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Published: 2014/02/01
by John Mancini

Alec Gorge’s PhishOD and Dead App

Thanks to the Grateful Dead and PhishOD iPhone apps released this past year by Ramblingwood LLC you can now enjoy just about any show anywhere you want – for free. Unfortunately, Ramblingwood has had to pull the Grateful Dead version of the app for the time being.

If you downloaded this app before January then you will still be able to enjoy it, but everyone else will have to wait for the dust to settle. When the “GD” app returns, which designer Alec Gorge hopes will be soon, it will be just as easy to find as the currently available PhishOD app, which uses the “Ph” periodic table-like logo.

Since 1996, Internet Archive has been an incredible source of live performances by just about any band you could think of, with the Grateful Dead heavily represented. However, a comprehensive Phish catalogue is not on Archive. Most trading of Phish shows takes place on And of course many other music streaming archives dedicated to Phish have sprung up, including PhiSHows and Phishtracks, and its offspring,’ which provides the backend for the PhishOD app that Ramblingwood launched in July 2013.

“I just built it around their system, which was already in place,” Alec says. Of the nearly 1,600 shows Phish has played in the past thirty years, boasts 1,394 of them – and they are all now available on the iPhone.

Alec’s interest in Phish began when he discovered Kevin Hoy – a.k.a Hoydog23’s, infamous Phish Spreadsheet, a thoroughly detailed index of shows with links to music files and setlists.

“I saw this and I thought: how can I take this further?” Alec says. The answer was portability. PhishOD puts the shows conveniently in the palm of your hand.

The OD in PhishOD stands for On Demand, not Overdose, but it is possible to binge-listen with a library like this at your fingertips. On PhishOD you can browse by year, song, tour, venue, as well as a list of top rated shows, or it will even pick a random show for you. But the feature that Alec is most happy with having achieved is its gapless playback.

“It essentially starts buffering the next song as you listen,” he says. So depending on how the original taper cut it, there would be very little hiccup or dead air between tracks.

While there are obvious benefits of having an entire collection of music on your phone, it can also be a little overwhelming. One of the most frequent user requests Alec has received since the app’s release has been the option to create user playlists, and he promises improvements are on the way.

Alec took the same approach in creating the Grateful Dead app, which relies on the website ListentotheDead as a backend source. The Dead app does not have as many listening options as PhishOD, and it would be difficult to offer the same degree of navigability, Alec points out, because of the inconsistencies in the way songs are listed on the ListentotheDead site – the common habit of abbreviating Madison Square Garden to MSG, for instance.

“There is no standard,” he says.

The Grateful Dead app launched in September of 2013 and is currently unavailable to download due to the license dispute with Rhino. Ramblingwood plans to resolve things as soon as possible, mainly by stripping out the soundboard recordings, which Rhino distributes. Their hope is that if the soundboard recordings continue to be freely available on Archive and ListentotheDead, they ought to be available for free on portable devices as well.

Rhino contends that the Grateful Dead fan policy does not extend to mobile apps even though the Grateful Dead “essentially endorses free mp3 music” according to a statement released by Doney, an attorney for the group.

“LisentotheDead complies with Grateful Dead’s policy on file sharing,’ as is clearly stated on their site, and any money donated goes “towards the running of this site and others like it.” Ramblingwood takes the same approach. Gorge seems to be playing his cards right and hopes that Apple doesn’t pull the app for good.

In the meantime, PhishOD is still going strong, and should get even better. It already offers more refined searching options than the GD app. But if you want to say, browse a list of David Bowies that are all over 15 min long – but only the ones with a bluesy feel that are led by bass – then you might have to wait a little longer. However, that is the level of navigability to which Alec would like to take it in the future – “a sort of guided discovery option,” he calls it.

Of all the many ways of listening to music that are available on portable devices, the Ramblingwood apps are an excellent addition. eTree and Archive both offer apps for the iPhone, but neither feature Phish shows or have the same level of detail and ease of use that Ramblingwood offers. To sum up one user’s response: “It almost makes up for not having my tape collection anymore.”

At nineteen years-old, Alec Gorge has put in a lot of time and energy into his product and done all of us a great service. We hope to see the GD app return soon.

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