If I Could
Historian: Phillip Zerbo
Last Update: 2016-03-05
“If I Could” was penned by Trey while distressed by a blue funk being experienced by his good friend (and famous “First Fan”), Amy Skelton. Frustrated by her sadness over a recent breakup and feeling helpless, he wrote a song to cheer her up. In it he takes them both away from worldly concerns, and indulges his own desire to escape the physical constraints of gravity by running over oceans, floating through the clouds, and moving effortlessly through time and space. While the lyrics were initially written from Trey's voice alone, the use of female vocals in the second verse on the Hoist version gives the song a more romantic call and response quality, perhaps reflecting a desire to escape together from the dull realities of workaday life and day-to-day pain. The result is a journey of childlike innocence, joy, and empathy. Ultimately it functions for the listener as a beautiful love song – platonic, or romantic.
“If I Could” from Hoist
The most popular versions of virtually every Phish song are to be found in live performances. In contrast, the Hoist version of “If I Could” – featuring the renowned bluegrass fiddler and singer Alison Krauss and strings by The Richard Greene Fourteen – is widely considered one of the band's most profoundly beautiful offerings of the song.
In concert, “If I Could” provided opportunities for emotional expression not often afforded by Phish’s repertoire, especially as it existed in the mid-90s. Fans of the song will certainly want to visit the version from 5/3/94 in Antioch, TN, when Alison Krauss joined the band for a reprise of their studio collaboration. The performance on 7/1/95 at Great Woods featured a partial restoration of the original solo guitar introduction. In heavy rotation from its 4/4/94 debut through the end of 1995, "If I Could" become a rarity thereafter, with fewer than a dozen appearances over the next twenty years.
“If I Could” > “Weekapaug Groove”– 8/22/12, Kansas City, MO
The essential live “If I Could” is unquestionably the version offered on 6/28/00 in Holmdel, NJ, the first time the song had ever closed a set. The concluding jam takes the song’s metaphorical admonitions to heart and takes the audience on a joyful ride of pure bliss.
The powerful themes of empathy and love in "If I Could" were in full display during a moving performance by Trey and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on 5/21/09, shortly after the April 2009 death of his sister, Kristine Anastasio Manning. The orchestral version of "If I Could" with arrangement by Don Hart was performed on five additional occasions from 2009-2012.
Trey Anastasio & New York Philharmonic, “If I Could” – 9/12/09, New York, NY