History Of Phish
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Whats the use of going fast... if you're not in a race?
I think you'll notice that people around here accept a slower pace.
-- Trey Anastasio
Ernest Giuseppie "Trey" Anastasio III (born 9/30/64) grew up in Princeton, NJ, playing drums. He worked with his mother, an editor for Sesame Street Magazine, developing stories and songs of fantasy and fun and meaning. (His father was an executive with the Princeton-based Educational Testing Service, who adminster the SATs etc.)
Trey's musicianship grew at Princeton Day School with (particularly in eighth grade) Marc "Daubs" Daubert, Dave "Looks Too Much Like Dave" Abrahams, Tom Marshall, and Bob Szuter. (John Popper of Blues Traveler and Chris "Baron" of the Spin Doctors did not go to Princeton Day School, as has been rumored, but did attend Princeton High School, along with Jon Abrahams, the "only member of the Abrahams family not mentioned in a Phish song!", according to Luann Abrahams.)
After completing 10th grade at PDS, Trey transferred to Taft, a Watertown, CT, prep school (where Adam Duritz of Counting Crows also went?), where he repeated 10th grade and graduated in 1983, While there, he joined (as a vocalist) an eleven-person (or 8?) classic
Mike "Cactus" Gordon (born 6/3/65) is from Sudbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. His father founded the Store-24 chain. Mike was in the Tombstone Blues Band in high school, is said to have "the most business sense of the four: Before Phish became too big for the band to manage on its own, he kept the books and answer all the fan mail." (Boston Globe, 5/7/95) He graduated Spring 1983, and entered UVM that fall.
Page "Chairman of the Boards" McConnell (born 5/17/63) is from Basking Ridge, NJ. His father, a pediatrist and pharmaceutical researcher, reportedly was one of the inventors of Tylenol.
Page and Mike had formal music training from their early years.
Jon "Fish" Fishman (born 2/19/65, the son of a successful Syracuse orthodontist Branden Fitelson) went to Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Dewitt, New York, where he became self-taught on drums and briefly had a band called Frodo, named after the character in The Hobbit, Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom. He graduated Spring 1983, and entered UVM that fall.
FWIW, on 8/12/98 after Character Zero, Trey offers passes to anyone who can name Fishman's high school band. Then band then played Led Zepplin's "Ramble On", which includes lryics about lord of the rings, gollum, mordor, etc.
Trey at UVM: Trey initially went to the University of Vermont, in Burlington, which he entered Fall 1983, and met Fishman within the first week. "The [music] department was geared towards creating music teachers rather than musicians," he once told Steve Silberman. He studied various musical forms (and often mentions fugues and big band arrangements) but majored in philosophy. He also hosted a Monday morning (5-9 a.m.) radio show, "Ambient Alarm Clock":
"...inspired by his friend Ann LaBruciano, who had her own show, and would get three turntables spinning simultaneously, superimposing spoken-word recordings offering clashing viewpoints on the same subject. Anastasio did similar things, with music. 'It was,' says Anastasio, 'like a band playing, a jam.'" -- Steve Silberman, "Control for Smilers Can't be Bought"
Enter Jeff: In the fall of 1983, as a freshman at UVM's Redstone Campus, Trey met sophomore Jeff Holdsworth, an electrical engineering major who, like Trey, lived in Wing Hall. Trey, who had been playing two (very solid) maple-body Time guitars, was attracted by the sound of Jeff's (hollow-body) Les Paul guitar. Working with some of Trey's high schools friends and lyrics, the two of them became the kernel of Phish.
Enter Jon: Within the first few week, Trey met Jon (a chemical engineering major later known as Henrietta) when he (trained as a drummer initially, remember) was drawn by the sound of Jon's playing drums in his dorm room, and introduced him to Jeff.
Phirst NGSW: Before his sophomore year at UVM, Trey attended the very first National Guitar Summer Workshop at the New School in New Middlebury, CT, in July of 1984. (Trey went back nine years later for a Q&A session, followed by a jam session with friends and other former students; tapes of these are around, often labelled "Trey Speaks" and "Trey Plays", and selections have been filtered widely as fillers and as part of volume I of an interviews collection known as the "Tank Talk Tapes".)
Enter Mike: Once back at UVM, Trey immediately started hanging up signs looking for a bass player and Mike Gordon (an electrical engineering major) responded. Jeff, Trey, and Mike began playing with drummer and ole friend Marc Daubert, under a different name (but not, contrary to one myth, Lamb's Bread; that's another band. From Neil Berkman (10/5/94: "Lamb's Bread is a different band that is still around today; I'm pretty certain there's no one in common between the two bands. The confusion about this comes because a tape labelled as Phish 5/19/85 (I think) is really Lamb's Bread (at least some of the songs are, possibly all).") Trey also started jamming and practicing with Mike and Jon, who also were playing with a harder-edged band called the Dead Grapes (not the same as the Dreadful Grapes or The Grapes.) In interviews, Jon has said that he liked playing with that other band better, but thought that Trey had a better idea of long-term plans and expression, etc. Jon told Mike that he was going to stick with Trey; Mike then did, as well.
Phirst gig: Billed as the Blackwood Convention (not Phish), Trey, Mike, Jeff, and Jon played an ROTC Halloween Dance, Sunday, October 30, 1983, in the basement of the ROTC dormitory. They performed "Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress." The band was jeered, and one student ran to her room for Michael Jackson's Thriller [not the Bee Gees, as sometimes is reported] which was played over the PA while Phish was still playing. Their first gig billed as Phish was 10/23/84, in the basement of Slade Hall (another buildings on the Redstone Campus of UVM), featuring a handful of Who songs and an encore rendition of Proud Mary. This show was taped, but not well. (Check elsewhere in this FAQ for information about shows, co-billings, antics, and more since then.)
1984: Trey took off the second semester of his freshman year (Spring of 1984), during which he recorded his first 4-track project Bivouac Jaun, which he then combined with a demo (since lost) that the band (esp. Trey, Daubs, and Marshall) did in the fall of 1983 as well as with a 4-track work provided by Mike (including an early "Foam", saved for later) into a demo master that evolved into "The White Album". The band -- Trey, Mike, Jeff, Jon, and Marc "Daubs" Daubert (who co-wrote "The Curtain") -- continued to play basements and common rooms on the Redstone Campus, and began performing at the Last Elm Cafe (a nonprofit coffeehouse/music venture in a triangular room, which sadly closed in the summer of 1997). (According to Michael Magyar, "their first posters advertised 'Phish playing the music of the Grateful Dead.'") Their first bar gig was 12-1-84, upstairs at Nectar's (which is now the Metronome -- the upstairs, that is; Nectar's is still Nectar's), also featuring the Dude of Life's first college appearance. Daubs moved away in early 1985, and Jon became the single ophicial drummer.
Enter Goddard: Page McConnell started at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), for two years, then transferred to UVM, and then to Goddard College, a tiny liberal arts school in Northern Vermont that assigns no grades. According to Becky Burk, "Goddard began as a universalist seminary back in 1863. In 1870, the school moved to the first steam-heated building in Vermont. The school was named after a prominent Universalist merchant, Thomas A. Goddard. Mr. Goddard had been an early backer of the project and his widow helped complete some of the school's buildings after his death."
"Goddard's new students begin their studies with a question: What do you want to know? With input from faculty advisers, students devise their own educational plans, including choosing books and other media to study. And they determine how they'll demonstrate what they have learned throught." - Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/9/11, p.A6
Enter Page: By early Spring of 1985, the band -- Trey, Mike, Jeff, and Jon -- was playing happy hour every Thursday at 5 p.m. at Doolin's "pre-Ruben James", according to Trey 5/10/95), with phirst phan Brian Long (who was living on Mike's dorm hall) in dedicated attendance. Late in the Spring, Long connected Mike with Page, who was then the organizer for the annual Springfest (late April) at Goddard. Page booked Phish, as well as his own R&B band, Love Goat. Afterwards, he introduced himself to the band and announced that he wanted to join. He joined them for a gig 5/3/85 at a three-dorm (Wilks, Davis, and Wing) barbeque (the UVM "Last Day Party", on the Redstone Campus, with a five-person band!), but Trey and Jon remained determined that this was a two-guitar band with no need for a keyboardist.
Enter Paul: Paul Languedoc, who worked in the shop that built Trey's custom guitars, starting designing them himself in the summer of 1985. Paul was building Mike's basses by that fall, ran sound for the first time 10-15-86 (not 5-15-85 or 4-20-87, as rumored), and was the official soundman as of sometime circa 1989.
Europe and Epiphanies: Trey, Jon, Marc, and Tom spent the summer of 1985 in Europe, Trey writing some new tunes (including "You Enjoy Myself", "Dog Log" and the music to "Harry Hood"). When they returned, Page joined the band officially. Jon, Page, and Mike moved in together (with Brian Long) next to the Hood Dairy plant (or billboard?) . The gigs at Nectar's moved downstairs, to Nectar's proper. As the audiences expanded (relatively speaking), the band started playing Hunt's (still around?) and Finbar's (corner of Church and Main, now Manhattan Pizza). (Hunt's 5-15-85, with 169 fans, is remembered as being Paul Landuadoc's first show running sound, though that didn't happen til 10-15-86.) At a gig in the Goddard cafeteria (11-23-85), Mike had a religious experience while bouncing, a flash of peace and excitement and understanding, which Trey has since described as "transcendent glee", when he suddenly knew he wanted to be a musician. In December, during the first half of the winter break, Trey pieced together earlier demo tapes and four-track projects (including gems like a vocal "YEM" intro, and the crash sequence that later ended "Demand" on Hoist) into the common White Album tape.
Phinal Straws: In the Spring of 1986, Jeff graduated and found God, decided that the the band was playing the devil's music, and went his own way. [There is a (false) rumor that he started playing music for Jimmy Swaggart's travelling circus; Jeff contends (according to Dean Budnick) that that's not true.] Over the summer, Mike changed his major to Filmmaking and Communications. Sometime between May and November, Trey and Steve committed a prank at UVM, and Trey decided to move on. Thanks to a recruitment program to fight dwindling enrollment at Goddard (then with a student body of only 35), Page got $50 each for getting Trey and Jon to transfer from UVM to Goddard. (Jazz fans might be interested to know that drummer Archie Shepp also went to Goddard.) Now all living in the woods of Vermont, the band began to ferment. That fall, Phish had a Sunday-through-Tuesday gig once each month at Nectar's, during which time their onstage personas were crafted.
Goddard Gang At Goddard, Trey and Jon (and Page) met Jim Pollack (the artist, not the Dude of Life), Tim Rogers (an early lighting technician and harmonica player), Nancy Taube (who wrote "I Didn't Know" and "Haley's Comet", and performed them 5-14-88), and J. Willis Pratt (on whose Lost Paradox Fishman plays drums.) Events at Goddard led to the Okipa Ceremonies, in the Spring of 1988 and August of 1989.
Got a Degree: Page and Mike both graduated in May of 1987. Page completed his senior study at Goddard (on musical improvisation, and called "The Art of Improvisation", in which he identified Bill Evans and Duke Ellington as his major influences; a TXT version used to reside here but has vanished; i'll add it back if someone can send me a copy) in 1987 under advisor Karl Boyle. Trey's senior study (often mislabelled a "senior thesis"; "senior project" is reportedly acceptable) at Goddard, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (aka TMWSIY and Gamehendge), was completed as a tape-and-essay set, and submitted in July (not the spring) of 1988 (and signed off on by his advisor on 8/24/88). Fish submitted his thesis, "A Self-Teaching Guide to Drumming Written in Retrospect" in 1990.
"There is a trade off -- as you grow older you gain wisdom but you lose spontaneity.." -- Kenny Rogers
We're Nationwide: In April 1988, Phish won first place in a battle of the bands at the Front (then new) in Burlington. By sometime mid-summer of 1988, all four members were full-time musicians with no other day jobs. That summer had the first shows west of the Mississippi, as Phish was invited to a week in Telluride. Those plans were cancelled but they went anyway and played The Roma for a week for the door take.
Enter John & Junta: John Paluska is credited with strong early promotion of the band. In March of his junior year at Amherst College (of which he is a 1989 graduate), while on a skiing vacation, Paluska saw Phish at Nectar's (reportedly for 3-12-88). He called them the next day and booked them for an all-campus party at Humphries House (aka The Zoo, a "cooperative theme house, better known as the Zoo", according to Terry Allen in the Winter 1996 Amherst Magazine), of which John was the social director, an "amateur talent of scouts." It was the band's highest-paying gig and their first professional out-of-state gig. Allen continues: "Paluska got the word out around the campus and the event was, in his words, `my favorite Amherst party ever, wall-to-wall, a huge success.'" John continued helping, booking gigs at Amherst and Hampshire Colleges, including the Zoo for two more Full Moon parties, at Northhampton clubs Sheehan's and Pearl Street, and at Hampshire College's the Red Barn. Eventually, John formed Dionysian Productions with Ben Hunter, aka Junta. As a Boston University student, Ben had rented out Molly's for 11-3-88 and 12-2-88 to rave success -- the latter was the first "soldout" Phish show -- and then the Paradise on 1/26/89.
Seasonal Marks Beginning in 1990, many summer tours have ended with a bang. 1990 had the first Townsend Family Park show, 1991 had Amy's Farm (8-3, at first phan Amy Skelton's farm), 1995 had Sugarbush (7-2&3), 1996 had the Clifford Ball, 1997 had the Great Went, and 1998 had the Lemonwheel. Also in 1990, New Year's Eve shows became a tradition. (Note that the two traditions -- festivals and New Year's -- may come together for 12/31/99.)
Enter Elektra: Phish signed with Elektra in November of 1991, and have released eight albums with Elektra since then (on a contract which was reputed, when first announced, to have been a seven-album contract), in addition to some of their side projects.)
Wish You Were Here: They toured heavily from fall of 1990 through the end of 1994, taking the first half of 1994 off (their longest break in years, and a break they've continued in years since, although there was a Europe tour in the spring of 1997.)
Donations and Grants: They appeared at the Hard Rock Cafe 1-29-93 (?), presenting one of Henrietta's vacuum cleaners and performing "Amazing Grace" a capella. They helped grant a wish via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Phish also provided seed money for the WaterWheel Foundation from sales of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food.
"In the '80s, everything was about money, and as a result, there were a lot of bands in the recording industry that didn't deserve to be there, and the general level of pop music went down. It has taken the industry 10 years to heal itself, and now it seems like everyone is breathing better and concerts are becoming more interesting again." -- Trey Anastasio, Billboard Magazine, 9/7/96
Relentless Mission: Phish have cancelled remarkably few gigs -- only three for certain, in a career spanning sixten years and probably over 1200 gigs. The first two cancellations were a 1993 Baltimore show scheduled for Pier 6 (Marcie), for lack of ticket sales; and the 1991 Austin Liberty Lunch show, because the roof fell in (Brian Cox). Travel to the 12/28/92 show was an icy hell, many missed the 12/30/93 show due to mountainous flurries, and the 12/2/95 show was reportedly (Benjy Eisen, 1/8/98) threatened by a blizzard, but the only gig cancelled for weather was 7/2/96 (opening for Santana in Europe; they were unable to find a bar to play instead, but did play with Carlos during his set for about half an hour). There are legendary anecdotes of the band performing in thunderstorms - from Trey shucking pre-show warnings ("fuck the rain.. plug the amp up my ass and start couting out Llama")) to deafeningly windy storms (Red Rocks 8/6/96 set 2) to fiery thunderstorm-accompanied jams (Raleigh '97). Trey's even played with a broken ankle (several shows during 1994, after he fell into a hole leaving the stage in the dark) and a cold that hurt his voice ('95 NYE run). Henrietta missed most of one show when he was chased up a tree by a bear, but otherwise all shows have featured all four members.
We are a Family: Trey and Sue married in August of 1994; their 8lb 10oz daughter Eliza Jean was born at 5pm, August 21, 1995, and their second daughter Isabella was born in the Spring of 1997. Page and Sofie were married in September of 1995, and they have a daughter named Delia Edna McConnell. Many people on the net donated money for a gift for Page's wedding and a welcome-to-the-world gift for Eliza. Photos of Eliza's gift will hopefully be back on the web soon. (old URL was http://www.swarthmore.edu/~speno/eliza.html) Jon married high school classmate Pam Tengiris Sept. 28, 1997, in Las Vegas. Mike was married June 20, 1998. As an aside, the last age-restricted show is believe to be the spring 1994 Montreal show (4/5/94??), which was 18+ Kim Hannula.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell: There have been a few "stealth" (or, at least, stealthy) shows in the past few years, including the late-announced 6-6-96 "Third Ball" and Flynn Phish Food shows; and the invite-only Stone Church memorial for Trey's gradmother (Bad Hat, January 96) and 6-6-97 "Fourth Ball / Bradstock" private party (at Brad Sands' house, where 14 new songs debuted... twice.)
We're an American Band: Phish have been congratulated in the Congressional Record, and twice performed the National Anthem at a Philadelphia Flyers game, in the spring '97 playoffs and again 12/1/97 (vs. the Buffalo Sabers). The Flyers' record is 0-1-1 when Phish sing. (Jack and Bill Hance) ComCast doesn't air the national anthem performers, but perhaps email to them might alter that for the future?) Phish is a favorite of Flyer John LeClair, who first met the musicians as the University of Vermont according to the 10/12/97 Philadelphia News), and Trey has often spoke of being a Flyers fan. Kuroda once lost a bet with Trey and had to wear a Flyers shirt at a show; Trey had him lighted up for all to see and tease.
Big Time: As Billboard Magazine said 10/3/98, "Of course, Elektra is happy that the act has managed to reach both commercial and artistic milestones." From a 5/10/95 Vox (Burlington) interview of Trey by Pamela Palston, "In 1994 alone Phish reportedly grossed $10.3 million from concerts coast to coast...." From a 10/98 Elektra press release, "Phish continues to be one of the largest-grossing bands on the touring circuit in the United States today. In 1995, Phish played 80 U.S. shows and grossed $16 Million. In 1996, Phish played 49 shows and grossed $17 million. In 1997, Phish played 44 U.S. shows, sold over 800,000 tickets, and grossed over $21 million". In 1998, Phish played __ shows and grossed $23.3 million, ranking 23rd for top concert tours of North America, according to Reuters/Variety. Half of that was between April and August, according to Billboard sister publication Amusement Business.
Making History: "Given their sense of community, their ambition and their challenging, generous performances, Phish have become the most important band of the Nineties." Rolling Stone Magazine, September 1998 - #796
Relics: Phish olde haunts are vanishing. Nectar's still stands, but the upstairs is now The Metronome. Last Elm Cafe closed in 1999, and The Toast in February 1999.
"It's the end and it's also part of a continuum. ... It's changing so much from month to month. ... the easiest way to describe what's changed is that we're all thirty now and we used to all be twenty." -- Trey Anastasio, to Addicted to Noise, c. 6/95
Same Old Fears Note that, throughout Phish's history, fans have continually complained about the growth in the band's shows, venues, performance, and crowd presence. As the band becomes seemingly ubiquitous, signs of success are interpreted as indications of a change in intent, motive, or interest. The music has, indeed, changed and evolved, but many feel that success has followed from consistency. Lest you feel the need to say that they've "sold out", too, recall "A partial list of previous times people have postulated that Phish as we know it is done" (posted to rec.music.phish by Eric Salmassy:
When they toured the west coast for the first time When they signed with When they played their first arena show When came out When came out When came out When came out When Alta Vista started the "Phind Pholks " ad When they went to last year When they went to this year When they were on CNN When they were on When they announced they were going to Europe yet again this year
Every good story ends with a poem, just as it begins with an oom-pa-pa. So here's one that Benji Eisen saw taped from the inside window of one of the Phish busses, after Pittsburgh Fall '94:
Further Down The Road One day you look up and there's life's rearview mirror And disappearing into the distance are the roads you left behind You look back enough to feel the longing then you give yourself a smile but your owners manual doesn't recommend throwing 40,000 pounds of rig into reverse when you're going straight ahead at 55
"When one dives into endlessness, in both space and time, farther and father without stopping, one needs fixed points or milestones past which one speeds. Without these, one's movement does not differ from standing still." -- M.C. Escher
- History in the Making: Current News from Phish.Net, Official News
- Remembering History: This Month in Phish History, Today in Phish History
- Phish.Net's Phishtory collection of interview and article links
- The Phish Stories & Interviews files from Phish-Archives have tons of historical and background information in them; most of the key points have been extracted to here, and perhaps you've seen others which should be.
- Official biographies/A>.
- Biography at Rolling Stone
Thanks also to Kim Hannula Lou , and Jerome Mabb.