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Published: 2013/12/02

Birds of a Feather: Artists Reflect on Phish

Ted Nugent

I saw Phish on Austin City Limits and I thought they were very creative and they were very tight. They paid attention…Unlike the Grateful Dead, the guys in Phish appear to be very creative and very disciplined musicians. I thought Jerry Garcia was nothing but an absolute pathetic lump of shit.

Alex Bleeker (Real Estate)

[I’m still young] so the first Phish show I saw was the very first post hiatus New Years Eve show at the Garden [in December ‘02]. I saw them as much as I possibly could during that time period… We covered “Dirt” from Farmhouse and we also did “Character Zero.” We would play “Dirt” for like half an hour like in practice, just like jam on it. Our “Character Zero” cover would rip.

Dan Kanter (Justin Bieber)

At summer camp when I heard “Divided Sky,” it was all over. That just took it to the next level. While I love the Dead, Phish is a band that I discovered myself, and I just got knee deep in it. At the same time, I’ve always been involved in pop music, where everything is quite scripted and rehearsed. That’s almost the complete opposite. It’s a release when I go to a Phish show: completely spontaneous, I have no idea what’s coming up next. So it’s really been important to me to have both of those worlds in my life.

My wife is also a huge Phish fan. She’s been listening to Phish longer than I have. She was in university when they played [on the marquee] at The Late Show with David Letterman and went to that show. My brother-in-law, he’s seen over a hundred shows—he’s completely obsessed. So now Phish is our family bonding, too. As soon as we have a break from anything Bieber, the first place we all meet up is at a Phish show. I’ve actually tried to plan our entire tour schedule [and rehearsals] around the summer tour. I think we have four or five more weeks to get this show together and then we begin the never-ending tour.

Kyle Glass (Tenacious D)

Second greatest band, hard to say, hard to say, Phish?....I went and saw one of the final shows. It was great. I did nitrous on the bus, and they’re big pot smokers so I had a good time. Until I got kind of paranoid and had to hide in the bus.

Jose Pasillias (Incubus)

They are one of those bands that will always reinvent themselves anytime they write music and anyone who is a fan of music can’t deny their musicality. It’s probably a common ground for musicians and I think you’ll see in the future that they’ve influenced a lot of bands that you wouldn’t think of. We don’t necessarily play their style of music, but we listen to it and that seeps in. Their CD sales are so minimal compared to their live show, but they are going to be known as one of the biggest bands out there.

Aaron Dessner (The National)

Everyone in The National pretty much grew up listening to Phish and jambands besides Matt Berninger…Once in high school [National drummer] Bryan Devendorf borrowed my car and went to a Phish show with Scott [Devendorf] at Deer Creek without telling me—I was so pissed!

Jack Johnson

Zach Rouge [of Rouge Wave] and I went to the Laguna Seca Daze festival and [saw Phish]. And we used to see Phish shows together in college.

Jeff Austin (Yonder Moutain String Band)

In 1993 or 1994, I did a whole tour with Phish and stood in the front row right in front of Trey and I had that epiphany moment of this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It had happened in the spring of ‘93 at the Dean Smith Center with the Grateful Dead, where I kinda went, ‘I don’t know if I want to do musical theater anymore Mom and Dad.’

It’s amazing, sometimes, a band gets one run. They influence one chunk of time and then everyone gets to listen to the tapes. Because something tragic happened or something time-wise happened. I’m almost 40 years old and you go to shows and you see guys my age and kids who are 18 years old. They all get to now, get back into the well and be inspired by it. We’re better that they’re playing music. A lot of times in this whole career, our heroes don’t make it and luckily they kinda did. I’m just glad they’re playing music and making music in real time. I listen to a lot my heroes on tape and I’m really glad I don’t have to do that with those guys.

Ed Helms

My college roommate and lifelong bandmate, Jake, was a die-hard fan, so I got a pretty good education on all things Phishy. And like every guitar nerd of my generation, I spent hours trying to master Trey [Anastasio]‘s tasty licks from “Stash” on A Picture of Nectar. Their musicianship was just staggering – so technically advanced, but light hearted and free spirited. I saw them a few times. I remember a show in Atlanta where the crowd was just incredibly joyful. When they played “Fee,” it was like an old time religious revival. They’re brilliant guys, but clearly terrible spellers.

Brett Dennen

I went to Phish shows in college and played in a band that sound liked Yonder. I played in Vermont once and actually Fishman was there and he came to see a show. Then I came back to play again, and I got an email from Mike Gordon saying, “I want to get together, can you come up to my house or to the Barn.” I’m like freaking out but I couldn’t go, I didn’t have time. But I got together with Mike and from what I’ve known about him, I knew he was a cool guy. I hadn’t really hung out with him before that except for one time when I got a drink with him at a bar in Boulder at some conference. So the introduction was made there but I think later he heard my record and we started talking. He had just he finished doing some stuff with Leo Kottke, and he was making a record and didn’t know what he wanted to do but knew he wanted to write a lot of words. He was attracted to something about my songs, so he just wanted to hang out and talk about songs and songwriting. I’ve been back to Burlington since then and he’s always come to the show and usually he’ll get on stage with me. We’ll just sit around, drink tea and talk about music. It usually starts out with him asking me questions about songwriting and then him telling a story that is so interesting that it leads to a follow-up story and then him telling me about the times he played with different members of the Grateful Dead. I’ve never played with members of The Dead! He loves to tell a story and have people listen to him, and I’m fascinated by him. I don’t think we ever got anything done except talking about songwriting. He’s a wild guy man, he’s fascinating.

Stephen Malkmus (Pavement)
I have a tiny connection with Phish through their recording engineer Bryce Goggin. People have said they hired him after hearing Pavement’s albums. [In Pavement] it was pretty classic having a singer/songwriter guy with everyone add their parts. Probably not too different from Phish in that way. We’re a little darker, a little harder than maybe what has carried jambands into the money.

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