What Are The Origins Of The Phish.net Setlists?

The setlists, song notes, show notes, soundcheck and venue data, statistics, and related information on Phish.Net are the product of several decades of work by countless people, including Mike Gordon and Phish Archivist Kevin Shapiro. The vast majority of this information was published - in part, and differently formatted - in second edition of The Phish Companion (“TPC2”); but there have been thousands of additions and revisions made to that data since TPC2 was published in 2004.

Origins: Documents detailing the setlists of Phish shows have been around since the early 1990’s. The earliest was originally compiled via the Internet by Phish fan Shelly Culbertson, with assistance form John Friedman, Richard Stern, and others, for the free use of fans and out of love for the band. It was titled “The Helping Phriendly Book” (the “HPB”), inspired by the “Helping Friendly Book” of Gamehendge lore - containing all of the knowledge in the universe, everything the Lizards ever wanted or needed to know. (Lyrics and Chords were kept in separate files, eventually removed for reasons of data integrity and legal ambiguity.) Lee Silverman took over the editing and compiling of the HPB for about a year in 1992. Richard “Chip” Callahan, with the help of Shelly and Sean Kennedy, helped to collect setlists for 1992 and the summer of 1993. In the fall of 1993, Ellis Godard (aka Ellis of Lemuria) began to manage the online version, including significant revisions and additions.Considerable contributions were made by scores of online fans, notably Brian Bettencourt, Mike Pollack, Ben Miller, Harry McQuillen, Joe Rioux, Chris Bingham and Patrick Sprowels. After Ellis began concentrating on developing other areas of Phish.net, Michael Weitzman and Dan Shoop began to administer the online HPB. (Interestingly, on 5/10/93, the band conveyed plans to put their own version of the HPB; Phish.com finally included setlists in June 2010, although the Phish.net collection remains more comprehensive and extensible.)

Diversions: In 1994, several divergent efforts began paths toward improvement. Michael Weitzman and Dan Shoop, who announced a "Helping Friendly Book Working Group" 3/14/94, began a complete overhaul but suffered a machine crash. Around the same time, Charlie Dirksen began editing the Godard-edited HPB (dated 1/17/94), seeking out tapes of every show availalbe, and drawing on setlists distributed by Mikey Perrot (through a mailing list run by Shelly and sean), and revising and appending the document as he went. Meanwhile, the online HPB continued - under joint but loose management by Ellis, Dan Hantman, Robert Johnson - on  marginal basis, with new setlists pasted in but without virtually no revisions.

Publications: Ironically, just as the integrity of the publicly available data was deteriorating, at least one person started selling printed copies of it in Phish lots. Another group used it to begin a series of commercial, for-profit books. The dual thievery infuriated scores of fans who'd volunteered untold hours to produce a freely consumable treasure trove. The first response was informal: Charlie passed out several dozen printed, three-hole-punched, binder-clipped copies of this file for free to fans at the Sugarbush shows during summer 1995. The second was formal: Incorporation of the Mockingbird Foundation, to publish The Phish Companion and fund music education for children, meeting demands for a printed resource while maintaing volunteer means and charitable ends, returning the spirit of the Helping Phriendly Book to fans by making setlists available as a reference tool for all fans, with no fan profiting from their distribution.

Revisions: Late in Fall 1996, when the Mockingbird Project was in its earliest stages, Dan Purcell assisted Charlie in making significant changes to his document, based on hundreds of Phish tapes gathered primarily from the collections of Dan, Charlie, and Bill Bowman. Rare setlists were added from fans Matthew King, Jason Rose, and Dean Budnick (himself, not from those listed in his book, The Phishing Manual.) In January 1997, Charlie sent Craig DeLucia the file that became the basis for the first edition of The Phish Companion in 2000. Craig spent hundreds of hours editing and appending Charlie’s setlists file, making song names and abbreviations consistent, and developing show notes. Craig and Charlie then assembled a group of eleven fans to further update the document, including Benjy Eisen, Charles Franz, Herschel Gelman, Matthew King, Phil Nazzaro, Dan Purcell, Jim Raras Jr., Dan Seideman, and Darius Zelkha. These eleven fans remained in constant contact and performed massive and continuous updates to the document, including the verification of older shows and the addition of many show notes. Dan Hantman, Keith McCrary, and Phillip Zerbo also contributed substantial information to the setlists file, paritcularly between the two editions, and the second edition of The Phish Companion was published in 2004.

Visions: The setlists from the first and second editions of The Phish Companion were put online followed a contractually specified delay, but in static format, and on the Mockingbird website, while the online HPB continued to be appended - and messy. However, beginning soon after TPC2, a new effort began, building from Charlie original HPB branch, integrating the post-TPC2 material from Phish.net, and revisiting thousands of previous datapoints and decisions. That thoroughly revised collection debuted as an online database in 2009, thanks to Adam Scheinberg's architecture (which breathed new life into the data), and data entry by Scott Marks, Steve Paolini, Marco Walsh, Ellis Godard, Jeremy Welsh, and Charlie Dirksen. The database is now extended to mobile device apps, other websites through APIs, desktops and aggregators via RSS, and more. We look forward to further services and features, and welcome your input.


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