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Published: 2013/12/02

Birds of a Feather: Artists Reflect on Phish

Danny Clinch with Phish (Photo by Dean Budnick)

Chris Tomson (Vampire Weekend)

I think the ultimate experience, for me, is when Vampire Weekend headlined Merriweather Post in the fall of 2010. The first Phish show I was at was September 17, 2000 at Merriweather Post. Then, ten years later, it is early September and, as it happened, on our last big US tour, the fall of 2010, and we played Merriweather Post within a week of the 10-year anniversary of me seeing that first Phish show. That was kind of one of the cooler conceptual experiences for me, to remember how much that show meant to me and then playing a show at that thing 10 years later. That was probably the most full-circle thing I could ever achieve.

Danny Clinch (Film Director, Photographer)

They are always on the move and never stay in one place musically. You certainly have to give the Dead credit for starting the genre of jamband music, but I think Phish stretched it out musically and are the forefathers of what is now the Jamband scene. They did things the way they wanted to. They didn’t really do any videos or much press. What press they did, they didn’t really search out. They just weren’t interested in that. Even when I photographed them, they weren’t interested (laughs). They were interested in hanging out, but they weren’t interested in taking pictures necessarily. Later on, Trey got more into it than anyone. He’d bring extra clothes. They’d be all wrinkled up in a bag and he’d dump them out and say, “Danny what do you think I should wear?” Fishman would show up with a sweatshirt and a t-shirt underneath. That’s about all I got out of him (laughs).

On his favorite live Phish memory:

Big Cypress in ’99. I was there shooting and it was just so unbelievable to watch the sun rise. They invited me and my whole family down there and put us in a really nice RV. There were a lot of kids backstage too, so they set up a pool. My son Max was about 3 at that time. It’s funny now he’s taking drum lessons from this guy who must be about 22 and is in to their type of music. We were talking about Phish and he said, “Max, have you ever seen Phish?” He was like, “Yeah, I saw them in Florida and I went swimming with Trey.” Whenever they have a special guest come around, they don’t really let anyone in dressing room where they are rehearsing. But they always let me in there and I feel very privileged to be witnessing that first meeting. I was there with BB King, Kid Rock, and recently with Jay Z. Jay Z was really skeptical about how he was going to be received by the Phish fans. He was saying, “Are you sure these guys aren’t going to say, “ Ok enough with Jay Z, let’s get the band back?”” But when they did “99 Problems” and “Big Pimping” the crowd went completely crazy and knew every single song. They completely embraced it.

Joe Westerland (Megafaun)

Actually, the first time I heard Phish was at Justin [Vernon]’s house in high school. He played Hoist for me. He liked them but he never actually went to a show with us. Before that I was listening to Nirvana, and I had a Germs record. I was either going to go the jazz route or the punk route, and the punk thing didn’t work out for me. After Justin played me Hoist, I bought it and I just couldn’t stop listening to it.

Cass McCombs

I am a big Phish fan—I had a subscription to Relix in the early ‘90s. I’m incredibly indebted to Mike Gordon for being on my record. He’s such an amazing player. I mean, God, he’s so unique. I’ve never played with someone who plays like that. He’s one of the best—not just bass players, but musicians—I’ve ever been around. He was game for the chaos. He didn’t flinch. We also met through that TRI show.

Andrew VanWyngarden (MGMT)

I was a huge Phish fan. I was obsessed with Phish. And I remember reading at some point in high school Trey talking about something he called the “kill mommy” phase, I think he was talking about Jerry Garcia, just how at one point he kind of forced himself to break from that and step out and try something else… I think the most special show for me was probably when they came to Memphis back in ‘99. They played at the Pyramid and the crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Trey. (As testament to his fandom and leadership, VanWyngarden actually helped start the famous chant by distributing hundreds of flyers he had printed before the show.)

Les Claypool

Phish and Primus had a mutual friend or friend’s girlfriend in the early ‘90s, and they gave us one of their CDs. We would run around the house singing “Bagit Tagit.” Trey got a hold of me and we started talking about Sun Ra and a few things that we were both into. My band Sausage opened for them at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA but I had no idea how big they were until they asked us to come to Vegas to play with them. We road tripped out there and sat in—we did a bit with dancing girls, Fishman’s Elvis things and a bit of Wildwood Weed [in 1996]. I remember they wanted to bring a tiger onstage and there was some drama with animal control. A few years later my manager—who also managed Galactic—asked me what I wanted to put together for Jazz Fest and I called Trey since he is a jam kind of guy. He said, “I really want to do something with Stewart Copeland.” Only later did I learn that he was politely trying to decline doing the jam and saying someone who he thought was impossible to get like Van Halen.

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