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Published: 2011/01/09
by Sam Davis

Making Phish’s "Meatstick" Dance

Were you involved in the arrangements for the singers as well or were you limited to just the dance choreography?

We had a music arranger as well. He’s worked on In the Heights, West Side Story...he’s a conductor on Broadway. Everyone who worked on it is part of the Broadway world. And he took the song and just rolled with it. He wrote out all these beautiful melodies and changed it up and he was watching what we were doing—the choreography department –and he was inspired by us and we were inspired by him to create this number that would just kind of blend together nicely.

I was really only part of the choreography department, I was the associate choreographer—the main choreographer’s name was Lisa Shriver—but all the meetings had all of us together to make sure we were all on the same page all the time. It was a tricky thing to pull off with timing it perfectly so that we knew exactly when “the meatstick” would arrive and we knew exactly when the countdown would be. It was confusing at first but I think we got it together and it went off really well.

What was it like finally getting to meet the guys from Phish? What were they like to work with and what did the experience mean for you?

It was awesome. Some of the people you work with are just ego-maniacs and you never know what you’re going to get when you’re working with celebrities. But these guys couldn’t have been more gracious and I think you get that from how respectful they are with their fans and how much love they create every time they play a show. So I wasn’t surprised I was just happy to see that they were as authentic in real life and up close and personal.

Mike Gordon came to our dancer’s dressing room to thank us again and the guys just couldn’t have been nicer. They really took the time to talk to us and just really appreciated what we had done. Trey said that he had never seen anything like this in 27 years. I think they were just really respectful for the work that we had put in to create this epic event for their fans. So they were nothing but amazing. It was just unreal. I got a picture with Trey, and usually when you get pictures with celebrities they don’t look happy to be there, but he’s just so happy to have fans who like him and are picking up on his vibes. All four of them were just amazing.

Have you gotten a chance to watch the official video of the New Year’s “Meatstick” gag?

Yeah, I kind of don’t stop watching it. It’s amazing to have such a well-done video because you want to relive the moment and I’m able to just watch it. I thought they did an amazing job with the video and it’s really cool that they archive everything. I mean, there are cameras all over the place which is great. They really just want to reel this stuff themselves and then put things out on DVD. And as soon as we did the dress rehearsal with the band it was Mike’s idea to have his own camera in “the meatstick,” which was cool to get a birds-eye view. So yeah, I’ve been watching the video and showing people and people are just freaking out over it, which is great. My buddy called me yesterday—he’s been to 95 shows—and this is the one show he’ll never forget. It was just cool to be able to provide that for fans, or even just be a part of it.

And then I had an all-access Phish pass that night, which was just unbelievable. I was able to watch throughout the show from side-stage and the show was just so tight. They sound amazing. And I was able to go to all of the soundchecks that week, and watching how they work and keep reworking songs—they never stop making things better. I remember at soundcheck on the 30th, Trey changed a lyric to [“Pigtail”] because he had just listened to a tape from a previous show and they were still working hard on making everything better and better.

Did you have a personal favorite moment or a favorite song or jam from the New Year’s show, aside from the obvious “Meatstick” segment?

Well, for some reason I like a lot of their ballads and I think “Waste” from Billy Breathes —I don’t know maybe when Billy Breathes came out that was just perfect timing for me. Walking back into the arena after the [performance] “Waste” was playing and I had just an incredible moment by myself during that. [Laughs]. So I think that was another highlight of the night for me. I was right on the side of the stage, right beside Fishman, and it was just really cool. There’s nothing like those fans.

What’s your personal background in choreography and what are some of the other projects you are working on?

I was born and raised in Toronto, and was dancing since I was 9. I went to university for psychology and business, but I always knew that if I could, I would make a career out of this. So I’ve been choreographing for Degrassi: The Next Generation and a couple other shows for CTV; I worked with Neil Young and Shaka Kahn; I worked with Katy Perry. So it’s been a good run so far, already.

These arena gigs are really exciting. My heart is in theatre—that’s what I love to do the most. I spent two years at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival recently, but I was just kind of ready to move somewhere where there was a bigger pond. I was really happy in Toronto but nothing does it for me like New York. I’ve only been in the city about six months but I’ve choreographed two workshops for new musicals and then this Phish gig came around and it just kind of blew my mind. I’ve always dreamed about Madison Square Garden and I’ve never seen a show there and then I was onstage with Phish. So it’s been a pretty wild couple of months, for sure.

Right now I’m working on pre-production for a Stratford Shakespeare Festival play called Jesus Christ Superstar. There are two choreographers on it, Lisa Shriver again from New York and Bradley Rapier from LA, so I’m helping them out with pre-production this week. I’m always auditioning and just choreographing on the fly. So, things just seem to come up, which is great.

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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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