One of Vermont’s — and New England’s — best-known, longest-running musical acts, Phish’s line-up of guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboardist Page McConnell has been playing together since 1985. Widely considered the spiritual heirs of the Grateful Dead and godfathers of the current jam band scene, Phish, over the course of fifteen studio albums, eight live albums and scores of bootlegs have explored jazz, funk, blues, psychedelic rock, bluegrass, prog and classical music — often in the same song.
Fueled by a passionate fanbase (known as Phish-heads, phriends, etc.) that has followed the band from its early days at the University of Vermont and Goddard College to their late-’90s festivals (The Great Went, Lemonwheel) at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine — shows so large the number of attendees (65,000+) made them Maine’s most-populous cities for a weekend — Phish has proudly eschewed the traditional road to success and dedicated themselves to their fans. (In 1989, the band rented out The Paradise Rock Club after the venue’s ownership refused to book them, and the show sold out as fans from around New England made the trek to Boston for the private concert!)
Indeed, despite a strong discography, including 1991’s A Picture of Nectar and 1994’s Hoist, albums that introduced the band to Alternative Nation, it is the band’s live recordings and concerts that fans cherish most. The band changes setlists from show to show, performs classic albums in their entirety on Halloween (including the The Velvet Underground‘s Loaded and the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street) and communes directly with fans whenever possible, creating improvisational music with crowds. As a result, despite virtually no radio airplay, they’ve willed themselves into the national consciousness, having appeared on The Simpsons and in the Rock Band series of video games, been parodied on South Park and had a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after them — Phish food.
After a brief mid-oughts hiatus to recharge and work on side projects, the members of Phish reunited in 2008, released Joy and performed at Fenway Park in 2009 and, as they approach their third decade as a band/way of life, continue to tour the country and the world.
(by Stephen Haag)