing in on the goodness of our circumstance is always the aim. So as you traverse these great United States on your voyage to the city that never sleeps, please drive safe and take it slow. Once you’re here, I pray you rage to your heart’s desire, but please rage responsibly. Look out for yourselves. Hydration, hydration, hydration! And pay mind to your neighbors whether you personally know them or not. Let’s take mind of each other and be the big happy phamily we’re meant to be. If you perceive something as wrong, please speak up. If you think a phan is in trouble, please ask them if they’re alright. The worst that might happen is a silly misunderstanding. The best result could be one’s rescue from undesirable elements, and saving a stranger from years of trauma. Common sense pholks…it goes a super long way. We have the ability to police ourselves when need be, by merely speaking up. Posting a picture of a perceived wrong to Facebook will not solve the problem. Open your minds and hearts to your neighbors, and use your words people, not your smartphone cameras. Positivity will reign freely if we just let common sense be our guide. We don’t need no stinking badges! We can police ourselves with minimal intrusion, and for the rest of the time: live and let live! Peace, love, and Phish. Our trip is short…see you soon 🙂
The Chase Brothers, Adam (Drums) and Matthew (Guitar), have been making waves as of late with two exemplary tributes, Jazz Is Phish, and The James Brown Dance Party. Both bands take the songs of their inspiring namesakes to new and exploratory levels. In each ensemble, with the Chase’s at the helm, the target is to traverse the tunes of these legendary acts, while creating an environment conducive to dance, elation, transcendence, and an all around good time. With Jazz Is Phish (JIP), the Phish catalog is used as a starting point to roundly reinvent the songs. In The James Brown Dance Party (JBDP), Adam and Matthew assemble a different All Star cast of musicians for each respective show, and through varied collaborations, the classic James Brown repertoire shines uniquely each and every time. In the end, while the road travelled reveals divergent scenery, both bands leave you with a similar lightness in your step that we all seek through live music.
While I could ramble on in perpetuity touting the merits of each of these acts, luckily for us the Brothers Chase were kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions. Their musical upbringing, the origins of each project, legacy, choosing collaborators, and more is discussed. So with an aim towards better understanding the motivations and aspirations of these two talented brothers in the prime of their musical lives, enjoy the following Q & A. When you’re done, get your tickets to JIP and JBDP to see these siblings of song tear it up at a venue near you in the upcoming weeks! (Find tour dates and ticketing links listed after the Q&A.)
1. For someone completely unfamiliar with Jazz Is Phish or The James Brown Dance Party, what would be your pitch to pique their interest?
Matthew Chase (MC): Both projects take a fresh approach to performing music. They combine players from different generations and backgrounds (music and life) to come together and create a unique take on familiar music. The pitch would be slightly different for each band since one is a rotating cast and the other is a set lineup that features special guests.
For the JBDP it’s an easy sell since everyone loves James Brown and his amazing music. Add an All Star cast including players from the original James Brown Band and a high-energy dance party set and there you have it!
Jazz is Phish is a very intriguing idea since the framework was already laid down by the Jazz Is Dead Project. Although Phish and the Grateful Dead have very different audiences, there is some crossover and most Phish Fans have heard about Jazz is Dead. So when they hear the name “Jazz is Phish” they already have some preconceived notions as to what it’s about. We honor that idea by transforming Phish tunes into instrumental arrangements turning the vocal melodies into “jazz heads” regardless of the style being traditional jazz or not.
I would ask someone if they heard of Jazz is Dead first then explain. Jazz is Dead took the Grateful Dead’s large 6-7 piece band and interpreted the music as a 4 piece with guitar, bass drums, and keys. We are interpreting Phish, a 4-piece band, with a seven to 9-piece band including a full horn section. This creates an entirely different dynamic and opens up the music to several different styles and feels. The idea of both groups, Jazz is Dead and Jazz is Phish, is not to play the music in a traditional Jazz setting but to open up the endless possibilities of an all instrumental version of these popular tunes regardless of style or genre. You have to see it for yourself because you never know what you will get!
Adam Chase (AC): When I am talking to my friends about The James Brown Dance Party and about Jazz Is Phish, I get excited about how I feel lucky to have two incredibly fun projects.
With the James Brown Dance Party, we are bringing together the old school players that toured with James Brown with a variety of All Star players from the funk, jazz and jam worlds. All of the musicians share a love for the music and since we are bringing some of the best players available, including musicians from Sly and the Family Stone, Snarky Puppy, Trey Anastasio Band, Kool And The Gang, The Saturday Night Live Band, Trombone Shorty, Galactic, Lettuce and more, we are able to create epic performances that move everyone in the room. Since every time we do a run we have a different lineup of players, each performance is unique, albeit steeped in the deep funk of James Brown.
With Jazz Is Phish, I love it because you don’t have to like Phish to love the project. Of course, if you do love Phish it’s that much better. The music is re-imagined into a large ensemble setting, where horns replace vocals and the nuances change to reflect a sound that respects the genius of the compositions as written, while introducing flavors reminiscent to the fusion of Herbie Hancock and the epic sound of Charles Mingus. The show is high energy, explorative, horn heavy and super funky!
2. Where did the idea to put on tributes such as these originate?
AC:As a musician that attended music school, I was frequently transcribing solos and studying recordings of other players. Frequently in various jazz combos, we would put on shows that were full records or well known pieces composed by the musicians we were studying at the time. I always enjoyed the process. When I was in a full time touring original band, I would frequently put tribute shows together in my hometown when I wasn’t on the road. It was a fun and allowed me to explore different music and learn different things to apply to my original music.
One of the tributes I put together then, was the James Brown Dance Party. At that time it was built around the players in my original band, which included my brother Matthew, Elise Testone, Ben Markowitz, Aaron Levy and myself. After the original band broke up and the core was no longer together, I thought it would be fun to reintroduce the project as something that a lot of musicians could share in, as so many musicians love the music. Inspired by Everyone Orchestra, I decided to re-launch the project with a revolving cast of players. We sold out our first show and haven’t looked back since.
Jazz Is Phish was an idea I had been considering for a number of years before I ever got it together. As someone that grew up on the music and was so inspired by the band, I had a passion for the material. I often found myself turning on friends to their music. I had a lot of musician friends that were from very different backgrounds and Phish really wasn’t their style. Regardless, I made them listen to some of my favorite compositions; Fluffhead, Reba, Guelah Papyrus…while not every musician loved the style or lyrical content, every one of them appreciated the compositions, musicianship and challenge the music presented. It occurred to me that if I could create a project that presented Phish’s music in a re-imagined, instrumental setting, there would be an entirely new audience interested in the material while also appealing to the legion of enthusiastic Phish fans (like myself) that were already out there. It all came together after a performance I did with Jeff Sipe. We were discussing various projects we had done, when Jazz Is Dead came up. At that point, I realized that Jazz Is Phish needed to exist, especially in a year that saw the Phish and Dead communities come together with Trey Anastasio’s participation in the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well performances. I decided to assemble a mix of musicians that included those that grew up on the music, and those that had never listened to the music before.
3. The music of James Brown and Phish is adored by folks, young, old, and in between. What about their music do you feel gives it this cross-generational appeal?
MC:Both of these artists have extremely different music. James Brown’s music is simple with a tapestry of complexity in the layers, but always delivers high-energy, extremely fun tunes that appeal to anyone regardless of age! Phish music encompasses a huge variety of genres and hybrids of styles with amazing tension and release. The music Phish creates makes it possible for several entry points into their unique world. There is something for most people whether it’s long progressive compositions, quick funky numbers, or a secret language within their improvisation. Their amazing live performances, huge fan-base, massive venue settings and cutting edge light show makes the live experience undeniable for anyone old or young.
AC: For James Brown the appeal is that it is so badass and funky that no matter who you are, how old you are, or where you come from, the funk is undeniable. His ballads and his upbeat songs alike are well crafted, filled with intricate layers, straight ahead and topped with memorable melodies and amazing vocals. For Phish, the appeal is the unique aspect of the band. It is a group that for many, opens the door to a new way of looking at music. The classical influences on the compositions, the jazz theory infused improvisation and the playful quality of the songwriting are masterfully done in a way that rarely comes together so well. The closest thing to the experience of Phish, in my opinion, is the music of Frank Zappa, although I find the music of Phish to be far more accessible to the non-musician.
4. The James Brown Dance Party is constantly rotating musicians. What type of preparation goes into getting each respective ensemble seasoned for the stage?
MC: As Music Director, I try to provide anything necessary for the players to feel comfortable with our arrangements. We provide charts and notes when necessary. We strive to play with the best players in any given region we are performing in which makes it easy since they know how to prepare and are true professionals. Often we only need a quick rehearsal and sound check to work out some intros and endings. James Brown music is also widely known and performed. I don’t think you are allowed to buy a saxophone without learning some James Brown…
AC: We put in the time on the front end so that in some respects all the musicians have to do is show up for soundcheck and we are ready to go by showtime. Finding the right musicians is key. Musicians that know and love the music, are willing to shed on the songs and the charts, and come prepared, are who we seek out and what makes the performances so tight. It doesn’t hurt that at each show we try to include musicians like Fred Thomas, Mousey Thompson, Leroy Harper Jr. and Jerry Poindexter that had played with James for years and bring the authenticity to the group.
5. With these projects, where and how do you draw the line between replication and reinvention?
MC: With The James Brown Dance Party we try to play things close to the tapes but still allow our high caliber players to improv and extend sections. We also adapt things depending upon the vocalist.
Jazz Is Phish is a complete reinvention of Phish music. We may keep the style the same as the original but the fact that half of our band didn’t listen to Phish until this project makes even those renditions stand apart form the original. In Jazz Is Phish we are comprised of Jazz, Funk, Gospel, Soul, R&B, and Pop and Rock musicians each bringing their own flavor to the music. Which was by design. Having only a few players familiar with Phish keeps the overall sound fresh yet familiar.
AC: The James Brown Dance Party is not about replicating or reinventing. To replicate James Brown would involve someone trying to BE “James Brown” and in my opinion, nobody can BE “James Brown”. He was a one of a kind performer and trying to replicate him, to me, would be sacrilegious. It’s more about loving his music and getting well known musicians to express themselves through soloing and grooving on the tunes. We perform the songs true to form for the most part, but we allow space for the amazing musicians we have to let loose.
With Jazz Is Phish, we are completely reinventing the music. While some songs are closer to form than others, each song takes it’s own shape through, if nothing more, the collective influences of the players involved. As many members were not familiar with Phish coming in to the project, there are no preconceived notions of how the songs should be. That combined with the fact that all of the vocals are replaced with horns and strings, each song feels completely fresh.
6. On a musical level, what was it like growing up in the Chase household?
MC: Piano lessons at an early age and once we were past the 5th grade we got guitars and drums kits. The best gift you can give a few imaginative minds… Our parents didn’t anticipate how loud we would get at times, but always encouraged and supported us in our passion. Our mom and sister took piano lessons as well but neither considers themselves musicians. We didn’t have much guidance in music, it was all very explorative. Our grandma was a singer and did push us to get voice lessons. We had a very large peer group of musicians and several bands were formed out of that circle including the Bridge, the Bluegrass Band Smooth Kentucky, and our old original project Black Eyed Susan.
AC: As the younger brother of somewhat of a child prodigy, and someone that was put into music lessons when I was 5 years old, I don’t remember life without music. We always had instruments in our home and as we got older the amount of instruments and musicians around continued to grow. For me, life was always about playing music and performing, whether it was in school or at home.
7. In these post-James Brown years, where does JBDP fit in respect to carrying on the legacy of the Godfather of Soul himself?
MC: We are just trying to celebrate the Legend and bring people together from different walks of life on stage and in the audience.
AC: I think the JBDP is carrying on the legacy in a great way. By involving older musicians that toured with James with younger well-known musicians from various music scenes, I feel like we are doing a part in keeping the music of James Brown relevant to new generations of music fans that wouldn’t necessarily be checking out the music in a live setting if it weren’t for the All Star format.
8. Jazz Is Phish has recently gone into the studio. Could you shed a little light on what we can expect to hear from these sessions?
MC: It’s a surprise.
AC: You can expect an incredible lineup of musicians, some of which you would never have expected to hear performing Phish tunes, performing unique interpretations of the music at a very high level.
9. If stranded on a desert island, and you could either have a Phish album or a James Brown album, which would you prefer?
MC: I don’t know. That’s tough. James Brown would keep me in a better mood.
AC: I think I would take the album Billy Breathes because it seems like a good album for being stranded on a desert island.
10. In relation to band and audience, what does the word ‘synchronicity’ mean to you?
MC: Reaching a moment or several moments where the music plays the band and the energy from the audience drives the music.
AC: Synchronicity is a point when the band and audience are sharing in a special moment where the stars are aligning. I think it starts with the musicians having their ears open and allowing the music to come to them rather than forcing out things to say. When you combine that with an attentive audience that is in the moment with their enjoyment of the music, something magical happens. I’d call that synchronicity.
It’s a safe bet that if you and the rest of the showgoers bring enthusiasm and attentive ears to the upcoming James Brown Dance Party and Jazz Is Phish performances, Adam, Matthew, and their supergroup of cohorts, will no doubt bring the funk and fury to the stage, leaving all those in attendance scooping their jaws off the floor at the close. Synchronicity is their business, and leaving satisfied customers in their wake is the mission. So get synchronous. Get satisfied. Get your face melted. And don’t forget your dancing shoes!
James Brown Dance Party January 23 @ Asheville Music Hall, Asheville, NC (tickets) January 29 @ Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA (tickets) February 19 @ Howard Theatre, Washington, DC (Check JBDP site for updated ticket info)
James Brown Dance Party tour will feature members of James Brown Band, Sly And The Family Stone, CeeLo Green Band, Alicia Keys Band, John Legend Band, Snarky Puppy, Trey Anastasio Band, Lettuce, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Eric Claptons Band, Billy And The Kids, Tea Leaf Green, RAQ, Jazz Is Phish, Tenacious D Band, Breakestra, The J.B.’s, and more! (Check event listings for exact lineups.) *Stay up-to-date with JBDP @ their website and on Facebook
Jazz Is Phish February 10 @ Blind Tiger, Greensboro, NC (tickets) February 11 @ Southland Ballroom, Raleigh, NC (tickets) February 12 @ Asheville Music Hall, Asheville, NC (tickets) February 13 @ Smith’s Olde Bar, Atlanta, GA (tickets) February 18 @ The Hall at MP, Brooklyn, NY (Check JIP site for updated ticket info)
Jazz Is Phish tour will feature members of Giant Country Horns, Sun Ra, Snarky Puppy, Cosmic Crewe, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Jonathan Scales, Raq, TV On The Radio, High and Mighty Brass Band, Easy Star AllStars, Victor Wooten Band, Strange Design, Yo Mamas Big Fat Booty Band and more! (Check event listings for exact lineups.)
With the New Year upon us, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the sorcerous year of song currently reaching its conclusion. Musicians across the JamBandaverse have been no doubt firing on all cylinders in 2015, with this energy largely manifesting from the top down, originating from Phish and the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. While I believe trickle-down economics is a big bowl of bullshit, the theory holds water when applied to the jam band scene. And our collective consciousness was given a shot of adrenaline from up top when in January, Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead was announced featuring Trey Anastasio at the helm. It all started there, and through months of preparation, and five transcendent Dead shows, Trey and the boys set the stage for a year in jam unrivaled in recent history.
Grateful Dead University was the most remarkable thing that happened to Trey since drug court. It admittedly tweaked him just right for the second half of 2015. In GDU, Bobby gave Trey a lesson in patience, and Trey allowed himself alone time with his extensive rig. These two facets in the reeducation of Trey, amongst a smattering of other things, set the scene for our favorite redhead to shine all over again. It’s not a stretch to name Big Red as the MVP of Fare Thee Well, let alone 2015 as “The Year of Trey.”
Through GD50, the best summer Phish tour in a generation, a smokin’ hot TAB fall tour, and what already looks like a New Years Run for the record books, Trey’s infectious energy has remained front and center. And as I’ve said in a previous Trey Band review, he’s contagious, as his magic manifests in the players around him wherever he goes. So as this Phish run rounds out, before we find ourselves on the other side of Riviera Maya itching for summer tour 2016, I’m gonna take a moment to thank the immediate Phish family, as they did to us in the final shot of the summer. United We Stand, and not a thing suggests that this string of unimaginable feats won’t continue into the New Year.
Onward to Dead & Company, part II of GD50, brought to us by three of the core four. Their fall tour was alchemical. With the incorporation of John Mayer into the mix, he has largely endeared himself to thousands of deadheads that not too long ago loathed his very existence. While Dead & Company in an all inclusive sense, has not nor ever will reach the heights of the magic embodied in Fare Thee Well (unless John Mayer can piss rainbows, that’d be an impossible feat), this past fall tour has been nothing less than an expectation exceeding modern reinvention of our favorite touring band. With Mayer and Oteil Burbridge seeded in the mix, Dead & Co. reached contemporarily unrivaled peaks, putting forth some of the finest versions of Grateful Dead songs since the days of Jerry.
And while the collective energy level of Santa Clara and Chicago will likely never be reached again, through camaraderie that can only be built in a touring band, the latest GD50 ensemble found themselves getting better all the time. Due to downtime, some ashes, glass, and rust needed to be wiped away during the first few New Years run shows, yet confidence that the band will bring it with them on this eve remains high. Bigger and brighter things lay in wait for Dead & Company if they choose to head out on their rumored 2016 summer tour, but in the present they’ve managed to carry that 50th anniversary magic with further vigor than has been displayed in years. Thanks boys for making 2015 extra special. You’ve inspired many a deadhead and jam band to reach for the skies in their respective endeavors.
So with the preeminent jam bands’ bringing it all back home in the last twelve months, many other acts have followed suit. While there’s no direct connection here, I firmly believe our collective scene energy has played a major part. Case in point, The String Cheese Incident also found themselves at the top of their game this year. The Disco Biscuits have all of a sudden been throwing down like it’s 2009 all over again. Umphrey’s, well they always kill it. Lots of younger acts have tapped in too. From Dopapod and Twiddle reaching new heights, both opening for String Cheese at Red Rocks this past summer, to unparalleled collaborations between Twiddle and the Werks on Twerk Tour, to magic manifested by Turkuaz, Tauk, etcetera, etcetera, all year long. These are only a few bands that quickly come to mind, as many unmentioned have also thrown their hats into this 2015 free-for-all.
In a nutshell, this year was immensely prosperous for fans, musicians, festival goers, and everyone that has a stake in this subculture. If 2016 serves to be half as fruitful, we’re in for a wild ride in the coming year, yet here’s hoping it’s better. To all in the jam band world, all that have supported my writing ventures over the past six months, and all those souls beyond, have a happy, healthy, and hopeful New Year! Next year in Jerusalem!!!
They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, yet innovation is superior, and innovation upon the revered discography of Phish is essentially flattery on steroids. Jazz is Phish, a brand new ensemble with the sole mission of interpreting the songs of Phish in an inventive and uniquely jazzy format, lays it on thick as it takes the preeminent jam band’s discography outside the stratosphere with soulful melody and funky beats…
(Originally published on Grateful Music) Anticipation was high heading into Kings Theatre on Saturday. The previous evening saw the Trey Anastasio Band lay it all out on the table, and expectations reached a crescendo leaving many fans wondering how Trey and his merry band of misfits could possibly top the energy of the prior night’s show. Well the Saturday night audience needn’t have feared, as TAB continued to hit on all cylinders, pumping through groove after groove with such ferocious intensity, we had to scoop our jaws off the floor at the end of the night. Kings Theatre provided the perfect landscape for this epic throw down, as the former movie palace was recently reopened, and refurbished to its pristine twenties era majesty. Originally a film house that doubled as a vaudeville theater, its name is fitting as we all felt like royalty walking through its hallowed lobby and cavernous concert hall. And it’s apt that the tour opened at the Kings, as like Trey, this theatre once shined brightly, suffered through some dark days of deterioration, only to be restored to all its glory in the modern age. As countless audience members found themselves zoning out on the bold and intricate ceiling design throughout the festivities, Kings Theatre itself was the opening act to TAB’s epic headlining performance.
Commencing the night with Sometimes After Sunset, the evenings only draw upon the forthcoming Paper Wheels, the band was off to a roaring start. Song name and lyrics germane, as sometimes after sunset we go see shows that often “reveals to me the inner me,” as live music has the inexplicable ability to break down our inhibitions and see our better selves. With Cayman Review up next we delved hotly into TAB’s classic repertoire, where we’d largely stay the rest of the night. A mid-set Night Speaks to a Woman, off the same 2002 self-titled album, allowed for some extended jamming that showcased some tight interplay between Anastasio and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski. Next up a Trey Band debut of George Harrison’s What is Life sent the crowd soaring into nostalgic bliss. While the band kept true to original form on this tune, its good-natured feeling kept the dopamine pumping hard through our brains. A zesty Tuesday put the first set in the books, and we found ourselves amped up wandering through the angelic theater once again.
Second set took off with a horn heavy Curlew’s Call, as the band continued through their retrospective on Trey’s solo work. Into an epic Plasma the crowd was deeply entrenched in the goings-on. As everyone was amply loose, and swinging, Kings Theatre seemed to transform into another time, a forgotten place, reminiscent of the roaring twenties with contemporary tunes. One could easily transform themselves into the theatre of yesteryear, with its smoke-filled vaudevillian madness. As the set seemed to fly by at a moments notice dancing to the band’s stellar jams, all of a sudden a bust out of Dazed and Confused tapped into our collective psyche like a shot of B-12. Jennifer Hartswick took lead, and her exceptionally powerful vocals easily carved out her place as the night’s MVP. The band took a bow with a vigorous Push On ‘Til the Day, capped off with Trey frenetically dancing like a madmen on a musical mission, spreading the message of the Helping Friendly Book like he only knows how.
In his preeminent side project, an impeccable ensemble of musicians accompanies Trey, and each accentuates the grand vision put forth on stage. With several years behind them, and only a handful of lineup changes, this band truly gels as one, with Big Red as the shining centerpiece. Including a horn section that would fit right in at a New Orleans second line, to a New York jazz club, or an all out funk infused bonanza, Trey Band offers a unique sound that diverts wholly from Phish, and significantly from the jam sphere at large. In a discussion with a complete newb to the scene that experienced the show, he remarked perfectly that while the music was playing he felt contemplative about his life; not in the normal anxious way one often goes about such things, but in a meditative, positive light, and while the band carried on, he felt an overwhelming sense that everything will be okay. In a nutshell, Trey and his cohorts brought us much joy on Saturday night, evidenced by all of our melted faces as we exited the venue.
Against all odds, trials and tribulations, we are experiencing what could easily be dubbed “The Year of Trey.” Through practice and patience in the lead up to Fare Thee Well, Trey not only applied his newly electrified approach to playing in those five magical shows, he took his panache with him through the most legendary Phish tour in a generation, and now on the road with Trey Anastasio Band. Even from afar, one can see that Anastasio’s spirit is simply infectious, and as he continues to soar through the stratosphere on this fall TAB tour, it’s apparent that whatever he’s got is contagious. When he is humming, so do those around him. So as TAB continues this journey with Halloween weekend stops at Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas, get on board for a priceless experience before the Trey train passes you by.
Deadheads have always been a critical bunch. For decades we’ve waded and waffled over albums, tapes, set lists, soundboards, and so on, with monotonous detail. We’ve attended shows with aim to transcend the boundaries and limits of day-to-day life, yet when something wasn’t quite up to snuff, we’d be the first to appraise, and offer up notions on how it could’ve been better. Since Jerry checked out we’ve been hypercritical about every show, often unfairly holding them up to concerts from the best days of the Dead. And while sometimes we can frankly be oversensitive imbeciles, it’s this very way that we showcase our dedicated nature that makes us the very best fan base in the world. We don’t mince words. We will tell you if you suck. Likely you don’t blow or we wouldn’t attend your shows, but when you have one of those days, tours, or even one of those sets or songs where you couldn’t tap into the collective synchronicity, you’re going to get an earful. As a musician I can’t imagine a more terrifyingly wonderful prospect, because you will get the credit when it’s due. Genuine is a word that wholeheartedly defines deadheads.
And this year, tons of gratitude has poured from our ranks towards the Core Four, their counterparts and the various 50th anniversary incarnations, yet there has been an incredible level of hogwash as well. And I’m not talking about constructive criticism regarding a show that already went down; rather referring to deadheads a plenty taking their preconceived notions about a certain artist or ensemble and prejudging events that have yet to take place. While it’s far from the bunch, and may be a minority (there’s no way to really know), a group of heads has made an indelible mark in various corners of the interweb with premature expressions of doubt. First with Trey, the hysteria was palpable, and people that practically based part of their very being on hating Phish, were met with a musical identity crisis of massive proportions. Folks flipped their shit, and that vibe wafted throughout our scene, and touched everyone, including Big Red himself. But now that Fare Thee Well has come and gone, the Anastasio bashing has nearly ceased, as most realize they don’t have two legs to stand upon when attacking his abilities. So at this juncture as Trey stands on his merits, some have certainly learned their lesson about prejudgment. Still I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu with the yet to be road tested Dead & Company and their lead guitarist. John Mayer’s inclusion in Dead and Company has left him as the new public enemy number one. After the unjustified Trey hate barrage, I thought many more would take the high road at this juncture, but my optimism outshined reality, as the trolls and drama queens are at it again. And a message to them: your intransigent non-constructive criticism serves no purpose whatsoever, other than to justify your years held prejudices. Disliking Mayer’s mainstream music should not be basis for condemning the Dead and Company venture. Even Mayer himself believes his pop tunes are garbage, merely a means to pay the bills while pursuing his true passions on the side. Moreover a heaping handful of evidence suggests that Mayer can in fact play guitar, and play it quite well. So instead of condemning the man out of the gate, how about giving him a chance to demonstrate his proficiency without any prepossessed notions. Simply, it’s called open-mindedness, and I thought we were a pretty receptive bunch.
As Mayer has received his fair share of hate from the general public over the years, and has likely grown a thick skin, it’s not his feelings I’m concerned about. It’s our community, and what we tacitly stand for that should be upheld. Many are stoked for these shows. We hear your hate on a daily basis. While you may be ultimately right, and Dead & Company bombs due to the incorporation of Mayer into the collective, you’ll be vindicated based on your prediction, but you won’t be upon your behavior. The name-calling and ad hominem attacks are unbecoming, unnecessary, and your prematurely negative vibes are harshing our widespread mood. So for the betterment of our community, mellow out, open your brain, ears, and heart to the possibility that something good might be brewing. And if you can’t do that, and your irrational hate is so deep-seated, then stuff it for the duration and let us have our good time without the ongoing pessimistic commentary from the peanut gallery. Ultimately your vibe won’t ruin our experience in the least, but it does take its toll, and perhaps in recognition of that, you’ll take it down a notch.
Whether this tour will be the greatest thing since Fare Thee Well, present itself as a mediocre happening, or crash as an abysmal failure, we don’t know. Those touting the merits of Mayer, or attacking him on insignificant levels, simply have no inkling. So in the vista of uncertainty, why not wax positive. Positivity and transcendent music are the main features of our community that brought us here in the first place. And without the former, the latter often doesn’t come to fruition. Life is a whole lot easier looking upwards and onwards, rather than downwards with a constant eye towards past dwellings. If these shows are second-rate, then take all the time you need to constructively criticize after the fact. I may very well join you. But if the hate parade continues towards Dead & Company’s opening dates, I have to ask: what kind of people are we? We can be the people that live by the creeds commonly suggested in Grateful Dead lyrics, or we can throw everything we’ve learned on this trip to the wind, and devolve into our lesser selves. The choice is yours. “Ain’t no time to hate,” even if it’s John Mayer.
“One good thing about [Phish], when it hits you feel no pain.” And we’ve all been crosseyed and painless this summer as our favorite band was hitting it nightly. Spectator to unarguably the greatest tour of 3.0, and likely the best run of shows since the 1990’s, I couldn’t be more elated for our community as a whole, especially us youngins in the bunch. No more can that handful of apathetic old heads trample on our good time with the tired old adage that “it just ain’t the same.” While Phish 2015 is far from the band with the same moniker from two decades ago, they are finally reaching the same summits again, and old and new, contemporary fans have laid witness to all their glory. And to understand how I personally feel about this latest peak from our favorite ensemble, lets head back for a moment to the lowliest point in Phishtory.
If Phish was Poster Nutbag, I jumped on the phan bandwagon right before he kicked the bucket. My journey to Phish was a tedious one that began in the summer of 2004 with a decision made by my group of teenage friends to head up to Coventry, Vermont for what was then to be their last music festival. At the time I only had dabbled in some of the band’s more well known tunes, and my only notion of what a Phish festival or show was like came from watching Bittersweet Motel. While the rest of the seasoned Phish community was already mourning the loss of their favorite spiritual/therapeutic/musical outlet, my friends and I set out upon an epic, but arduous journey that marked the very beginning of my true insertion into this wonderful jam band community.
While I now understand how weird, pensive, and not so serene the vibe was at Coventry, at the time I thought I was at a run of the mill Phish festival. I was in heaven. Ankle deep muddy heaven. I even thought the mud was a normal occurrence. It rained! Of course there’s gonna be mud so deep one can’t even take care of his shoes. I was a newb. And as I walked into the venue barefoot, hundreds of phans busted through a fence from their several mile trek to the fest. I met a head that had his chest ripped open after he scaled a waterfall and failed while hiking into the campgrounds. He still got to the show. I knew this wasn’t quite the status quo at the time, but what struck me was the dedication of these phans, making it to their last hurrah hell or high water. When the music started, that dedication was unfounded, as Trey rambled on, and the rest of the band attempted to carry his addled self. And while the weekend was a musical and logistical bust, I did pick up something from Coventry. A need to understand where this fanatical nature came from. So over the course of the next few years, I delved deep into the Phish catalogue, caught the boys solo when I could. One particular Trey Anastasio & 70 Volt Parade show at Jones Beach, on the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing felt like a personal apology for the atomic blast that was Coventry. After that show, fishing further, finding all those gems in the band’s catalogue that veterans so energetically talked about, I held out hope for a Phish reunion. Then my and thousands of others’ prayers were answered with the Mothership shows in March of 2009. While that run left much for wanting, our band was back together, and I was experiencing present day good and genuine Phish performances for the first time in my existence. With both the Dead and Phish setting out for their first full-length tours in five years, 2009 made for a largely legendary year of music.
Fast forward to 2015. Phish has been out on the road again for seven years running. While during the last lucky seven heavy rotations around the sun we’ve witnessed many highs, a few lows, and a lot of middle of the road shows, we are buzzing off a tour that exceeded all of our wildest dreams. Even us relative newbies’ never expected harmonious heights synonymous with the mid-nineties. We never envisaged musical mastery exceeding all of 2.0 and 3.0 combined, yet here we are. A collection of shows that rivals most groupings in the last two decades. Incredible. Speechless. This is why we keep coming back for more. And to cork it off, Sunday night’s THANK YOU encore at Dick’s placed a juicy cherry atop all that’s transpired this summer.
For the first time in this 3.0’ers life, I feel like I’ve experienced all of what Phish has to offer. Upward and onward! 2015 ain’t over yet. Rumor has it we have an MSG New Years run in our future, followed by 2016 shows that our Mexican Cousins will have a chance to jump on. Then the rumored US winter tour. Born again, rejuvenated, whatever you want to call it…the boys are hitting on all cylinders and magic is in the air. Nothing currently suggests that it won’t continue into the winter and New Year. So save your pennies, recharge on this break, for the future is bright, and time’s got nothing on Phish. Mid-life they may be, but they look like a bunch of giddy teenagers on stage, and their enthusiasm is widely reflected in the music they’re producing. And as the music plays the band, the band plays us. Thank you Trey, Page, Mike, Jon, CK5, and the crew that brought it all back home for each and every one of us on this tour. Until next time, united we stand.
“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” In our jam band bubble, we are lucky enough to take in stupendous music year after year, yet some periods are more special than others, and 2015 is one for the record books. Enchantment is abundant in our world, and for the surviving members of the Grateful Dead not much has been run of the mill in respect to the various celebrations for their 50th anniversary. Since we aren’t talking about any band here, there’s no such thing as status quo when it comes to a Dead type tour, but for the first time in the post-Jerry years, the community that surrounds the surviving members of the group seems to be more vibrant than in any of the days since August 9, 1995.
While we’ve all been lucky enough to experience countless amazing musical and community moments since the passing of the unofficial patriarch of the Deadhead Diaspora, I can’t think of many instances that top what has already occurred during our current trip around the sun. Yes, there have been some top-notch tours with the Core Four, together and apart, but I’d be hard pressed to find a collection of post-Jerry shows that reached the collective heights of Fare Thee Well. And while the melodic merits of Santa Clara and Chicago will continue to be argued by every card-carrying deadhead, not one of us can deny the communal clarity that those final Dead shows brought to fruition. While I only imbibed via the movie screen, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that those concerts were the closest representations of bona fide Grateful Dead experiences to have taken place since the untimely passing of Jerry. Whether via the interweb or in person, everyone that has survived the highs and lows of the past two decades were there, basking in all the glory embodied in the phrase, “There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.”
Now three of the core four have tapped into the notion that something special is transpiring in our promised land and formed Dead & Company. While I can’t blame Phil for not joining in, as I don’t have many details, other than speculation and hearsay from a handful of folks supposedly in the know, I do wish he were taking part. However there will still be plenty of chances to get our Phil fix through shows at the Capitol Theater in Portchester, NY, his rambles at Terrapin Crossroads, and the expected Core Four appearance, amongst other combos at Lockn’ Festival. Phil is celebrating GD50 in his own way, and I wish him all the best in everything he does. But while Phil does his personal thing, I am truly stoked for Dead & Company and all its possibilities. As I have subjectively high expectations for the shows about to go down, intellectually I know that this incarnation has every ability to fall flat on its face. Weir, Hart, and Kreutzmann are taking an incredible risk introducing a complete outsider into our scene, and the backlash from some fans has been palpable. But Mayer is a commensurate guitarist and performer, and all evidence suggests that he is holed up somewhere right now studying his ass off for tour. While the potential to bomb is prevalent, this ensemble also presents us with the possibility of musical majesty and reinvention that has not been heard on such a large-scale in decades. And for those that think Mayer doesn’t have the chops to pull this off, rumor has it that he will have some help on the way from a smattering of different guitarists at various tour stops. With great possibility comes great risk, and I’m certain the boys are keenly aware of this and will do everything in their power to ensure success in autumn.
And thus far ascendancy has been the name of the game in respect to marketing this shindig. Not since the mid-nineties has a Dead oriented tour found so much response in respect to ticket sales. While famous venues such as MSG generally tend to sell out without much effort on any given tour, demand has varied even in the recent past. Tickets could be found lining chain link fences, or left on the lot as trash at show time for the Dead reunion at Penn State University in October of 2008. Dead Tour 2009, which is the most recent comparable arena sized tour, largely did not sell out. While this tour will more than likely have some dates added still, word on the wire is that every show pass will be claimed nationwide. For three dudes considered passed their prime, and a man that was until recently largely loathed by the majority of Deadheads, this feat is immensely impressive.
And while the expected sell out has been nursed along by a few annoying, but germane marketing practices, sales ploys can not be all that’s behind this triumph. Although the mere idea of the fiftieth anniversary being the last hurrah has drummed up a certain sense of nostalgia for older deadheads who got off the bus a while ago, and mustered the possibility of seeing the magic happen live and in person for younger deadheads that never got to go out on real Dead tour, the overwhelming energy currently felt within our community can not solely be driven by these factors alone. There is certainly something happening here, yet what it is truly cannot be defined. Luckily for us it can be wholeheartedly embraced! The various spinoffs of our favorite band are more popular than they have been in a long time, and the surviving members have been successfully tapping into this energy.
So whatever reservations you may have about this tour: the cast of characters, the exorbitant prices, the runaround getting tickets, the redundant notion that this all is a money grab, and John Mayer being at the forefront of it all, I implore you to catch a show or two, or ten. This could be the last circus of its size, or not. But it will most certainly be the last group of shindigs for 2015, and if I could tell you one thing about this year, it has been full of symphonious sorcery with more to likely come. There’s been another band at the helm of our scene having its best year in a generation; you guys may have heard of them. For those piscatorial fellas and what’s left of the Dead, something mystical is in the air. Take it all in before it passes you by.
Phish ain’t lyrically Dead, so stop fucking comparing them on that level! Pretty pretty please?! I imagine you won’t, but I’m asking anyway because your comparisons are nonsense. So stop. Or don’t. But either way, don’t like Phish lyrics? Fine. They’re not for everybody. There’s nothing wrong with that. Your ticker tape parade will be thrown on the Avenue of Heroes in NYC at the end of Phish tour. But to compare the two bands lyrically is not only foolish…it’s obtuse. End rant. As Ringo would say, I say all this with peace and love, a sincere desire to evoke empathy within the jam band community at large, and the notion, likely some of you realize, that while these bands share many things, lyrics are not one of them, nor were they ever intended to be.
Even putting aside the various collaborations that have occurred between members of Phish and the Grateful Dead in the post-Jerry years, these two bands are linked at the hip, and will inexorably remain that way until their songs and respective followings are snuffed out of existence (if that ever happens). This linkage largely exists due to the two bands’ proclivity towards improvisation in their performances, synchronicity on stage between band and audience members, varied and unique set lists, similar business practices, and an overlapping devoted fan base. However musically and lyrically, these two bands could not be any different. While both were heavily influenced by the American musical landscape, and the musicians that came before them, they also both came of age at completely different times, and this generational gap is reflected in the different style of music they put out.
While one bands verse may seem more profound than the other, I truly contend we should not be comparing these two bands on the lyrical level anymore, because it inevitably leads to hating. When it comes to lyrics and making comparisons, it’s like trying to compare the taste and texture of an apple to a pineapple. They are both fruits and have the word ‘apple’ in their respective names, but besides those similarities, their flavor and feel could not be further from each other. Yet both apples and pineapples are wonderful and delicious in their own right, but in spite of that I don’t see folks equating them very often. So as we don’t compare pineapples and apples, lets aim to do the same with Phish and the Dead on a lyrical level.
Putting the musicianship aside, which most would agree is stellar coming from both bands, even if you don’t personally jive with both bands, lets focus on the words. For many years I have been trying to explain the lyrics of Phish to friends and strangers alike that just don’t get it. They’ll complement the musicianship of the band, but then explain away their inability to get into them as due to Phish’s “idiotic” locution. Invariably the topic will always digress into a conversation about how compared to the prophetic nature of Grateful Dead lyrics, Phish lyrics are generally gibberish and of a juvenile nature. One friend even used to slap a bunch of random rubbish together, and sing in a Phish like way, gyrating as if to imitate one of the band members, ultimately showing me that this is what Phish sounds like to him. While I never got through to that friend, and we are no longer friends at that (for completely unrelated reasons), and it’s okay that he doesn’t get Phish because it’s not for everyone, but wherever he is, I hope he stopped contrasting the damn lyrics to those of the Grateful Dead, and ceased upon hating on folks for their musical predilections. The lyrics are not meant to evoke the same things, and are written in completely different context as the different bands and lyricists relate to society as a whole on a different level.For those who have trouble relating, it is imperative to look at Phish lyrics differently than you do to those of the Dead. Hunter/Barlow lyrics are exceptionally prescient, in a non-dogmatic way. They are meant to be that way, and have remained true to form throughout the years. Phish lyrics, often written by the likes of Tom Marshall and Steve Pollak (The Dude of Life), are for the most part not supposed to be viewed as prophetic, however a few insightful gems exist amongst their massive catalog. While commensurate storytellers, the Phish lyricists seem to base their compositions in a fantasy world…a world where nursery rhymes are written for adults. Perhaps influenced by the song Prince Caspian, I often compare Phish lyrics to a Narnia Chronicles for grownups.
And on top of the whimsical fairytale like atmosphere many Phish lyrics convey, some of them are just plain silly, but that’s not a reason for scorn. They are supposed to be silly, silly. Whether it’s an inside joke between the band members, or the phan community as a whole, these comedic lyrics create an atmosphere unlike anything ever achieved at a Dead show. They convey comedy and commentary much like several of Frank Zappa’s lyrical odysseys. While Phish lyrics may not be as politically influenced as Zappa’s, the resulting madness is similar. A community of phans not only meeting their spiritual needs through transcendent jams, but achieving their therapeutic needs through sheer comedy as well.
While I write this piece in jest in part, specifically some of my words in the introduction, my sentiment remains true to heart. I have a deep connection to both of these bands. Their music and verse has seen me through some of the hardest times of my life, as well as the most marvelous moments of my existence. I do my best to see each of them for what they are, and while I can be as critical as the next person, as much of the respective fan bases tend to be, I try to keep the criticism in the constructive sense. Recently I saw a deadhead in a Facebook group say that those that appreciate Phish are a seriously troubled group of people. I responded with the tidbit that oddly enough, the vast majority of society feels the same way about Deadheads…they look at YOU as troubled. So in essence, it’s easy to cast aspersions when ignorant towards something that seems weird to you. It’s a lot harder to take the time to understand and empathize, even if it ultimately isn’t your cup of tea.
Over the past seven months plus, I’ve seen a lot of vitriol thrown towards Phish’s way due to the news of Trey Anastasio’s inclusion in Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead. While this hate has more or less always existed, much like the recent upswing in racial tensions in our nation, the inclusion of Anastasio in the final Dead performances has brought all this animosity to a boil. While the inauguration of our first African American president may have in part stoked the racial tension in the nation at large, and this analogy only serves to highlight my point in the most superficial of ways, we as a community, a community a jam band devotees, are supposed to be better than the rest of society.
And if we are not better, we should aim to be better, because betterment is the core of human existence, and I can not think of a much better place than a Phish or a Dead-oriented show, where humanity is better represented in all its possibilities. And taking those show vibes to the next level, as a community, and as individuals in this community, instead of hating, we should aim towards love, and empathy. Empathy is key here. If one can’t grasp someone’s love for Phish and their lyrics, at face value, instead of publicly hating on them, perhaps one should try to put themselves in that phan’s shoes. And while this may be common sense for some, on the surface it seems that it’s a long lost notion for others. Without empathy we are a farce. “It’s completely insane, it’s a revolving cast, but it’s the same old game,” “without love, day to day, insanity is king.”