Back on the Train – An Interview With Phish Road Manager Brad Sands
Prelude A Brief Conversation with Mike Gordon
RR- Brad and I met at Red Rocks but we didn’t talk until Trey played at the Warfield.
MG- Oh, yeah? How did that go?
RR- Great. I think the band played really well and it was one of the best shows of the tour. No one had covered the Brad Sands story; so we talked and I went from there.
MG- Everything ran so smoothly when Brad was around that there isn’t any big catastrophe to talk about. He definitely was the person that became the innermost person of all of the people in our organization. It’s a pretty cool position to be in and I’m sure you know by now that he was just moving equipment when we first met him. The first time I met him was probably at Trax in Charlottesville and he had long hair and I remember him moving gear. To go from that to the closest confidant of all peopleand in some ways closer than another band member because there’s going to be a certain baggage with a fellow musician that there isn’t with someone who’s not a musician. There were five of us in that inner circle and he was that fifth person.
So, it’s a pretty remarkable position to be in and, also, he was so good at it in terms of making things run smoothly but, also, knowing when it’s time to have fun or knowing which cousins are allowed to come backstage and knowing which cousins aren’t and having a really keen sense of that. I’ve always had a lot of pride in Brad and the position he built himself into. Actually, since the band’s broke up, I’ve been even more friendly with him. I don’t know why. He and I are very different. I don’t know anything about sports and he’s a huge sports fan. It seems like we come from different walks of life but we get along so well. I’m just always really happy to see him. Someone who’s a peer and likes to have the same kind of fun and do the same kinds of thingsjust for someone to be so knowing, to know when the music’s working, even to the point where he’s helping Trey come up with setlists and he’s becoming Trey’s biggest confidant. Also to know which people should be in the room and which people shouldn’t and to be a liaison between us and the whole world and the media and the rest of the organizationit’s really pretty cool that he did that whole role so well. I just have incredible feelings about that.
I’m still just amazed to think that everywhere we werewhether its up in the Tower at the IT Festival or in some little rehearsal space or on an airplane or a T.V. show or on the Letterman marquee, that Brad was there. This totally All-American kid with sports and hot dogs in the classic sense developed a sensitivityit is hard to even imagine how much sensitivity it takes to know how a certain situation should be unfolding and what little tweak it would take to get it to unfold or what person shouldn’t be in the room. It is an incredible degree of sensitivity.
Part I The Road from Reading to the Top of the Tower
It’s weird. Sometimes you just have to get so fed up with everything around you, down to the terminal, and especially all the wretched excess that’s being marketed disguised as its diametrical opposite, before you can get back to the thing you felt in the first place. – Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Lester Bangs
I interviewed longtime Phish and Trey Anastasio Road Manager, Brad Sands, downstairs in the dark and vast backstage area of the Warfield Theatre. We were tucked in a room near the back that had soft lighting, purple (or was it burgundy?) interior design and a bunch of snacks on the table. He forego the snacks and I sucked on a water bottle while listening to his fascinating piratesque tales of Phish yesteryear intermingled with a dose of reality and hope for the future. I ended up liking the man quite a bit because I have a very low tolerance for bullshit and humorless people who preach intelligence but betray a foolish fae. Sands has none of these negative traits. He is extremely insightful, creative, generous and humble while being respectful of the forces that have given him such an honored (and sometimes backbreaking) role in management. In recent years, Sands added Gov’t Mule to his impressive list of credentials. We ended our conversation on this December Saturday evening with a brief discussion about the criticism that surrounded the current project, shook hands and walked out of the dressing room. In the hallway stood band manager, Coran Capshaw and Trey Anastasio.
I shook hands with the former Phish front man and exchanged friendly pleasantries as we had met before on a few occasions. Sands and I walked down the hallway and he seemed to have a strong sense of purpose and, maybe, for one brief moment, I hooked into that indefinable magic. His experience tells a classic story of the proper mixture of luck, talent and environment with room for growth without creative restraint. In other words, Sands has made our world a much more enjoyable place. Jambands.com sits down with the road manager and records his interesting tale at the Warfield in San Francisco. Further interviews were conducted on two occasions as Sands gave everything that was necessary to the project and a whole lot morea trait that illustrates his work to this day.
What does one do after that moment of enlightenment where nothing in life seems like it will ever be as goodfor example, Phish at Big Cypress?
The funny thing is that life always presents new and exciting challenges when you least expect it. I was 30 years old when we did Big Cypress. You just have to keep going forward. That becomes something where you kind of look back on it and it will always be one of those benchmark points. If you put it in perspectiveI don’t have any kids but I think it would be that kind of a point, as well. Or getting married, whatever. In the musical working career, obviously Big Cypress was one of those moments. Obviously it will always be tough to measure up to that, but I think that you’ve just got to keep going, you know? It’s like if you win the Super Bowl. If you’re in the prime of your careerwhich I feel as musicians, they are stillyou want to keep going.
The other moment that came close to that was playing on top of the tower [at 2003’s IT]. That only lasted an hour but to be up on top of that tower while they were playing to the parking lot was just one of the coolest feelings like being on top of a twelve story building looking out at all of the cars. It was wild. If they hadn’t screwed up and parked
cars at the other end of the airport, there would have been even more people. We would have, literally, been right in the middle of the parking lot. As it turned out, we were more towards the end. It was still one of those momentsI’ll just never forget it because being up there was just goosebumps, you know.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
I grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, right outside of Philadelphia. Funnily enough, I graduated from Wilson High School in 1987. I went to Penn State for a semester and it didn’t work out. I had a scholarship to swim and when I went to college I was told that “we practice from 6 to 8 in the morning, 4 to 6 at night and lift weights three times a day.” I was like, “I’m not doing this.” (laughter) “This is ridiculous, you know?” I wanted to play water polo but a lot of the schools that had that were very expensive so it just didn’t work out. I ended up getting an Associate’s Degree from a technical school in Allentown and I had this job where I used to fix mainframe computers. Mainly, I fixed cash registers. I’d go into Kmart and places like that and repair their cash registers. You’d get the Express Lane not working and you’d think, “Why don’t they just move the sign?” But if you go into a store, you’ll see that the Express Lane is always the same lane and those keys would always break and people would freak out when that happened. I was on call; I had a beeper; I hated the jobit was horrible.
This was the summer of 1991 and I was on call every other weekend. I had tickets to the Boston Garden Dead shows. I was on call on that weekend so I just rolled the dice and said I was going. And in the middle of the second show, my pager went off and I looked at it and I called into my work and they said that some store system had shut down and that I should get over there right away. This is before cell phones so I’m in the hallway at the Boston Garden calling some store in Pennsylvania saying, “Did you try and replug it and reboot it?” And they would say: “Yes, we tried that already!” “O.K. I’ll be right over.” I hung up the phone and thought, “I’m fired.” (laughter)
SoI got fired from that job and I went out West to see the Dead on my birthday on Halloween and, on our way, we stopped to see Phish in New Mexico and Telluride [October 26-28, 1991]. They had nobody show up to help them load in at a show at Club West in New Mexico. One of my friends thought it would be cool and asked, “Hey, do you guys need some help?” It was Paul [Languedoc, soundman], Kuroda [Chris, lighting designer] and Pete Schall [monitor man until Fall 1996]. They said, “We’re going to be hiring another crew guy; would you be interested?” I tried to play it cool like, “Oh, yeah, sounds great.”
Did you sense that this was a big moment?
The first time I saw Phish I knew they were going to be something different. It was weird because I can remember the first timeit was only three months before that at Arrowhead Ranch. I had a friend that came home from a Rainbow Gathering with this album called Lawn Boy. He put it down on the table and I turned it over and there’s that picture with Fishman in green makeup and I thought, “What is up with these guys?” (laughter) We put the album on and it was weird because I instantly liked it.
I was a Deadhead that was fairly close-minded at the time. I liked the Dead and that was it. We went to see Phish and the first note I saw was “Chalkdust Torture” [July 20, 1991, Arrowhead Ranch, Parksville, New York]. I had never seen anything like this. The look on Trey’s facehe looked like he was having fun. He wasn’t cool even though he was. He was so unabashed and it was great. Instantly, they became one of my favorite bands.
I went a couple nights later to The Bayou [Washington, D.Cthis show like the July gigs featured the Giant Country Horns] and we got some flyers for the Amy’s Farm show and I remember thinking, “Who is going to drive all the way to Maine to go to that?” (laughter) Sure enough, a week later, I was there.
I never had any intention at all of doing this as a job. I didn’t even know it existed. When I was going to the shows, I wasn’t thinking, “I want to meet the band.” It just happened. Literally, it was right place at the right time.’ There is no other way to put itfate, whatever you want to call it, I really lucked out. I remember when I saw this opportunity that I thought that I needed to do whatever I could to make this happen. I bought tickets to the rest of the shows; I always helped and I never asked for anything. I felt like I was going to brown nose my way into this like “this is the nicest kid we’ve ever met.” Of course, all of that changed over the years. (laughter)
What was Paul Languedoc like back then?
Paul was funny. He was like the Dad of the group. He was very quiet and it was funny because a part of me knew that I had to earn respect of Paul to get the job. Paul is one of my best friends and he looked like this mad scientist. When I met him, he had this long ponytail. The main reason they needed somebody was to help Chris. I would help Chris setup the light show, drive the truck and sell merchthat’s what I did. Eventually, I became guitar tech, drum tech and bass tech. I was the worst guitar tech ever. There was the five of us in the crew winging it, making everything up and, by default, I was setting that stuff up. I could tune a guitar; I can’t play one to save my life. I took lessons; I tried to learnforget it. Some people just can’t do that and I was one of those people. I grew up throwing a football not playing a guitar, you know? (laughter)
Did you get the glare from Trey during shows?
I knew how to setup the thing but there were a fewI remember Red Rocks ’93 and it was cold and rainy and Trey used to do “Ginseng Sullivan” with the acoustic guitar. I would carry it out on a stand and I was tuning it and I was nervousit just didn’t seem right. He went out and went “BUMBUMWAHHRRRR!” I mean, it was really out of tune and he said, “I’d like to dedicate this to” and I was like, “Oh, God.” Luckily, I ended up getting into [the role of] Production Assistantwhich was much more of my strengthdealing with people, tickets and guest lists which then led into being Road Manager and taking care of those guys. For me, the coolest thing about how it developed was that I became part of the creative process.
You’ve been listed as a creative consultant on many projects.
Trey and I have been friends for ten years and probably best friends for the last five or six. A lot of those ideas came from him and I bouncing things off each otherthings we wanted to do which included myself, Trey, John Paluska and, obviously, the other guys. Trey and I would live, breathe and eat Phish. We’d wake up in the morning talking about what could we do.
Big Cypress is a funny story. We wanted to play outside. We wanted to do something really big and special. Ween was playing in Burlington [Vermont] on Halloween and it was my thirtieth birthday. Trey and I took some psychedelics and we walked around. We went for a walk with Mike [Gordon] who had done nothing this is during Farmhouse and we had this idea that the album should be called Regular. (laughter) At the time, it seemed like one of the greatest album titles ever. Phish Regular. (laughter) It was just one of those things; obviously, it didn’t come to that.
That same night we walked all the way from my apartment down to the lake. That was when we came up with the idea of playing straight through from midnight [on New Year’s Eve ’99-’00 at Big Cypress in Florida]. That was his idea but it was he and I talking about that kind of thing. The other funny story is that we got to Lake Champlain and we were standing out there on a clear night, looking out across the lake and the sky was filled with stars and for some reason we were talking about how it would suck to be an explorer back in the 1400s. On a ship, not knowing where you were going, you know, randomlyI’ll never forget it. Walking back, he showed me all of the old Phish houses, all of the old places where they used to live and, it was funny, because when you’re in that mindset, you’re looking at all of the details like the Hood factorya great time.
Did you view the interest in Phish as a slow buildup?
It grew a lot and the first big change was when the job outgrew Andrew, our tour manager, and we brought in professional people. We needed those people. That kind of thing was a little bit of a rough transition. For the bandit wasn’t as hard. They were one of the few bands that could carry a bigger room. A lot of that is due to Trey. There are certain peoplewhen you go to a concert, he can connect with the guy in the back or the front. Everybody feels a part of it. I’ve seen shows with great bands where that just doesn’t happen. I think that was really crucial to the growth of Phish, too. We were able to do that but we always tried to do it steadily. I know it got a lot bigger but it was never liketake the Spin Doctors. They were playing clubs and, all of a sudden, they were one of the most popular bands in the country and then they just went away because that happened too quickly for them. [Take Philadelphia, for example] In ’93, we played the Tower Theatre. Then, we played the Mann Center. By’95, we were playing the Spectrum. So, it was growth but it wasn’t like that quick. I felt like it was the right amount. It was alsoit was exciting. For me, and I think Trey’s pretty much the same way, growing up in the Philadelphia area and when somebody played the Spectrum and the lights went out and the roar that came upthere is no other place like that. They’d play “Wilson” there because it was just such an exciting time.
When did you first feel like the crowd was a big part of the Phish experience? Trey always makes people feel importanteven if there are only five people in the whole room; he makes them the five most special people on the planet.
I felt that from the first time I saw them. We’ll be walking and trying to get somewhere and someone will stop Trey. He can’t just say, “Hey, how ya doin’?” and keep moving. He looks them in the eye and talks with them. I’m like, “C’mon. We’ve gotta get out of here, man.” He’s not like that. The experience of someone meeting himhe wants them to feel like it is a real experience and opposed to just: he’s that kind of person’.
Part II You Enjoy Myself
“Play it, Leo!”
“Play it, Leo!”
“Play it, Leo!” – “NICU>Ya Mar,” and “Rocky Top” – July 19, 2003 Set I – Alpine Valley Theatre – East Troy, Wisconsin – Trey Anastasio to Page McConnell thrice during the first time Phish played the “Leo Trio” sequence in unison
Let’s talk about venues. I had a long road trip with my pregnant wife to see Phish at Alpine Valley in July 2003our last great adventure before our son was born.
Alpine Valley is my favorite outdoor concert venue. I know a lot of people like Red Rocks and the Gorge; I just have a preference to Alpine Valley. There’s just no feeling when you walk out thereit’s this old school amphitheatre with 35,000 people and they are literally right on top of you. You walk out on that stage, the sun’s still out, there’s this roar and it is just an incredible feeling. Backstageit’s very old school. Red Rocks is beautiful and amazing but, you know, realistically it doesn’t sound that good and its kind of a pain to get up there, walking up and down. (laughter) The Gorge is great, toofor its own reasons, I love that place, too, but I’ve always liked Alpine Valley.
Madison Square Garden is just the center. When you’re in there, you can’t explain it
it’s this round little building like the Colisseum in Rome or something; it’s this round building in the middle of Manhattan. No matter what I see therethere’s a different energy there than anywhere. Living in New York, now, just in the past month or two, they’ve had the Stones, Cream, U2, Coldplay, Paul McCartneywhat other arena could boast that? Five nights of the Stones and seven nights of U2. The energy in there when the lights go down is just amazing.
I’ve been to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in the Bay Area many times when I lived in California. [A framed photo of Phil Lesh, Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio bouncing on trampolines during “You Enjoy Myself” at the Shoreline in September 1999 rests next to a photo of comedian Jim Breuer and I at Bonnaroo, an acid trip Father’s Day card from my son, a Preservation Hall Jazz Band postcard, a Saint Bob Dylan candle and a funky Coney Island poster in my musical mess of an office.]
Shoreline was kind of the first of those cookie-cutters. San Francisco’s always been a funny market for us. We always did fairly well there. I saw Dead shows at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley and I’ve never been to the Frost [Amphitheatre in Palo Alto]; but those two placesthe Greek was always one of my favorite places to see shows. I lived in Oakland for three years and used to go to the Greek all the time. To go to ShorelineI don’t want to say depressing but it was just kind of like, it just was never my favorite place. I saw some Dead shows there and the first time I went out there, I thought it was pretty cool like a brand new place but then it just didn’t have enough character, I felt. We played some good shows there. It was just too bad that we always played there. I wish there was a better place to play in San Francisco.
Do you want to talk about the Halloween shows?
Yeah, since Halloween is my birthday it was always kind of fun. I could tell a good story about that. I remember when they decided to do Remain in Light for the third one . I liked Talking Heads but I was never that big of a fan. I remember I was the guy going, “I don’t know. It’s not going to be that good. Why don’t you do Sticky Fingers?” And Trey said, “Trust me.” And I said, “Yeah, whatever. It’s just gonna stink.” (laughter) It ended up being my favorite one of all time and, at that moment, I thought, “O.K. Trey. I will never not trust your judgment on this kind of stuff again.” (laughs) To this day, he knows the story and will say, “Remember Remain in Light?” And I’ll say, “O.K.”
What about Halloween 1998?
Halloween became bigger than New Year’s. It became kind of hard to live up to, somewhat. You really have to want to have the energy to put into learning someone else’s musicto learn a whole album and do it really well. I think if they do it again, it’ll be great and they’ll do it because they want to do it. It wasn’t a choice not to do Halloween anymore. It just never worked out. We would have maybe done it in 2000 if we hadn’t taken a hiatus or, maybe, in 2003 had we not done the 20th Anniversary shows.
It wasn’t a conscious decision that we are not doing that anymore; it just didn’t fit.
Let’s talk about Clifford Ball, the first large Phish festival in August 1996.
We were always looking at it from a standpoint of “what kind of concert would I want to
go to?” We had the fan base that was willing to go there with us and that was the coolest
thing about. I always felt like the crowd was part of it. They were willing to go there. I
remember when we were going over to look at the site and we were all so excited because there were all of these things that we could do like we could have our own radio station. Originally that started with the idea that we would just broadcast traffic reports but then it was like “Why?” Let’s make it our station and play weird music and do whatever we want.
We wanted people to be able to come and camp. We wanted to have twice as many port-a-potties as we would normally have. Let’s put sinks in the parking lots so people could wash. Let’s make this art so people could look at it. I was always a believer that people were there to see the band but the other stuff was a cool thing that showed this effort like the flatbed truck. We would always think that wouldn’t it be cool if we were sitting out in the parking lot and the Grateful Dead would come by on a truck playing a jam? We said, “Let’s do that.”
I think a lot of times people don’t know how much comes from the fact that we weren’t that different from the crowd. We all came from that same place and we know what they want. When we went to Maine, it was even further up there and we had to do different things. The funny thing was is that when I look back on it now, what this was was all a big buildup to Big Cypress.
How far in advance was Big Cypress planned?
Not that far. We were trying to find a spot for so long. We talked about Hawaii and we had this really cool spot but we wanted people to be able to drive to it. This Indian Reservation came up and it was perfect. We flew down there and that was the best weekend of all of our lives. I still get choked up and goosebumps when I hear it.
What is extraordinary to me is the fact that the band played so consistently well.
When Trey and I were talking about the idea, there was a part of me that thought that it’s not going to be good the whole time and I love Phish. But I can remember moments like “Axillia” and “Drowned” where it just got better and better. It was amazing the whole way through. The funny thing was that backstagethere was a pool back there and I was there for five days and it seemed all beautifulbut when the band came off stage on the final night, we walked down and it was me and the four of them and I said, “Do you guys want to do an encore?” (laughter) They looked at me like I was insane. As it was coming out of my mouth, I thought: “O.K. That’s it.”
That’s how you got a bad rap. Like the story goes: “Brad cuts the heads off.”
Yeah, sure. I didn’t know but I knew. Well, you know, it had to be said to be realized.
The other thing was that when the band leftwe got them out of there and they flew back to Burlington
How long had you been awake at that point?
Oh, I had been up for, you know, 24 hours or so. I drove with some friends to Tampa after that and I was going on adrenalin at that point and it’s a marathon type of thing. You get that second wind. The funny thing was that when the band left, the backstage looked like Vietnam. It looked like a bomb had gone off back there. It was trashed. It wasn’t just garbageyou can’t explain it. There were these palm trees that had half fallen over and this and that.
Did you think that this was the end?
Not thatI thought that nothing could ever be as good as this but I didn’t want it to end. I was a Phish fan. I love Phish, you know? I was always a believer that if somebody could do something better than it, that was us. They made Farmhouse, which is probably my favorite record. I don’t know. You could say that it would have been good to end then but, we would have never played on top of the tower at IT or we would have never played with Kid Rock or B.B. King or all of those kinds of thingsI loved all of that. I read stuff on the Internet sometimes that Kid Rock ruined the show [Las Vegas, 9/29/00]. Come on! Whether you like him or notI don’t have any Kid Rock albums and I’m not a fanhe’s a nice guy and the guy can sing. He played three great songs at a show in Vegas. If you’re going to go and look at it like that, I feel bad for you. You can’t please everybody and people are entitled to their opinions.
Part III New Year’s Run 1995 to 2005
Then as it was, then again it will be
An’ though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea – “Ten Years Gone” lyric by Robert Plant; music by Led Zeppelin
As a writer, my main goal in an interview is to absorb as much information as possible during the process of the work. My second goal is to make the subject as comfortable as possible in our shared environment so that information is rooted in loose and candid honesty. I attempt to relate to the reader’s intelligence, understand my responsibility and, above all, respect the point of view of the interviewee. The key to unlocking someone as durable as Brad Sands is simple: Ask, shut up, listen and be prepared to laugh quite a bit.
Back at the Garden for New Year’s Eve this year, eh?
When they called us to do itthe funny thing is that I was going anyway. My girlfriend and I were going to go because Chris is running lights for the Black Crowes. I live twelve blocks from the Garden. We were going anyway. (laughter)
My Morning Jacket had dropped out. They had called us to do it. Trey lives in the city now, too, and the original thought was “well, why not? Let’s do those guys a favor.” Not that they got screwed over but it’s an unfortunate situation that happened. They called and, basically, they were really nice. We looked at it as we were doing them a favornot saving the day, per se, but kind of coming in and, you know, it’s about the community of it all. It’s not an ego thing like “I’m Trey. I don’t open at the Garden.” It’s not about that. We weren’t going to play at all. We never had any intention of playing. We just wanted to take the year off [playing NYE]. This came about as a sort of surprise and, what the heck, you know? Trey’s friends with Chris Robinson and he really likes the Black Crowes. I felt they were great at Bonnaroo.
I thought it went surprisingly really well. Trey’s band played a great set. I thought they played better than they had the whole tourit was probably their best set they played from start to finish. A lot of it has to do with the fact that Trey feels at home thereyou could just tell right away. He walks onstage and feels like he owns the Garden. It really translates. He really felt good and they played really well and I think the challenge of walking on stage at the Gardenthere were a lot of Black Crowes’s fans there. There was a lot of peoplenot that they didn’t know who Trey was but certainly weren’t Trey fans and I think he probably won a few people over with a pretty good high energy set, not to mention that it was probably a pretty good time slot from 9 to 10:30 because everybody was in and people were getting ready for the New Year’s. Overall, it was a pretty fun night considering we weren’t going to do anything anyway. It was strange to be at the Garden.
I was going to ask you that. How did it feelhow do you want to word it?
When you walk in there, you remember all of the memories from New Year’s. The excitement that was always there and outside there was a feeling in the air and that was not there at all this year. They even had a sort of backstage bar setupkind of like our Betty Ford Clinic. There were about 20 people in there and I thought: “Wowthis is definitely not like our scene.” (laughter) We’d have a thousand people back here. I think
we had 2,300 people on the guest list when they did the Comeback Show [NYE, 2002]. At the Garden, that might have been my favorite New Year’s Eve show becauseI wouldn’t say that was the best one they ever playedbut because of the magnitude of it; it was great, it was just exciting.
What were your main functions on a night like that? You mention numbers like 2,300 people on the guest listhow did you keep from going insane?
The main thing that everybody has to remember is that it’s only a rock concert. Some things go wrong; you can fix them; you just have to be ready to take on all challenges. That’s kind of what it is like in the industry. You have to be prepared for somebody’s tickets won’t be there even if you checked it five times and this person is supposed to be
here. On that night, the Tom Hanks story was kind of a funny one because I remember
seeing that movie, Cast Away, and Page’s brother looks exactly like him. I thought: “We’ve got to do this at some point.” [During the song “Wilson” on NYE 2002/03, Page’s brother, Steve, came out on vocals after being introduced as “Tom Hanks.”]
Two weeks before New Year’s, we had done [the Late Show with David] Letterman with Tom Hanks, which kind of made it believableI mean, he really looked like him so much so that Page’s parents who were sitting with my parents asked me at set break: “Is Tom Hanks still here? We’d love to meet him.” And I said: “That’s your son.” (laughter) It ended up in the USA Today and the New York Times and all of that and we really pulled one over on everybody. (laughs) That was one of those gags that was great and the energy in the buildingyou could barely even hear the first three songs. For me, personally, those were my favorite nights. I would rather be in the middle of a big exciting event than just be on autopilot. I like those nightsthat’s what I do it for; I live for that. At least in our world, we all did and we always wanted to rise to the occasion. The bigger the momentit wasn’t always the best show but at the same time, as a crew, we always wanted to bring our A’ game. I wanted to do those shows as much as the next guy. I didn’t want to take Halloween off or New Year’s off. I wanted to work because it was fun and it felt like you were doing something that mattered. Not to everybody but to a small group of people, it was really important.
How long in advance did you have to prepare for a Garden New Year’s Eve gig?
Three or four months. We held the Garden for a few consecutive years. In some regards, its like any other showexcept for the ticket requests, there is always more in New York. You just have to keep at it and we had a lot of people working for us and that helped. We always planned for the New Year’s gags but that would always take on a last second type of energy, as well. Everything would always just come together.
Obviously, the New Year’s Eve 1995 show is getting a lot of attention lately.
It was our first New Year’s Eve at the Garden. Obviously, the hot dog was the year before [Phish rode a hot dog above the crowd at the Boston Garden on NYE 1994/95]. This show, for some reason, took on a life of its own. I don’t remember it being the greatest show but it seems to have held up with the test of time. There are just a lot of things that people like about it. I think it’s ironic that they made fun of that song “Shine” and then Trey came out with an album called Shine ten years later. (laughter) That to me is kind of the funniest thing about the whole thing. I really like the second and third sets; the first set just isn’t my favorite. It’s not my favorite because it’s not my favorite songs, I should say. I’m not a big fan of “Maze” or things like thatit just wasn’t the songs that I really liked. As far as the Garden goes, I remember ’97 was a really great run of shows and, obviously, ’98, as well. Those two New Year’s runsI don’t know why I have fonder memories or better memories but I like them better, interestingly enough.
Was the organization tighter?
No, I just like the way they played better. The “Sneakin’ Sally” breakout one year and then Page singing “New York New York” and “1999” was funny. I think it was that the gags were less gaggythey were more just about the balloon drop and the playing.
Was 1996 overplanned?
No, it’s just that Boston is not the greatest place to do a New Year’s Eve show in an arena. We’d always done well in Boston but New York is the center of the world on New Year’s Eve. Everything closes at 1AM in Boston. That was one of those brand new arenas and we never really liked playing those, _ever_so that was part of it, too.
Miami [NYE 2003/04]I thought was great. We breathed a whole new life back into the New Year’s thing. Everybody was in such a good mood because of the weather and the arena was perfect for us. That place was built for Phish shows, if you ask me. (laughs) It is a small, intimate arenaa basketball arena but shorter.
Didn’t it feel like the crowd was tumbling on top of the stage?
That and the crowd in the back was a lot closer than in a hockey rink and it went straight up. The Betty Ford Clinic was this huge bar right behind the stage that everybody would hang out atit couldn’t have been more perfect for us. Miami is kind of the place other than New Yorkmaybe Vegas, toothat is just a blast. We didn’t even make a dent in their world down there. It’s like they’ve got their own thing going on down there; it’s like another country down there. (laughter) Definitely different.
Who made the call on George Clinton and P-Funk to guest in Miami?
We have a friend who works for them and it sort of came about when Trey sat next to George Clinton on a Jet Blue flight from Burlington and the guy had arranged it so the two sat next to each other. (laughter) George slept the whole flight and he woke up and said, “We’ve gotta do somethin’!” And Trey said, “Yeah, O.K.!” And they booked a show around us playing thereit was great to have them down there. I thought Phish played so well at those shows. That was one of my favorite runs; I just had a great time.
Part IV When the Circus Leaves Town
It was powerful stuff. And it put the both of us on the map in a big way. We could have probably done most of it each on our own, but together we let it roll, and we hit the high note. It was scorching, original, and it was fun. He was my brother in arms. – Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner describing his relationship with writer Hunter S. Thompson, RS Issue 970, March 24, 2005
What did you do when the band was off the road during the 90s?
I worked in the office a lot with pre-tour planning. John [Paluska] and I used to plan the tours and where we should play.
It was still Phish 24/7?
Yeah, it was just always like that.
What about pre-hiatus, early 2000immediately following Big Cypress?
I think we were running on the post-adrenalin of doing [Big Cypress], which bumps you up into “wowwe just did the coolest thing ever!” We were floating on that energy and, you know, we were working pretty hard at that point on Farmhouse. We didn’t have any time to stop and think about it. There was definitely the moment where everybody was thinking, well, with the hiatus coming, we should just stop now but I think there’s something really cool stuff that came after that. And as far as you want to say Phish or Trey or whatever, I still think that they have their best stuff in them. I think it will, hopefully, come in the future.
Did you know that it was coming up ahead of time?
The hiatus? I think sothat one I knew. The breakup thingI think I knew before anybody else, maybe John. I know I knew before some of the band just because Trey and
I were really close at that time. People have to understandpeople that are mad at himit is so much more to it than “I don’t want to play in Phish anymore.” It was deeper than that, you know? He needed a change in lifestyle as much as I did and as much as anybody did. But Trey’s always been the one that took the brunt of everything for all of us. He carried us there. He took us to where we got_ALL_ of us. The bandMike, Page and Fish are great but without Trey, I don’t think they would have gotten there. I don’t. I really believe that and that’s no disrespect to those guys.
Trey was the one who had the ideas, wrote the songs and he was driving us with him 99% of the time. It got to the point where he didn’t want to do it. His heart wasn’t in this stuffwhether it will be again or not, probably, yes but it wasn’t at the time. We took the hiatus to address those issues but none of them were addressed. Personally, at the hiatus, they should have closed down the office and fired everybody. Not fired, you know, but just ended it.
What about the last show pre-hiatus at the Shoreline on October 7, 2000?
That was definitely emotional. It was a funny show. I thought they played really well that whole last week. I think we were all just out of gas at that point. There was the_very_ uncertainty of the future but we were all pretty tired by the end of that weekthat was a long week. (laughs) That was just one of those things where we didn’t have the time to think of the gravity of the situation. The band felt very strong and united at that point going into their decision. The term hiatus’ became this kind of funny thing, you know? (laughter)
Hiatus became the four-letter word of rock.
(laughs) Yeah, the show, itself, was very emotional. I remember they came offstage and I think they were all pretty much in tears.
Is the story true that the band members locked themselves in a trailer afterwards for hours and kept everyone out, including you and their family members?
They wouldn’t even let me in. They came offstage and they went into their room and Trey opened up the door and said: “Don’t let anybody in. I mean anybody.” Soour security guard, John Langenstein, stood there and everybody wanted to come inyeah, I think that was part of it, too. Everybody wanted to come in and say their thanks and, you know, it just was kind of overwhelming. Everybody was there from managers and promoters to everything.
People thought there was a chance that the band might not come back.
I think they always knew they’d come back; certainly, the timetable was not set in stone.
What kept the organization at status quo during the hiatus?
Well, they just transferred the whole operation over to him [Anastasio] and his touring
And he got shit for playing smaller venues.
Well, you know, he felt that pressure. No one was really saying that but he felt that pressure. When you’re supporting a merchandising company that has these people that you’ve become friends withyou feel obligated. And that’s not what it should be about.
And Phish had two records left to deliver to a bum label.
Yeah, Elektra was just not a great label for us. They didn’t really get it. A lot of those factors weren’tit was just more aboutthese guys had been doing this since they were 18 years old and they want to try some other things. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was hard for _me_believe me. I didn’t want them to break up but I certainly wasn’t mad at them. I also realized that those guys gave me, personally, probably the best fifteen years of my life and still are to a degree. So, to be selfish and notthat’s what bothers me a lot about people today. If you don’t like the band [70 Volt Parade], everybody’s entitled to their opinion. I didn’t necessarily love it right off the bat, either.
It needed to mature.
Yeah, exactly. But to direct anger at someone who gave you so many great moments over your life is ridiculous. The Internet is funny; I admit I read it; I look at Phantasy Tour and it’s entertaining.
I get on PT. I joke around and have fun but I also try to be sincere along with the majority of the others. There are some people who tend to be negative quite a bit.
The Internet allows you to be an anonymous voice: “I can say what I want.” Bring one of these guys in here and tell me that in person. He wouldn’t. It’s a weird thing.
Last night someone threw a cup and hit Trey on the head. [This incident occurred during his acoustic portion of the set on December 2 at the Warfield Theatre.]
I kind of missed the whole thing because I was down here trying to get Tony and Les [Hall] to learn “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” with Bill Kreutzmann. (laughterthe shared laughter of the irony of the situation) Tony knows the Grateful Dead but he didn’t know the songs and it all came together. In Kreutzmann’s head, he said, “let’s do “Eyes” and Trey said “Yeahgreat!” And then I heard it [Trey spoke to the crowd about being hit with objects during this recent tour] and I thought, “What’s goin’ on up there?” I went up and saw it and I thought “Oh, no.” I felt bad for Trey because he just doesn’t need that to happen. It happened but it’s not a big deal.
Is that a tough thing for him to get over?
Trey takes things to heart. He really does. He wants to please everybody. He wants people to like him. It hurts him to have people be mad at him. It really does. Most of usI mean somebody like me, I don’t care. Some guy thinks I’m a jerk because I threw him out of backstage, then I’m a jerk. I really don’t care. Trey is not like that. He’s not like me in that regard. It kind of comes back to haunt us sometimes, probably.
He gave everything that he had and it is still not enough.
Yeah, it affects him a lot. It really does. Also, he’s not na into thinking that everybody should just lap up and love everything that he doesthat’s not what he’s saying. [The reader may remember the infamous quote from a mid-90s review that said, “Phish could piss in the ears of their fans” and get away with it.] It’s sort of misdirected anger at someone who, you know, doesn’t deserve it.
Part V The Sound of Breaking Waves
Miles walking, the sound of breaking waves the other side of me,
Paumanok there and then as I thought the old thought of likenesses,
These you presented to me you fish-shaped island,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk’d with that electric self seeking types. – As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life
from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Did the band dynamics change once their popularity grew?
It just snowballed to a point where it was a little bit out of control but you know what? We were the ones who ultimately wanted it that way but we didn’t. It got to be too much. We liked the party. We liked the rock and roll atmosphere. It’s a rock and roll atmosphere. It was a concert. It’s fun. We wanted it to be like that to a degree. It just became too much.
Did you ever feel overwhelmed?
Oh, totally. At Coventry [Phish’s final gig of 2004], I couldn’t go five feet without having to stop and talk to somebody and I’m not even in the band. There are a lot of my friends who I do want to see all the time at shows so there’s a give and take. So many people, such a huge scenebut, you know, to a degree, we created it. I don’t blame any of those people for that. It was fun; it really was. We had the best time. I always felt that we were going to go down and we were going to have as good a time as we could havefor better or worse. Sometimes, it was out of control.
What were your feelings at Coventry?
Coventry was very weird for me. It was just a weird time.
Not denial but a few of the things I rememberI remember when they did “YEM” and I carried out the trampolines and I came offstage and I was crying; I was bawling. It was so weird and I didn’t expect it to happen. I went in the back of a semi and called my girlfriend because she wasn’t there and I didn’t want anybody to see me. (laughterbut this was as melancholic a bout of laughter as one can imaginelike the lone joke at a solemn funeral) I was literally crying my eyes out. It was just likeWOWthis isthe thing I felt the most; toothe funny story is that we were up late the night before. It was about four in the morning and John Paluska, you know, Phish’s manager, came down and Trey and I were standing there. He came down andI love John to death and this is typical John’and he came down riding a four-wheeler but he had a helmet on, right?
And he said, “We’ve got to have a meeting. We’ve got to get everybody together. We’ve got to wake all the band up and, you know, Trey and I were looking at each other and we were like “why is he wearing that helmet?” (laughter) It was like “O.K. I’ll get everybody together (What the fuck is up with that helmet? Why are you wearing that?).”
So, we had this meeting in the trailer and it was gloom-and-doom and gloom-and-doom. [Because of the foul weather, the road leading into Coventry was closed so fans not already on site had to get transportationally creative]. I remember our states of mind and I thought, “Well, they’re just going to walk.” The cops won’t let them drive in and they made Trey and Mike make this announcement, which they didn’t really want to make. Legally, we weren’t allowed to say “pull over and walk; we really want you to come” you’re not allowed to say that. Instinctively, I thought that if I had driven all the way up here, this is the last Phish concert and I’m ten miles away, what’s the worst that’s gonna happen to my car? They’re going to tow it. They’re not going to tow 20,000 cars.
I got up in the morning and me and Kuroda walked up to the road and I was so moved by that [people walking into the festival after abandoning their cars]. WOWonce again, it’s the crowd who makes this thing. I just thought it was the most amazing tribute to a band that anybody could have ever done. As for the shows themselves, I didn’t think they were that great. It was an emotional time.
Were you on the stage when the band broke down crying?
We all were there during “Velvet Sea” and “Glide”it was just very emotional. Everybody was; we all were. It wasn’t just one guy.
What did you do in the months following Phish’s last gigs at Coventry?
I was a big Boston Red Sox fan. [and, suddenly, my editor, diehard Sox fan, Dean Budnick, wakes from his slumbers: “RED SOX?! Who said Red Sox?”] I sort of decided to devote late September and October to going to Red Sox games and I went on Red Sox Tour. I went to one of the Angels games and I went to six out of seven Yankee games and then I went to one World Series game. I’ve seen a lot of great sporting events but game six at Yankee Stadium is probably in my Top Five of sporting events that I’ve ever been togoing into enemy territory and Curt Schilling was pitching and you had the whole bloody socks thing [which, incidentally, now sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame]. I was sitting with some friends in the third tier and it was snowing up there. (laughs) [The Sox] just kind of squeaked out a win. Riding the subway home that nightit was just a silent subway ride full of Yankee fans.
Do you ever get recognized?
Every now and then. I got recognized at one of those games. Some guy was heckling me because I was rooting for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Then he said: “Heyaren’t you?” He ended up buying me a couple of beers. It’s kind of a funnyyou know, every now and then I think mostly because of the movie Bittersweet Motel. I’m flattered. I like Phish fans. I am a Phish fan. All of my friends are Phish fans, mostly.
Part VI Back on the Train
“Bogart thought of himself as Scaramouch, the mischievous scamp who sets off the fireworks, then nips out.” – Nunnally Johnson, Bogart: In Search of My Father by Stephen Humphrey Bogart
“Lookdon’t worry about it; I do this kind of thing all of the time.” – Dumpstaphunk and 70 Volt Parade drummer, Raymond Weber
How did you get back into working with Trey?
It happened pretty organically. When we went our separate ways, I think we always kind of knew that we’d be getting back together at some point. He just called me and was just asking and we were just talking like we had throughout the whole time. We just talked as friends. We’d talk about personal stuff, business stuff, whatever and he just kind of said: “You know, I’d really like you to come back and I know you’re working for Gov’t Mule and I don’t want to impose on them.” He wasn’t sure what my story was with them. They were very gracious. In a sort of unwritten way, I had committed to a year with them and they kind of let me out. Because I was going back with Trey, they were very understanding about it. We ended up doing a show with Gov’t Mule at Jones Beach, which was great. When we played together, I wanted to make sure that the people I was working with were treating the people I worked for really well. I just saw them up at the Beacon the other day so everybody is still on good terms, which is very important to me.
Mike and Jon playing at Trey’s gig in Utica in November went over very well.
The funny thing was that when we started out the tour, we wanted to play the theatre thereI think it’s the Stanley Theatre, maybe, which was a great old theatre that held about 2,000 people because that was the size of venues that we were playing. When we booked it, they originally had us there but then they had started to do some restoration work on it so they had to move it to the arena. It was kind of like1,500 people in an arenawhat could we do to make this show exciting? Plus, you know, we love playing in those kind of towns. We always did well in Rochester and Buffalo and weird places that nobody else would play. I remember when we played Utica on Oysterhead tour, Stewart [Copeland] and Les [Claypool] were like: “Why the hell are we playing Utica?” And we said: “That’s Phish Country!” (laughter) We played to a sold out arena and they were like: “Who the hell lives here?” Stewart Copeland had been all around the world but he’d never been to Utica.
There were all of these ideas tossed around. We decided to put up this countdown on the [Trey] web site and make it a Countdown to Utica’it was a joke, really. Then as it started to get closer we started to realize that maybe we better try to do something. (laughs) We organized a balloon drop and we had another idea to make it a New Year’s showall of these things started coming together and then Mike and Trey started talking and Trey got Mike to say it in some song at some Mike & Leo show. Then, it took on a new momentum and Mike said he would come because he thought it was a funny idea. We ended up getting Fishman and it took on a life of its own.
Phish Nation went berserk that week.
The Internet was reallyI had friends calling me: “What’s happening at Utica?” (laughter) It really worked, you know? More than anything, it got people talking, which is what you want. You want people excited because at least if they get excited and the music is good then it’s a payoff. We weren’t false advertising anything. We weren’t saying that Phish was getting back together at Utica but it was kind of vague, kind of funny and that’s kind of what we do well, the kind of jokes we like to play.
It was great that Fishman came. He came sort of in the last minute and decided to come with Mike. It was great to see the two of them and they had a good time. The “Divided Sky” idea was Trey’s ideato have Fish come out and hit the cymbal and walk back off and, actually, that worked out really well. That was really funny. (laughter) Al [Schnier] from moe. was there and I’m sure he must have thought: “What? Why are they?they’re all so funny and friendly and everybody’s so good, why wouldn’t they be playing?” He had this kind of look in his eyes. It was good to have everybody there. Always good to see Mike and Fish.
How did you get Page McConnell to come out a few nights before Utica?
He just happened to be in the city and I called him and he said he’d like to come down. Trey called him and whenever those guys are around each other, they want to get up and play. It’s funny because John Medeski was there, as well, and they had the three keyboard players for “First Tube”four keyboards if you include Les [Hall].
You had Tom Marshall come around to sit in on a few songs, too.
Yep. We basically trotted out our old friends in the last weeks of the tour. (laughter)
How was Warren Haynes’s Xmas Jam in Asheville, North Carolina?
The Xmas Jam was really a great event. It was my first time there and since I’d worked with Gov’t Mule I can’t say enough about how well they ran the event and how nice it was to be down there and be a part of it. They’re really appreciative. It turned out to be a really good experience for me to work with them. Warren and Stephanie [Scamardo, Warren’s wife] are two really great people who care about the scene. It’s funny about that comment about living, breathing, eating Phish; she definitely lives and breathes Warren and Gov’t Mule. I just think their band has been playing better and better. To be honest, I was never a huge fan of them when they had Allen Woody in the bandnot that I didn’t like them; I just didn’t know that much about thembut it just really wasn’t my thing. If feel that with the new lineup, they are just playing really well. Obviously, I was excited because we were doing the thing with Bill Kreutzmann.
Did that happen because of Comes A TimeThe Jerry Garcia Benefit in Berkeley where Trey played with various members of the Dead?
Well, that’s kind of where it started. Trey, Mike and myself have always been huge Bill Kreutzmann fans. Our favorite era of the Dead is 1971-1974that’s what we love; that’s when it was just one drummer. Originally, it was just going to be Trey down there and then it was just going to be Trey and Mike and so everybody just assumed it was going to be acoustic and neither one of them wanted to play acoustic. I mean Mike has been playing acoustic with Leo [Kottke] for the longest time so this whole thing came up about “why don’t we get a drummer?” Names were thrown around, different people, and Trey and I were riding in the car and we said, “what about Kreutzmann?” We kind of laughed and then we thought, “I bet you he’d do it.” They called him and he was so psyched.
Did you call him directly or did you phone someone in their management?
We had his phone number because he had sort of said that “if you guys ever want to do anything, give me a call.” He and Trey really hit it off at the benefit because Kreutzmann reminded us of Fishman. He just showed up and I remember when he first got there, Trey and I were standing there, and we said, “this is such a great event. Thanks for having us.” He said, “Yeah, you know, the drugs really got the best of Jerry in the end but, man, I love that guy!” (laughter) We thought, “Wowthat’s the best thing he could say about it, you know?” He was probably closer to Jerry than any of the other guys towards the end. He’d tell stories about Hawaii.
Didn’t Bill get Jerry into scuba diving in the early 90s?
Exactly. They would go out to Hawaii; they wanted to live there and this and that.
Jerry taught Bill how to create art on the computer during that era, as well.
Yeah. Bill’s son, Justin, was there and he’s done a couple of videos for them. Overall, during rehearsals and some of the covers they were playingit was just cool to watch. Kreutzmann was my second favorite member of the Grateful Dead. I always liked him. So we got down there [to the Xmas Jam] and played and it was just a really fun weekend. The show goes a little long and we were all pretty tired by the time we got home.
That’s the second time you had passed through Asheville in the last few months.
Yeah, we did one show in Asheville in between the two Stones’s dates.
That was a strong show.
It actually was a really great show. Since I had been back working with Trey, that was really the first showtop to bottomwhere I felt “Wowthis is killin’ now.”
How did you feel about the show the night we talkedSaturday, December 3 at the Warfield in San Francisco? I see that Trey made it available for download.
I thought it may have been the best show of the tour.
Yeah, that’s what I thought; I thought I just got lucky. As my editor, Dean Budnick once wrote: “I rolled the dice on this one.” [In reference to 5/7/94, from The Phish Companion
A lot of times when they do the two nights, the second night always comes off better especially when Trey doesn’t have that many songs to work withso to not repeat in two nights is really a challenge. The second night was much more of songs that he wouldn’t normally always play, you would think, right off the bat. I can remember the version of “Tuesday” and I was standing out front with Kuroda while he was running the lights and I thought “man, this is definitely the best version of that song I’d ever seen.” I actually thought the Jerry Harrison thing was pretty cool, too.
Everyone in the joint was hoping for a guest but I don’t think there was a soul in the house that could have predicted Harrison or that they would forego the obvious Talking Heads choice. I love that sort of changeup on top of a changeup.
Yeah, I thought it was cool that they played a Modern Lovers song.
Overall, did you feel Trey’s tour evolved and went really well?
The second half of the tour was much better than the first half. I really like the new drummer, Raymond Weber. I think he’s just a great drummer.
Not to get too technical but he kicked ass. How did he get into it so fast?
You know, it’s funny. He’s a professional musician. Trey sent him all of the music and he learned it. His first gig was Albany and he came in and, you know, you can’t teach somebody how to jam or improvise, so to speak; but he really came in, knew the tunes and, granted, it’s tough because Trey is always doing new covers but I think it is a tribute to how good of a drummer he is and he even said “lookdon’t worry about it; I do this kind of thing all of the time.” I think that we forget that musicians come into gigs on short notice a lot. He’s from New Orleans and he lost something like eight sets of drums in the flood. The rest of the tourwe had Stewart Copeland come down in L.A.
They did a Police song and an Oysterhead tune, right?
Exactly. (laughs) That was pretty cool.
And then you went to the Xmas Jam. How long did you work with Gov’t Mule?
About eight or nine months. They called out of the blue and asked because they needed a tour manager. The guy before that was going back to Widespread [Panic]. I had a really good experience working for them. I was never a Gov’t Mule fan. I really didn’t know that much about it. Going out with themI really had a good time. I thought they were great players; the shows were really good. Warren [Haynes] is a great guy. Matt [Abts]I love him to death; Andy and Danny are both great. I felt like I had a hand in bringing Trey and Warren back playing together again. There were times when I thought that their playing didn’t connect on stage. It’s gotten a lot better over the last year. They both really respect each other but they do different stuff.
I liked the way Trey’s guitars were recorded on the new album, Shine. I think Brendan O’Brien, the producer, really nailed a sharp edge that had not been captured before. I also liked that Trey went back to writing his own lyrics at a time when he felt he needed to address a few issues. The criticism is varied and mixed and there are people who do not like his new direction, transition period or whatever you want to call it. The percentages of people who like or don’t like these changes are debatable. For example, last night there were 2,200 people here at the Warfield. 2,100 or so may have been having a great time, one guy throws a cup and that’s what people talk aboutit is mathematics but problematic.
Our culture today wants the sensationalistic story. I saw something that said that the “Eyes of the World” was terrible until they got to the jam.” Tony didn’t know the song. They were just trying. Trey is the ultimate crowd pleaser. I was out there when they started “Eyes of the World” and people were freaking out. It was like with the Kid Rock thing and he came on and they did AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and I looked out and I didn’t see anyone saying, “This is bullshit.” It’s weird and a shame but the great thing about Trey is he’s going to bounce back and do something differentthat’s what sustains him as a solo artist. He’s already planning things for the futuredifferent bands and different this and that. That’s why I’m here and that’s what