Tuesday 08/18/2015 by tweezer

BEHIND THE MUSIC: MIKE'S SONG'S SECOND JAM

[Editor’s note: after the celebratory revival of the “Mike’s Song” second jam on 8/4/15 in Nashville, the folks on the Mockingbird and phish.net teams wanted the whole scoop on what happened, since the instigator was one of our staff. We thought the story was simply too good not to share. Many of our readers will already know the basics of how Drew Hitz (professional musician, music business consultant, Mockingbird Foundation board member), with the assistance of his friend and colleague Don Hart (composer, arranger, orchestrator, collaborator with Trey on “Time Turns Elastic”), turned fan dreams into reality. If this story is new to you, check out the .net recap from that Nashville gig. -PZ]

Don Hart asked me if I was coming to Nashville for the show at the brand new Ascend Amphitheater. He ended up securing me a ticket which was DFC in the fourth row of seats behind the pit. I was hopeful that I would get into the soundcheck, but didn't find out that I would be going until that afternoon.

The soundcheck was fascinating for me. They played a bluesy jam to start, and then Fishman asked if they had time to run “Mercury.” After playing it once through, they then rehearsed and ended up rewriting parts of the second half of the tune. It was a fully democratic process. They focused on the transition getting out of Fishman's Marimba Lumina solo into the next section.


8/4/15, Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, TN. Photo by Drew Hitz.

They were choosing harmonies, who was playing and who wasn't, how Fishman was getting from the solo into his next drumbeat, etc. They also worked on the next section of the tune. Mike asked Trey if one riff in the transition was going to happen once or twice. Trey said that it was supposed to happen once but that every time he went to play it twice. They decided it would be played twice which made Trey remark "And that puts the rhyme in the middle of the bar, which is weird, but I like weird."

They then discussed the background vocals of the next section. They first discussed whether there should be two or three-part harmony, and who was singing what part. Trey proposed a pattern for singing the backgrounds that was singing a pattern four times, and then two times, with the next two times resting. Mike then countered with singing it four times and then three times, with only time time resting, which he said would be symmetry and a callback to the beginning of the tune, which is in seven. Trey said "I love symmetry," and that is what they went with.

The process of rewriting these parts of the tune were 100% democratic. I was getting to watch a chamber group rehearse as if no one was there. There were only five of us in the audience, and one was The Dude of Life. As a musician, I have dreamed of watching Phish rehearse as a fly on the wall, and the fact that I got that kind of soundcheck was really special. But that wasn't exactly the highlight of the day...

For anyone who missed it, Trey told Don through the mic "We will be back here in about a month or so to record an album." I only pass that along because it was confirmed that it was picked up by mics just outside the venue. The “we” wasn't clear whether it was Phish or TAB, but it sure seemed like he was talking about Phish.


8/4/15, Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, TN. Photo by Drew Hitz.

Immediately after the soundcheck, Trey met Don, myself, and Don's other two guests next to the stage and spoke with us for probably 15-20 minutes. As he has been every time I've had an encounter with him, Trey was gracious, kind, generous with his time, and genuinely interested in who he was talking to. He's really quite a remarkable guy, as many of you know.

Trey and I spoke about the NSO gig (from 5/22/13) and he mentioned how great the orchestra sounded that night and about how great Steven Reineke, the conductor, was in particular. We then spoke about the crowd clapping along in “You Enjoy Myself” and about how the orchestra clenched from the sound delay and how Reineke's eyes got really big, and he just pushed through.

Trey then asked if we (the NSO) had anything cool coming up. I explained to him that I had infiltrated the orchestra by sending an email to my friend, explaining to him that I regretted to inform him that he wasn't playing the gig and that I was in his place. Trey was very amused. He said that if it helped me get another gig with them that he would write a letter saying how the orchestra sounded great, but that the tuba player in particular was phenomenal. He was cracking himself up at this point.

I had been planning the “Mike's Song” conversation for whenever I saw him again, but only if it felt right. At one point, about ten minutes into the conversation, there was a little lull, and I expected Trey to thank us for coming. I wasn't going to interject after that point, so I thought the moment had passed, but everyone kept talking.


8/4/15, Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, TN. Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish 2015

I finally had my opening and asked him if I could be "a pushy Phish fan for one minute." He nodded so I asked him "Would you like to break Twitter tonight?" He smiled and said "I'd love to."

I then asked him if he remembered our conversation immediately after the Kennedy Center gig about the second jam in “Mike's Song.” He said he vaguely remembered it, and that he didn't remember them ever doing it. I told him that if they played it again, he might bring down the whole internet.

It was then that he asked how it used to go. That is when I whipped out my phone and hit play. It was already cued to about five seconds before the chords that lead into the second jam of the 7/14/00 “Mike's.” I explained that they now played those three chords four times that lead to the composed ending which resolved to “I Am Hydrogen,” or whatever else they were going to play. He nodded along while listening.

I then pointed out that they used to play those chords only twice, and then would modulate down a half-step to F-major. As that happened on the recording, he said "We did?!" He then said it sounded like they were about to go into “Simple,” and I told him that they didn't. He asked what they went into, and I said an open ended jam in F. He said "Ooh, I like jamming in F." I then pointed out that this version went on for another 7:30 before dropping into “Frankie Says.” You could see he was processing.

He then told me what he told me after the Kennedy Center conversation. He said, "Well, if we ever do this, it will only be because of you because I have no memory of it whatsoever." He then said that I could come up on stage with a selfie stick and take a photo. I asked him if I could make a speech, and he said that would be fine.


8/4/15, Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville, TN. Photo by Rene Huemer © Phish 2015

I pointed out to Trey in a joking manner that he didn't even need to tell the other guys, that he could just drop down the half-step and they would follow him. This didn't even need rehearsing.

Five minutes later, at the very end of the conversation, I caught myself very quietly singing “Mike's” to myself, because I was so excited. I apologized to Trey for singing it and told him that it was subliminal, and that I got the request in and that the messaging was over. He laughed. I then told the Dude of Life in front of Trey that I needed him to sing the half-step modulation for Trey in about 30 minutes to reinforce the message. Everyone laughed.

I then watched Fishman practice for about 20 minutes, and thanked Page for getting off his tour bus in the middle of his dinner 20 years ago to talk to me and some other folks. I told him how much that inspired a kid in music school.

After I got out of there, I tweeted:

"I just played Trey the transition into the 2nd jam of the 7/14/00 Mike's Song. The rest is in God's hands." So the entire Phish twitter-verse knew about this before the show happened. My phone started blowing up after retweets from YEMblog and others. At least I thought my phone was blowing up.

The second set started with “Golden Age.” I was mildly bummed they didn't bust into “Mike's” right away, since that would have been a giveaway in that slot that it was going down. Then “Light,” and “Shade.” The ballad in the three-hole usually sets up something big, so I started to get excited, although I was trying to keep my expectations under control.

At that point Trey walked over to Page and talked to him for a few seconds, and it was all Trey talking to Page and Page simply nodding. My heart started beating a little faster. Then he walked over to Mike and they talked for almost 30 seconds, and my heart started racing. Then a brief conversation with Fishman, and he dropped into the opening notes of “Mike's Song,” at which point I almost shit myself.

I covered my mouth with my hands, and Don was staring at me and I told him that this was the tune I spoke to Trey about, and that he talked to all the other guys and I was blabbing. I do remember saying "I think this is actually @#$!ing happening," which put a huge smile on Don's face.

They got to the tramps section and for the first few minutes I was dancing like I was 19 again. But then I just stood there, since the moment of truth was coming at any point. I just stood there, clenched.

Then the three chords came once, twice, and a third time. I was like “NOOOOOOOO,” and then thought that maybe he was going to play them four times and then drop down. Then the composed ending happened and I tweeted ":(".

But then, sure as shit, as soon as they got to the end, Trey plowed right through with a little “Simple” fake out, and we were off and running. I made the touchdown salute, and then started freaking out. Don was on Cloud Nine, as we've become really good friends and he was loving me having a meltdown.

At that point my phone basically became a brick. I showed Don twenty minutes later that the notifications from Twitter were coming into my phone so fast that you literally could not make out a single word on any of them, as they scrolled by as fast as they could. My phone was blowing up for a full 24 hours afterwards. I got 800 new followers and enough offers for a free beer to get us all drunk for a full week.


"Mike's Song" – Phish, 8/4/15, Nashville, TN. Video by LazyLightning55a.

Obviously, the rest of the “Mike's Groove” was absolutely stellar. Don was mesmerized by the “Weekapaug” and the Sabbath-esque jam. And the leading back into “Weekapaug” with the “still waiting's” from the “Crosseyed” thrown in was just all surreal. And just when I begin to get about 5% of my shit under control, they encored with “Slave.”

Seeing that music, at that venue – incredible sound, great location, amazing view of the city and river – with Don (first time I'd seen a show with him) would have been an all-timer experience for me, even without my interaction with Trey or the online Phish community. Add it all up and it was one of the greatest days of my life.

One addendum to the story: After Don saw what a big deal it was to me, and after he saw the Internet meltdown that occurred afterwards, he offered to pass along a thank you email from me to Trey.

In that email I was able to thank him for a bunch of stuff, including all of the money that Phish has given to The Mockingbird Foundation over the years. I told him that it helped us to fulfill our mission and made sure the thank you was from all of us.

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