I’m by no means a Phishhead. But over the years I have grown to respect the musical abilities of this unusual 4-piece out of Burlington, VT., and the incredible improvisation, range and versatility they exhibit as a band. Over last years “Baker’s Dozen” run of 13 shows at Madison Square Garden, they played a total of 237 songs without repeating a single one. What?! There probably aren’t too many bands that could (or for that matter, would want to) accomplish that. Their fandom is legendary, and I guess I’d say, more legitimate than I once gave them credit when I deemed them little more than knock-off Deadheads looking for an excuse to dance like Elaine Benes. My former co-worker Sari, a reasonably buttoned-up type, is as devout a fan as I know, and will chant “Wilson” at the slightest provocation (it’s a Phish thing); An industry associate Howie, a successful NY-area concert and festival promoter, used to call me with ticket requests for Phish’s annual 4-night New Year’s run, and when I’d ask him which show he wanted he’d always answer the same, “All of them”; and a close friend’s son, Big Max, would make regular drives from NY to Columbus, OH., about 10 hours each way, and listen to nothing but live Phish recordings. Only. I used to mock them all, but I grew to at least relate: I’ve been to a few shows myself and, well, they were darn good.
I’ve got a couple of Phish-related stories, which really have nothing whatsoever to do with their music. The first took place one morning in the parking lot of old Giants Stadium, where I was partaking in a Giants pre-game tailgate with my regular crew of Petey, Ike, Uncle Tony, Lev, Dave, Wiz, and whoever else might be around on any given Sunday. I was standing with Lev, sipping my Sam Adams, when he nudged me and pointed about 15 feet to our left, but still within our tailgate circle.
Lev: That guy over there kinda looks like Trey Anastasio from Phish.
Me (eyes a guy with reddish hair and beard enjoying a cerveza): Hah. Yeah, he does kinda.
(Long pause, and another couple slugs of my beer)
Lev: Y’know something, I think that IS Trey Anastasio from Phish.
Me: (glances again, sidles over for closer look, and then nods affirmatively)
It was Trey Anastasio. For sure. Did he know someone in our group? It’s possible, I guess. But I really don’t think so. I think he just wandered in, helped himself into one of our coolers, and was casually chatting up a few strangers (who had no idea who he was) on his way into the stadium. People do it all the time; I’ve been surreptitiously helping myself to the outstanding buffet table at a neighboring tailgate of Clemson alumni for years (go Tigers). But still, kind of a balls move by Trey.
The second incident did happen at a Phish concert at The Garden, though I wasn’t actually attending. I’d gotten tickets for my son, Max, and three of his friends, all big fans and all less than 13 years old at the time. About midway through the show I decided to go down and check on them and, still dressed in my work suit-and-tie, was apparently looking very much like security or at least “The Man” to the average Phish concertgoer. When I arrived at the seats I was greeted in their row by a dreadlocked and malodorous guy out of central casting for a Cheech and Chong movie, wobbly, bedraggled, and grasping what Carl Spackler in Caddyshack would’ve called a big Bob Marley joint. The following exchange then ensued:
Stoner: Heyyy man, is it alright?
Stoner: Man, is it alright, man?
Me: What? Yeah, whatever, dude.
Stoner: It’s reeeally alright?
Me: Look, whatever you want to do. I’m not here to bust you, I’m just visiting my son. Enjoy yourself.
Stoner: Are you SUUURE it’s totally alright?
Me: Yeah, yeah, whatever you wanna do. Seriously.
(Stoner breaks into a foolish grin, turns and leans over to hand his huge spliff to my son)
Me: NO, NO! What the fuck?! I said whatever YOU want to do is alright. It’s not alright to give it to HIM!
Stoner (slightly sheepish, but mostly just confused): Ohhh. Hey, sorry man.
Anyway, here’s a cool Phish tune from their 2009 album, Joy. And next time you want to snake a beer at some stranger’s tailgate, tell ’em Trey sent you, and he said it was totally alright!