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Performances Song History

Union Federal

Music/Lyrics: Phish

Albums: Junta

Historian: Christian McKee, Mark Toscano

Many folks, upon purchasing their CD copies of Junta, were likely surprised to see a 25-minute, 31-second track listed on the back. This is a special track. For although a number of fans have been extremely vocal about their distaste for it, it represents some of the basic virtues, philosophies, and goals of Phish. This track, though endowed with the moniker “Union Federal,” is actually part of The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony. If you don’t know what an Oh Kee Pa Ceremony is, then rent A Man Called Horse. If you think a Phish Oh Kee Pa Ceremony is a short instrumental written by Trey that appears on Lawn Boy... well, you’re not quite right. True, that’s “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony,” but we’re talking about The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony.

Once upon a time, Phish was just four or five twenty-something guys that loved to play music together. Back in those days, they did the sorts of things that you might expect a crazy band to do. One of these was the Oh Kee Pa Ceremony. Again, this Oh Kee Pa Ceremony is not the one that you find on your copy of Lawn Boy. In fact, the two are basically antithetical. On Lawn Boy, “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” is a short, tight, composed ditty. The ceremonies that led to the birth of what we know as “Union Federal” were quite the opposite. These events involved the band members confining themselves in an enclosed space with their instruments (and a few other, um, essential items) and playing for many hours straight.

The moral of the story? Don’t go to a show, waiting to hear an enormous song called “Union Federal” featuring “Under Pressure” and “Dave’s Energy Guide” teasing. “Union Federal” is little more than a label for what Phish does on a near nightly basis: improvise.

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kipmat Reply
kipmat I attended the University of North Texas from 1993-96, majoring in Jazz Studies with a guitar performance emphasis (I didn't graduate). I didn't hear about Phish until 1994, when a couple guitarists I knew told me about the legendary Bomb Factory show (which came after finals week). It sounded cool, but I was skeptical. A couple months into that Fall semester, I knocked on another friend's door as he was listening to Contact from disc 2 of Junta. I hung out with him as Union Federal started playing in the background, and 20 minutes later I paused and asked my friend, "Wait, are they still going?" It blew my mind that a rock band could improvise for over 20 minutes and keep it interesting throughout. Not too long after that, I picked up a copy of Rift, and dubbed a few tapes of shows, and 17 years later I'm still in love with the band and their jams.
Score: 2
kipmat Reply
kipmat By the way, has anyone ever compared the mix of this track to the mix of the Colorado '88 release? They sound similar to me, and I wonder if Union Federal actually came from the band playing an "after hours" set at the Roma...
Score: 0
Slothberries Reply
Slothberries how could any phish fan have a "distaste" for Union Federal? weird.
Score: 0
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