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.