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Published: 2001/12/05
by Dan Rioux

Power of Music: Anastasio, Payton, Sills & Weir, Bushnell Theater, Hartford- 11/29

Connecticut Forum- Panel discussion on the "Power of Music" with Trey Anastasio, Beverly Sills (opera), and Nicholas Payton (trumpet) and Bob Weir

[Editor’s note: Dan’s Anastasio-centered review follows. A few additional
editors notes appear at the end.]

The theatre is absolutely beautiful. Newly renovated, and probably held
about 4-5000. We sat in the balcony, and the "pre-show" music consisted of
assorted songs by the panel members. Since I didn’t walk in until 8:00, all
I can say is they did play "Radon Balloon" from Oysterhead. The following
review is roughly paraphrased from memory.

The moderator, Bill Flanagan, is the senior VP and editorial director at VH1
and is the executive director of both ‘Storytellers’ and ‘Legends.’ He was a
very witty guy, and has interviewed every major musician there is.
He introduced the panel alphabetically, which meant Trey was up first. He
spoke about Trey shortly, then they had a little video collage on the large
screen backdrop to the tune of "Stash." Everybody in the audience did the
‘clap’ part. It was amusing.

After introducing the rest of the panel, Flanagan said, "Let’s just get this
over with so this is no confusion. Trey, will you play us something,
please."

Trey obliged with a nice rendition of "The Inlaw Josie Wales" on his
acoustic. He blew the very last note and made a very humorous, sour, happy
face!

Trey seemed very giddy during the first part of the discussion, even a bit
jumpy as he began to interject on a few occasions. He went on a tangent at
one point and discussed how he went to Taft School in CT, and he went to see
the Dead in Hartford in 1983. It was his first real exposure to the sense of
community and band->audience interaction in a ROCK AND ROLL setting,
although it’s been happening for years in other styles of music, such as
jazz. This experience helped shape his focus on what type of musician he
could be. He said it was like being hit in the head by a baseball bat!
Flanagan said something to the effect of, "Good thing you weren’t
spiritually moved at a Captain and Tenille show." Weir chimed in with
a nice one-liner, then proceeded to discuss his recollections from that
night. Weir recalled trying out his new slide during soundcheck, and Garcia decided
to pull out his slide as well, which led to some very interesting "music."
He did remember it being an OK show, but due to fan requests, that show was
released from the archives through their Vault series. Weir joked that it could
have been such a good show due to the fact that Trey was in the audience
that night.

There was a short intermission, then the "Audience Questions" portion of the
show was next. To kick this off, Flanagan asked Weir to do a number, which
Bobby stated something to the effect of, "I will now serenade you with one
of the most vehemently despised songs that I have written." He then launched
into "Victim," also on acoustic. It came off rather nicely, with one flubbed
part resulting in very much the same reaction as Trey’s. His voice seems
unbelievably strong for his age.

Payton was next, and he took a run through "Potato Head," which received a VERY
warm reaction.

One of the audience questions posed to Trey was, "If you could go back in
time and play with any 3 musicians, who would it be."
Trey first stated some composer who I am not familiar with {Ravel}, but I
believe it is the composer of the orchestral piece that was played
at the Great Went. He followed with Hendrix, and finally Bob
Marley.

One other question of importance was that of Trey’s/Phish’s hiatus. He said
that they very much wanted to put a hold on the band since it was sort of
getting "stale." It was important for them to
explore other avenues, projects, meet other musicians, children, etc. in
order to get a better understanding of life, community and music so that
"eventually, ideally this will all be brought back together and incorporated into Phish."
So, yes. It sounded positive that this is just a hiatus, and not anything
more.

The conversation was loosely based upon the concept of "community," even
musicians as their own community. Flanagan followed this up with a question
to Sills about stardom and the expectations of a "super-star." Could you get
away with more or less because of your stature and popularity. Sills replied
that she got away with less, and that she often took challenging projects
that left her sort like a "trapeze performer ‘without a net.’"
Flanagan then redirected this part of the discussion towards Trey and
alluded to the ‘hiatus’ and Oysterhead.

Trey discussed how Phish was a very big community and that they have strived
for years to make each concert better than before the previous show, to
constantly and consistently improve. The band continually talked about this.
They also strived to continually top themselves, making each an incredible
experience. This sorta snowballed and reached it’s peak at the festivals,
culminating with Big Cypress. Then they began to feel that things were
starting to level off, becoming stale, moving towards a cliff per se. He
then used the analogy that they didn’t want to see what was at the other
side/bottom of the cliff. THEY didn’t want "to see what would happen."
THINGS needed a rest, people needed to regain themselves. He also didn’t
like the focus on success and media. It’s not good to look at yourself, you
sorta learn from other people.

For him…..the projects that he’s working on: Oysterhead, Vermont Youth Orchestra,
Trey Anastasio Band, and this other project he’s working on (with musicians from all
across VT from ages 15-50) have been very fulfilling.
The future intent is to take all these learning experiences and new
"community," and "ideally" incorporate them into Phish.

Another audience question for the panel revolved around what they disliked
about contemporary pop culture and the music industry. Weir said there
wasn’t anything that bothered him, then he took a double-take and said,
"Wait, yeah there is." He then proceeded to slam mass marketing of Britney
Spears-type acts as music when it is simply entertainment. Sills chimed in
that there nothing talented about "dancing around in a swimsuit held
together by masking tape!"

Then Trey rang in: "I don’t see any real problem. It’s been happening for
years. But if you look beyond all that mass-marketed music, there is a whole
bunch of very cool stuff going on." He then described the new Busta Rhymes
video that he saw on MTV (as a way of saying that very cool stuff is even
easily available) and said that it blew him away, it was very cool and
different, and fresh. "So….just don’t pay attention to that other
stuff…just don’t buy it." That ended the discussion to a huge round of applause.

Flanagan then asked the "Three Terrors" (as opposed to the ‘Three Tenors’ in
a nod to Sills) if they would send us away with some music. Trey on
acoustic, Payton on trumpet, Weir on electric. Weir on rhythm, Trey sorta
being Trey, almost noodling, Payton had a very nice solo followed by some
layering later in the song. It was very nice.

Fun evening. Too many conversations and subjects to remember, but I hope
you get the drift.

{Editor’s notes: all four seemed in fine spirits and each held his/her own. While Trey certainly had his
crowd in the balcony, the orchestra section really belonged to Beverly Sills, who
was the lone panelist to have performed in the hall many years back (Incidentally in case you were curious why Sills didn’t join in on the final jam, she retired from vocalizing twenty-two years ago). At one
point she noted that what the other panelists call improvisation her colleagues in the opera world call "embellishment." Also, the first question of the q and a session went
to Trey: "How would describe music to a deaf person- while he fumbled a bit (understandable,
this was a tough one and he was on the spot) she mentioned that two of her children were deaf. Sills also told a few interesting stories about performing with Pavarotti. Nicholas
Payton’s father was a musician and he remembered rebelling against him until he heard
Miles Davis. Finally, Bobby had a number of good one liners during the evening- at one
time explaining, "it’s almost the lack of perfection our audience wants." Later in commenting on the Dead’s big surge in popularity following "Touch of Grey" he noted, "There were people into us that didn’t understand dick about what we were up to." There you have it. All in all a fine,
fine evening. Hopefully more groups will sponsor such panels. ]

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