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Published: 2011/01/09
by Sam Davis

Making Phish’s "Meatstick" Dance

Much like myself, Marc Kimelman grew up a listening to Phish in his hometown of Toronto. After attending university for psychology and business Marc decided to move to New York to pursue his dreams of working in the Theatre. Marc has worked with artists such as Neil Young, Shakka Kahn, Katie Perry and, most recently, he was picked as the associate choreographer for Phish’s NYE “Meatstick” gag. Yesterday, Marc took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about how the idea for the gag started, the planning and rehearsal process, and what it’s like to be given the opportunity to work with the group.

How did you get involved with the band and when did they first approach you about working with them on the NYE gag?

About a month ago I got a call from a choreographer friend of mine who I’d met two years ago at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. I hadn’t heard from her in about a year and a half and randomly I get an e-mail asking if I wanted to work with her on a gig, but I wasn’t allowed to know what it was until I signed a confidentiality agreement because they wanted to keep everything hush-hush. I really wanted to work with her so I said yes to whatever it was. And then the producers called me and had me go to their office and signed all of these confidentiality waivers. Then I flipped to the next page where it said “Phish New Years Eve Madison Square Garden,” which I was trying to get a ticket for anyway. So it was pretty crazy.

Then we started working right away. I didn’t meet the band until a week before the show, we had worked with the dancers and just spoken to the band, but I hadn’t met them personally yet. They came in a week before and checked out what we had done, and we were off to the right start. Then we started seeing Trey every day and collaborating with him on the project.

Were you a fan when you first started working on the project? You mentioned you were already trying to score tickets. Were you familiar with the band’s NYE tradition?

Yeah, I had grown up on Phish and saw a bunch of shows in my high school and university days. I’m from Toronto and all my friends were big into Phish. I’ve probably seen a handful of show. I’m not a huge Phish fan but I definitely appreciate them. I’ve never been to a New Year’s show, and I live in New York now so I was trying to make it happen this year. Obviously I know what they do on New Year’s, and it’s the same production company that worked on their gig last year when they shot Fishman out of a cannonball. So yeah, it was just really exciting to not only being on a Phish show, but a New Year’s show.

What was the timeline like with the rehearsals and preparation? When did you first start working on it and how long did it take to come together?

It was between just me and the choreographer for a couple weeks in the studio just trying to figure out what the movement style should be. Obviously we didn’t want it to be so off the wall that no one was feeling it in the crowd. It had to go with the heavy groove that Phish gives us. It was tricky.

The first stuff that we came up with was just definitely wrong and then slowly but surely we got it right. And once we got it right, which took about a week and a half or two weeks, we cast the dancers. We knew we wanted it to feel like the stage was covered with dancers. We wanted it to look like there were 200 dancers onstage, but we really only had room for about 50. So once we broke it down to how many Rabbis we wanted, and how many mariachis we wanted and all that, then we started casting. And first I reached out to my friends, which was cool to be able to hire them for a Phish gig and be able to pay them. We got the dancers in just a week before the gig. The gig was on Friday and we rehearsed with them on Tuesday and Wednesday. We had our stuff really tight so when they came in on Tuesday we were ready to roll. Then the next day the band came in to see what we had done and they were just blown away. I’ve never seen people laugh so hard for so long. We thought they would come in and just watch it and leave but they hung out for almost two hours. They just wanted to see it time and time again. Then they called their wives to come and see it and they brought all their kids to come see it…they were just so stoked by what we had done. They were really excited.

Where did the idea for the whole dance routine come from and how much creative control were you allowed?

The idea originally came through Trey and the production company I work with called David Gallo Designs. David and Trey have a long history together and the idea came through them brainstorming. They knew they wanted it to be “Meatstick,” they knew they wanted to bring back the hotdog and take it out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was tricky. As soon as they took it out there were Phish fans who had noticed that and had started to rumor stuff on the web. So it was hard to keep things confidential. But I think we definitely pulled it off. So the idea originally came from Trey and David. [David] knows Trey the best so any time we had an idea, we would run it by him and he would either say yes or no to that. So we were definitely able to come up with ideas, but we allowed him the right to shut us down because he knows the band the best.

That’s interesting because Trey is actually working on a musical of his own right now. Is there any connection?

Yeah, I don’t know much about it but yeah I heard he’s doing that with this lyricist Amanda Green and I know our music arranger has some part in it as well. His music definitely lends itself to the stage and just seeing what we were able to do with five-part harmonies and stuff…I think it probably just motivated him more to put his stuff on the stage because it’s so theatrical.

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There are 13 comments associated with this post

whatsisname January 17, 2011, 13:25:47

@John J. Wood: Just so you know, when I read your post I couldn’t help but hear it in my mind in the voice of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. Worst. New Years. Ever.

smilenow January 20, 2011, 20:15:59

great show lots of fun .nothing like the props the grateful dead use to do though .like the parade of floats with naked woman on them on chinese new years, they use to go all out those were the days oakland colisuem.

daniel January 25, 2011, 17:02:57

I can’t believe what I just saw & read. Phish is so creative & fun. They have outdone themselves again. To me, performing “the Beatles White Album” in it’s entirety, was amazing. Though it is only 19 minutes,12/31/10 Meatstick is equally as impressive. I love “smilenow“s comments about GD; I’ll never forget the “Bill Clinton smoking a joint” float at Mardi Gras 1993. Way to go Phish!!!Thanks for putting that high level of excitment back into concerts.

daniel January 25, 2011, 17:09:03

I forgot to mention; Meatstick reminds me a bit of “Fire on the Mountain”. So all respect to “the man” Jerry Garcia1942-1995.

Call Me Crazy January 14, 2011, 13:47:23

Great interview… thanks for the behind the scenes details. The “Meatstick Goes to Broadway” at MSG was an extremely special event to witness and I am sure those in attendance will always have a strong emotional attachment. It embodied so many of the things that have helped me develop such a strong love for the Phish; unique
& adventurous musical arrangements, a sense of humor and in certain circumstances, theatrical creativity. The crowd energy was off the charts and all the background preparation paid off in creating a spectacle that was truly one of a kind. To John Wood: Don’t be sorry for not being able to enjoy it, although that may be the appropriate feeling, under the circumstances. It is all personal taste. It is Hotdogs vs Ham Burgers, and there is no right answer as to which is better. An important distinction to make is that some people don’t feel like they have to hate hamburgers to justify their love of hotdogs.

sumodie January 10, 2011, 15:53:29

Excellent interview, brilliant Meatstick prank!
Kudos to Marc, Lisa Shriver, and everyone else involved, what a grand night.

Kelly F January 10, 2011, 16:14:41

Such a wonderful project! Sam, I am curious as to why you repeatedly refer to the Meatstick number as a “gag.” It seems to cheapen it. From what I saw, all those singers and dancers were top-notch professionals.

Captain Zoots January 10, 2011, 21:50:02

Everyone refer’s to it as a “Gag” it’s hilarious.. in a Phishy type of way that only Phish can pull off. Phish’s sillyness and sense of humor is one of the things that help them keep their humility, it also helps keep them relate-able to all their fans. There are not many multi millionaire type musicians that would spend over twenty minutes singing a song about a Meatstick to ring in the new year. Hilarious

Justin Wendt January 11, 2011, 12:21:57

Excellent interview!

John J. Wood January 12, 2011, 17:32:20

I’m sorry, but had I been there, I would have spent a good 20 minutes in the hallways. “Meatstick” is one of numerous reasons why I lost interest in the band — it is a garbage song to these ears. If you dig…enjoy to the fullest, as I am simply unable to. I’ll take David Bromberg’s appearance with Widespread Panic on “Sharon” and “Tongue” over “Meatstick”....easily!!

Me January 13, 2011, 13:11:21

If you can’t laugh at Meatstick, then you never REALLY got Phish anyway…

Markah January 14, 2011, 16:35:05

Excellent interview, indeed! Cpt. Zoots is correct. So is “me” — if you can’t laugh at Meatsick, how did you feel about vacuum solos?

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