[Alex Grosby, user @grozphan, was responsible for the wonderful "Below The Moss Forgotten" exhibit at the first Phish academic conference at Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR, in May 2019. -Ed.]
Phish fans love to gather. We come together in familiar and unfamiliar spaces and create our own world summer after summer, the occasional fall, and of course over New Year’s. A number of years ago, as I was working on my Business degree, I came up with an idea. Why don’t we have a place to gather outside of touring schedules? Sure, we could gather at Nectar’s and reminisce over gravy fries or hang in the parking lot at Hampton without a show, but it’s not a space to call our own. This was the first spark when the concept of a Phish museum entered my brain, and I went to work on throwing ideas together. That was the genesis of my organizational name, “The Phishsonian Institute.” I worked on a logo and wrestled with what to do now?. I started reviewing shows, and then realized that wasn’t right. I’m now working on comprehensive venue histories a little bit. But a goal has always been to tell Phish’s story. What happened next solidified the need to take charge of our own public history.
First was the introductory video of the JEMP Truck set on 12/31/2013. As Fishman wandered among the junkyard, you could see relics of past NYEs like the Miami 2009 disco ball, a 2012 golf cart, and the 1993 aquarium set. While in the video, a few these items were most likely recreated; but what if you could see these long-shelved items and learn the history through viewing them? Later, in 2014, I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were having a special exhibit about the history of music festivals called “Common Ground: The Music Festival Experience.” While the exhibit was extensive and well produced, there was one nagging omission; not one single mention of ANY of Phish’s nine (as of 2014) festivals. No Clifford Ball, no Great Went, not the moment when Governor George Pataki commented how well Camp Oswego had gone when Woodstock 1999 was burning, not even the largest event in the United States on the eve of the millennium Big Cypress. The curator could have even put a map of Big Cypress next to the map from the first Bonnaroo and noted the influence; just a small mention of how important Phish was for the festival culture of the early 21st century. It was this experience that said to me, no one is going to tell Phish’s story properly or even tell it at all. The Hot Dog might hang in Cleveland, sure, but what is public history without correct context?
While a comprehensive “Phish: The Exhibition” or a physical “Phishsonian" might be years or decades down the line, and as Phish continues to build their story while strongly avoiding looking back, there is still the need to document and take note of the great triumphs and amazing journey that has come for this band and all of us fans so far. Like my colleague Wyatt Young talked about at the Phish Studies Conference, picture what stories, art, and moments are being lost either digitally or due to age? So when Pete Mason of PhanArt said he was thinking of names for a Phish art exhibit, I not only suggested a title, but also groveled to come on board. I knew this was the first step towards presenting Phish history. He said in the wake of CurveBall’s cancellation that he and Dr. Stephanie Jenkins were talking about PhanArt’s upcoming involvement with the Phish Studies Conference at Oregon State University. I was ecstatic. Even if it was just consulting, I’d have been happy.
Our first concept was "PhanArt: The Last 5 Years." There has been an amazing explosion of fan-created artwork, and all the special Phishy events over the years (Chilling Thrilling, Magnaball, Baker’s Dozen, Kasvot Växt, etc.) also created a solid narrative. However, gallery space is hard to book on short notice. Most of the spaces on OSU's campus were booked during the time of the conference. This meant whatever space we could figure out for this event or exhibition would be limited. I went to Pete and Stephanie and said how about since we’re in Oregon, let’s do an exhibit about Phish in the Pacific Northwest? It gives us a tighter scope to fit into a smaller space. OSU gave us the Horizon Lounge outside the main conference room for Conference presentations, and thus “Below The Moss Forgotten” was born.
“Below The Moss Forgotten: Phish in the Pacific Northwest” was a three-day pop-up museum exhibit presented by The Phishsonian Institute and PhanArt in the Horizon Lounge in OSU's Memorial Union. It represented shows from Phish's PNW debut in Ashland in 1991 to the band’s recent run at the Gorge in 2018. You can visit or revisit the exhibit by viewing a slideshow at https://phishsonian.net/2019/05/24/below-the-moss-forgotten-phish-in-the-pacific-northwest.
My concept for the exhibit was a bit like The Wizard of Oz. You have this black and white view of 1991-1996, where there weren't a lot of fan-produced materials, e.g., mostly just promoter handbills and posters, and most show-attendees were locals seeing local shows, and the shows themselves were generally smaller and more intimate than they were later in the 1990's. In 1997, people made the trek out to the Gorge Amphitheatre; it became a cornerstone in the Phish community in a sense, inspiring a lot of fan creations. A huge portion of the art for the exhibit is thus Gorge-related. The only official Gorge pieces were some tickets and the 1999 Jim Pollock poster. I hesitated a bit at first about the Pollock, because I felt that the Gorge was really by the fans but after some convincing and the rarity, and of course that Jim Pollock is a huge fan himself, you could see that it had to be in the show. 1.0 Pollocks are, in my mind, the most important works in the band’s history, because they are handmade and they have become iconic.
I hit a lot of challenges building this exhibit. There are thus many people to thank. Among the first decisions to be made concerned how and where to hang the pieces of art. We couldn’t use the lounge’s walls due to potential damage to them. We had to find walls. My wife Meredith Magoun is the lecturer in Costume Design at Old Dominion University. She had the idea that because theatre routinely uses temporary walls, we should contact the OSU theatre department and see if they would let us use some. She reached out as a colleague to technical director Chad Rodgers, we made connections, and he had the perfect solution. There would be no exhibit without Chad, so thank you so much Chad and OSU theatre!
Then there was the need of course to collect artifacts for the exhibit. I had amassed a small collection myself of PNW-related items from having lived there for many years. I was also able to locate some items that were for sale. Pete also shipped-in items from his HUGE 1500-piece collection. We also reached out to some people for loans. Scott Loos loaned his Adair “Phishin Out West ‘97” piece, Greg “Squirrel” Little of Squirrel’s Café in Corvallis loaned his 1999 Gorge Pollock. Derek Finholt, in addition to taking beautiful pictures all weekend of which some are featured at the above link, loaned his “Careful with that axe, Eugene 2014” print. Samonberry Studios loaned four prints regarding “Fall Tour 2014” and "Bend 2015,” and Jill Christensen loaned her “Jibboo 2” Phishin’ Idahoans jersey. Jaime Lee Meyer (who created the beautiful poster for the Conference) donated her “Wings of Reason” Gorge 2016 print from her personal collection, as the original printing of it was sold out. So, in addition to being fun to work on, it was amazing to get the support from the Phish community to make this vision a reality.
We had also two columns of major support. The OSU School of History, Philosophy, and Religion was a major sponsor, and provided funding and administrative support that was essential. Also, Mark Tolonen and the Benton County History Society provided the three display cases in the front of the exhibt that housed our two mannequins and a few small items. It was an invaluable resource. I also ran a GoFundMe that helped us purchase frames and other items. So great thanks are due to Patricia Jenkins, Mark and Suzanne Grosby, Sally Kuhns, Tony Schwindt, Max Ritchie, Theresa Mason, Kara Lovegrove, Sara Barger, and Laura Oftring. And I’d also like to thank all of the conference attendees for their kind words and enthusiasm for this inaugural project. Finally, I’d like to thank Pete Mason and Stephanie Jenkins for letting me jump in on this project. I hope it was as successful as they had imagined it being, because it was exactly what had been formulating in my mind for quite some time, and I hope that we’ll have future Phish exhibits on a wide variety of topics in the future.
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