Phish Saves America: DVD, Reunion, Summer Tour

Phish has provided innumerable music lovers across the country with the motivation to save up some cash and start traveling to see music again.

My hubbie and I haven’t really been spending money on vacations of late, unusual for people who are known for skipping town whenever possible. Our homelocked status has as much to do with our hectic lives as with our finances. Phish’s reunion inspired us to start saving and begin the excited, inexhaustive internet travel planning — hotel or vacation home? Share a room? Plane or road trip? Rental car or cabs? Who’s going? Who still needs tickets? A few days ago, I finally bit the bullet and bought our airfare to Hampton, even though the band's friendly PR flacks weren't able to make any guarantees about access. But even if I'm not given a press ticket for one, two or all three of shows, I'll do some tap dancing, fundraising and whatever else is necessary to get in. If I end up outside staring longingly at the Hampton Coliseum with hundreds of other dejects. Just remember that no matter what happens, I will report back about it here. I'll give a play-by-play in the parking lot as depressing as that may be.

[image-1]Phish will bring a much-needed economic boost to various small communities nationwide.

You’ve heard stories about Phish’s annual summer festivals, how, for a few days, the fest site becomes the most populated part of the state. The band’s first big fest, 1996’s Clifford Ball (pictured at left and featured in the DVD), brought around 75,000 people to Plattsburgh, NY, and flushed an estimated $20 million into the local economy. Imagine this on a smaller scale at quaint towns scattered across the country. The average Phish show draws tens of thousands of people, both with and without tickets.

And Phish fans spend money. Period. We get a lot of flack for being wookies or trustifarians or kind, patchouli-smelling hippies (some are, some aren’t). But they are by and large responsible, regular people living regular lives. Of the people I know who are Phish fans, two are lawyers, several are school teachers and realtors, one’s a respected professor at USF, one sells pharmaceuticals, a few are artists and musicians, one manages an insurance company, a few are writers like me. And when we go on vacation, we live it up.

All the members seem to have their shit together.

Really I just mean frontman/guitarist Trey Anastasio. He was the one who couldn't deal when Phish returned from a few-year hitatus, the one whose substance abuse problems ultimately led him to break up the band "for good" in '04, and likely the one who, once clean and done with court dates, suggested they start playing together again. He's been through a lot these past five years, but he seems to have conquered his demons and I hear he's got his A-game back.

The jam scene’s current stagnant state will be revived by both the return of Phish and The Dead.

Let’s face it, the jam scene is pretty uninspired right now. String Cheese Incident broke up (no big loss there), the Allman Brothers Band are doing what they've done for the past 30 years, though Greg Allman's health has made their touring more sporadic, moe. is good with moments of greatness but who can go see them when they rarely venture from the Northeast and throw festivals in cold, wet locales? The Disco Biscuits and Perpetual Groove seem to have plateaued, Gov't Mule produces damn fine Southern-fried cock-strut rock and that's about it, and can we please not talk about Widespread Panic? Jimmy Herring's glorious licks aside, Panic is not really growing anywhere. Umphrey’s McGee, Mofro, Keller Williams and My Morning Jacket have somehow become the jam scene frontrunners, and none of them are really what you’d lump into the jam band category.

The Phish and Dead tours will saturate the scene with a very specific type of music lover, a new breed of band will sprout up to play for these music lovers, and all of this will force the current breed of jam bands to turn up the heat to hold the attention of fans distracted by the Phish and Dead reunions. Plus, you know, Phish and the Dead are like the anchor stores in a shopping plaza. With them back, others are sure to succeed by default.

Fan appreciation is back. All other bands beware.

Phish has always been known for their dedication to their fans — putting out new remastered copies of their shows on a regular basis and more recently, new DVDs, throwing yearly festivals and NYE shows, offering fair ticket prices overall, giving fans the ability to not have to have to deal with Ticketbastard. Phish's return means that other bands are going to have to step it up. Just putting out a CD and touring all the time isn't gonna cut it anymore unless you're good and you make your fans feel special. Phish has gotten creative in the past; I buy their stuff because they are always offering other enticing stuff to go with it. A seven-DVD set, with a bonus DVD of rare footage and performances, and the opportunity to win tickets to all three nights of Hampton just for buying it? I’m in.

Each member has been doing their own thing for long enough that new ideas have been percolating and new heights of musical improvisation are inevitable.

I’m excited about the possibilities.

Now, on to the Clifford Ball DVD Set.

[image-2]The press folks were kind enought to send me a video clip of "It's Ice" and an audio file of "Harry Hood" from the upcoming DVD release. The seven-disc box set includes six sets, two encores and more than nine hours of bonus footage with live improvisation, rarities (like a soundcheck from August 15, their “Flatbed Jam” performed late night on the back of a truck), and an interview with longtime Phish artist Jim Pollock (who presents a new solo exhibit in Miami in March).

Here's the 'Hood:

Listen to Phish perform "Harry Hood."

You can pre-order the Clifford Ball DVD Set (and get entered automatically into a drawing for tickets to all three nights of Hampton) by clicking here. You have to place your order by Feb. 27 in order to qualify; the DVD's due out March 3 on JEMP Records/Rhino.

Stay tuned for more Phish news and views coming down the tube; I've got some good content coming up, including that "It's Ice" video clip I mentioned earlier.

A new weekly column (with media!) about the jam band supergroup; logo art by Phil Bardi.

On October 1, when the members of Phish — guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboardist Page McConnell — announced they were getting back together right in the middle of what was turning out to be a really difficult year for my husband and I (not to mention for the rest of the country), it was as if they were performing a public service, as if they'd tuned into the collective subconscious and realized that their fans and America as a whole needed something to lift us.

An increased mortgage payment, termites, a car accident, a string of break-downs, the Creative Loafing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, stress-related heart palpitations, the gas price hike, Sarah Palin and John McCain and George Bush and all the dark and dreary days of bad news after bad news, of living paycheck to paycheck, the bleak and undeniable truth of our country’s recession — all of it was put into perspective when my four favorite musicians decided that it was finally time to get back together and make great music again.

It sounds ludicrous, of course.  I know there’s other music out there — I’m an unfaltering advocate for most of it. I get on my soapbox all the time to tell whoever will listen to me about it, spend hours at my laptop because of it, and develop enduring obsessions that span the sonic spectrum as a result of it.

But my ability to appreciate and enjoy such a wide range of musical genres and my very career as a music writer can be directly attributed to being turned onto Phish. It's Phish that gave me new ears and prompted a different way of listening to music, Phish that nurtured my desire to seek out the latest sound and all those sounds I’d never taken the time to check out before and have come to love dearly — The Velvet Underground, Ween, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads. I learned, by way of Phish, that yes, I can travel anywhere I want, that I can hop a plane and fly away for the weekend and see a show and new city (or re-visit a favorite one), I can jump in my car and just go (provided my car works).

Most of all, Phish introduced me to a community of devoted fans who really seem to care about each other, who are a warm, welcoming, good-natured bunch with the tendency to form instant bonds with fellow admitted phans; I’ve met some of my closest friends via our shared love of Phish.

Phish changed my life, made me who I am today — both as a person and as a music journalist — and they are near and dear to my heart because of it. The band’s reunion has given me something shiny and bright to look forward to in the near future. That and the upcoming Clifford Ball DVD Set, a concert doc featuring Phish's first fest, which was held on a decommissioned air force base in New York. (More on that and a soundboard copy of the fest's "Harry Hood" at the bottom of the post).

So back to my point. I have a theory that the Phish reunion is not only a great thing for Phishheads but for America as a whole. Here’s why:

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.