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Published: 2013/12/02

Birds of a Feather: Artists Reflect on Phish

Today marks 30 years since Phish took the stage at the University of Vermont’s Harris-Millis Cafeteria—their first ever public performance. The band (at the time consisting of Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman and original guitarist Jeff Holdsworth) played two sets of covers, including renditions of tunes by The Hollies, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Wilson Pickett, The Who and The Doors, as well as the classic Grateful Dead combo “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain.” Phish have come a long a way since then, earning the respect and admiration of countless fans over the past three decades. A lot of those fans have been fellow musicians, ranging from their jamband contemporaries to artists of an entirely different flavor. Many artists have reflected on the Vermont Quartet during interviews with Relix and over the years, and we’ve compiled some of those thoughts here today.

John Popper (Blues Traveler)

By far my favorite Phish memory is when we all participated in a H.O.R.D.E scam during the end of the tour jam in Richmond, VA in 93. A year before on H.O.R.D.E, I had jumped on their trampolines and, as a joke, it collapsed. But everyone thought it was serious and said, “Oh, don’t worry John trampolines break for some people.” I was like, “No, it was a gag,” but nobody believed me. So the next year I happened to be in a wheelchair and we brought one of those 14 ft trampolines onstage. We got a life-sized dummy of me in another wheelchair, dressed the same way I was, and dangled it from the stage above where Phish, Widespread, and some of the Flecktones were all jamming. Then they dropped the dummy on the trampoline and, of course, it breaks, but I am off stage on a wireless microphone going, “I’m all right, I’m OK.” People were calling for weeks going, “Is John OK?” It was the only time I ever saw Trey really impressed with a gag we did. They were always so far ahead of us on that front.

Col. Bruce Hampton

We were down south in ‘89 it was the first, second, or third gig we had played with them. There must have been 100 people there between the two bands or something. Gordon was jumping on the trampoline and he missed and went flying off, but he never quit playing. I said, “that shows everything to me.” He was so focused on playing it didn’t matter if he splattered all over the ground. Personally, I don’t get on trampolines past age 12.

Chris Barron (Spin Doctors)

John Popper and I actually grew up in Princeton with Trey and I vaguely remember playing hockey against him, but we never met. But, finally, on the H.O.R.D.E tour we got everyone together, Phish, Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors, and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. At the end of the tour’s first leg, we got everyone on stage with Blues Traveler. I remember meeting Trey backstage. They had a dog out on the road with them and I remember thinking, “Now that’s cool.” They also had a funny word for people who complimented them: “Guysers.” They’d say, “You guy’s are so great.”

Jamie Shields (The New Deal)

My favorite Phish show is 11/20/92 Palace Theater, Albany, NY because it was my first. I had been listening to their music for about a year but hadn’t had a chance to see them up to that point. Everything I had thought about them (which was all good) went out the window, to be replaced by exponentially greater superlatives. They were everything I wanted in a band at that time. They were everything I wanted in a band at that time. To me they sounded like progressive rock meets John Mclaughlin and I just happened to be a big prog rock and John Mclaughlin fan. I proceeded to see another 40 shows or so up to about 1994. They had a major impact on my musical life. It became clear to me that if they could do what they were doing and affect that many people, then you could be successful making music that you WANTED to make, and not necessarily have to make music you feel you SHOULD be making.

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