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Performances Song History

The Asse Festival

Music: Anastasio

Vocals: Instrumental

Debut: 1990-09-13

Historian: Ellis Godard

During a summer 1990 effort to forge new directions from old songs, Phish separated the instrumental from “PYITE” to create the independent “Landlady.” Soon after, the band took the opposite approach and built a new song, “Guelah Papyrus,” around a tune they had already performed a dozen times over a five-month period. That earlier kernel, “The Asse Festival” (pronounced “ass”, not "ah-see"), is one of the more challenging items in the band’s repertoire, a fugal piece inspired by Trey’s mentor, Ernie Stires. The song has appeared alone only twice (2/21/91 and 4/27/91) since “Guelah’s” debut (2/1/91). Guelah itself was shelved for a bit before reappearing on 10/30/98, with the “Asse” in newly practiced (and excellent) form.

Relating to another tune, “The Ass Festival” is one of the last chapters in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. After coming down from the mountain, proclaiming: “God is Dead,” Zarathustra strives to create a select group of “supermen” but then recognizes this group has convalesced into a more highly evolved state when he finds them adoring an ass in a cave.

Before “Guelah,” “The Asse Festival” marked similar turns. For example, it followed a soaring “Mockingbird” (10/7/90), high-reaching “YEM”s (10/31/90 and 11/8/90), an energetic “Funky Bitch” (11/4/90), and a fiery “Llama” (12/8/90) and was then followed by songs of self-conscious recognition such as “The Squirming Coil,” “My Sweet One,” “I Didn’t Know,” and “Bouncing Round the Room.” Other solo appearances were the reverse turn, from self-conscious to fiery, such as “Tube” to “Antelope” (9/13/90), “Cavern” to “Possum” (11/2/90), and “Sweet Adeline” to “Runaway Jim” (4/27/91). And while early versions of “Guelah” followed the former pattern, later versions take the later turn and most often follow “Chalk Dust Torture,” about someone evolving from the ass of educational drudgery.

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