Uncle Pen

Originally Performed ByBill Monroe
Original AlbumDecca Single (1950)
Appears On
Music/LyricsBill Monroe
VocalsMike (lead), Page,Trey (backing)
Phish Debut1990-03-28
Last Played2017-08-05
Current Gap92
HistorianJeremy Welsh


Phish first performed this popular bluegrass song on 3/28/90 in Granville, OH and debuted along with “Tweezer,” “Runaway Jim,” and “Cavern.” “Uncle Pen” was in regular rotation until the band's hiatus, although it went through a 135-show drought from August ‘97 through October ‘99. Usually filling the “bluegrass slot,” “Uncle Pen” is always a fun tune to hear at a show, and is one of the few covers Phish has recorded in studio (along with “Caravan” and “‘A’-Train” at Wendell Studios on 6/17/90). Interesting versions of “Uncle Pen” abound, although in its regular configuration the song varies minimally. Check out 4/15/92 (dedicated to Bill Monroe), 6/17/95 (segued out of “Fee”), 11/30/96 (with John McEuen on banjo), 6/22/00 (with guests including Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Mike Budd, and Jason Center), or its last appearance to date on 7/11/00 at Deer Creek

Phish, "Uncle Penn" – 6/22/97, Koblenz, Germany

As the story goes, Bill Monroe wrote this tune as a tribute to his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, a fiddler who, according to Monroe, “got some wonderful Scots-Irish sound out of ” the fiddle. Though it (arguably) remains true in spirit, Phish’s arrangement of the song is quite different from Monroe’s composition, as they play Skagg’s version, which differs in several important ways. Trey plays the song’s main fiddle melody line on guitar, hyper-fast, Bruce Hampton-style. Also, many fans find the instrumental breakdown about two-thirds into the song a bit curious. Not part of the original composition, here Phish perform two bluegrass classics mentioned in “Uncle Pen’s” lyrics: “Soldier’s Joy” and “Boston Boy.”

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