Please Welcome to the Stage…

The excitement of Phish shows existed in their intense compact journeys into the unknown.  While trying to craft artistically coherent sets, the band was often limited by venue imposed curfews ranging from 11 pm to 12 pm, as very few shows extended past midnight.  While the band tried to squeeze many aspects of their playing within two time-constrained sets, they always left you fiending for more.  One of the most frustrating things in the second set of a Phish show was when the band called up a guest to jam with them.  With already limited time, when these sit-ins happened, you kissed fifteen to twenty of those precious minutes good-bye.

12.30.03 w/ P. Funk

12.30.03 w/ P. Funk - photo: Max Z.

Regardless of who the guest was or vast their musical talent, Phish + 1 could never match the intensity and fury of the locked and loaded quartet.  More often than not, when a guest came up, the resulting music was watered down by the forced, unnatural communication.  Did all guest spots effect shows negatively?  Certainly not.  However, if given a choice to have Phish play with any guest or just rage as a band, I would cast all other musicians aside every time.

Sure, some of the guest sit-ins weren’t musically poor, but they provided no adrenaline or adventure to the course of the evening.  Examples of harmless sit-ins that ate up precious Phish time are plentiful.  Such occasions include Derek Trucks’ “Possum,” “Funky Bitch” double encore appearance in Charlotte on 7.7.99, Scott Murawski’s guest appearance at Great Woods for “Possum” and Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” at the end of two great nights, Dave Matthews’ appearance in Virginia on 6.17.95 to cover “Three Little Birds, or  B.B King’s extended on-stage visit at the Meadowlands in 2003.  These musical passages were fun for the masses, and clearly enjoyable for the band as well, but after a show of pure fire when you are jonesing for one more ripping Phish jam, a guest appearance was inevitably a let down.

The fundamental issue at hand is that no one can enhance the Phish.  They have perfected their art, and when a fifth wheel gets thrown onto the car, it is usually for fun and entertainment value rather than musical direction (see the P-Funk medley from Miami ’03).  While most guest appearances fall relatively flat, there have been some instances where they turned out incredibly well, with guests complimenting Phish’s improv with some of their own.  Below are some of the better guest appearances in Phish’s career.

Bela Fleck 11.29.95, “Slave to the Traffic Light”, Municipal Auditorium, Nashville TN

Bela Fleck

Bela Fleck

Adding his virtuoso talent into the mix on the delicate Phish jam proved to be incredibly successful.  As Trey and Mike played off of Bela’s banjo melodies, the band created a gorgeous rendition of their old school classic.  With true jazz-based improvisation, the musicians echoed and connected each others lines while Fishman balanced the jam on his shimmering cymbal-driven beat.  Getting into some intense musical communication, this is an example of an improvisational maestro fitting right in with what the band does.  Bela also joined the band twice previously in ’93 and ’94, and once later, with the Flecktones, in France during Summer ’97.

LISTEN TO THE 11.29.95 SLAVE w/ Bela Fleck NOW! (Roll Over link and press play)

Karl Perazzo 10.29.96-11.3.96, Tallahassee, Atlanta, West Palm, Gainesville

Karl Perazzo

Karl Perazzo

The veteran Santana percussionist sat it with Phish for a run of shows surrounding their transformative Halloween set in 1996.  The centerpiece of this run was the band’s cover of Talking Head’s “Remain In Light,” an album for which Phish needed multiple extra musicians to round out the polyrhythmic compositions.  Yet, Perazzo played a major role in the progression of Phish’s sound from fiery arena rock to collaborative groove-based playing; a shift that would alter the band’s musical direction forever.  His extra layers of percussion amidst this Southern run brought Phish’s jamming to a slower, cooperative tempo- something that can be heard on many selections from these shows.  The Tallahassee “Mike’s” on 10.29, 11.2’s “Crosseyed > Antelope” from West Palm, and the Gainesville “Tweezer” on 11.3 are all terrific examples of this phenomenon.  Having sat in with the band earlier that year in Europe, and many years earlier in 1992, Perazzo knew what Phish was all about.  When listening to shows in the Midwest after the Perazzo run, one can hear the noticeable difference in pace and groove as Phish began their transformation to 1997.


Michael Ray 10.14.94, 2.26.96, 9.26.99, 9.9.00, New Orleans, Albany

Michael Ray

Michael Ray

Michael Ray is one of the more accomplished musicians to grace Phish’s stage.  A veteran of The Sun Ra Arkestra and his own Cosmic Crewe, Ray also worked with Trey on Surrender to the Air, an album of free jazz experiments.  Sitting in by himself at four different shows throughout the band’s career (and three other times as part of the Cosmic Country Horns) Michael Ray and Phish have had a close musical relationship for years.  All of Ray’s guest appearances have come in his hometown of New Orleans except for the last.  On 9.9.00, the second show of Phish’s fall tour in Albany, NY, Ray joined the band for most of the second set, including “Sand,” “Makisupa Policeman, “Funky Bitch,” “Cars, Trucks, & Buses,” and “Harry Hood.”  Already quite familiar with Phish and their improvisational direction, Ray felt right at home coming on stage mid-jam and adding his searing psychedelic lines and on-stage antics to the final peak of a dark twenty-minute “Sand.”  Ray’s Phish literacy was quite apparent as he wove in a tease of “First Tube” to his trumpet solo.  The cover of “Funky Bitch” provided the perfect trampoline for Ray to bounce his melodies off, as he lent his Bayou flavor to this Northeastern excursion.

LISTEN TO 9.9.00 SAND and FUNKY BITCH w/ Michael Ray NOW!

Peter Apfelbaum: 11.30.96 “Timber Ho > Tatse”, Arco Arena, Sacremento, CA

Peter Apfelbaum

Peter Apfelbaum

In one of the best-ever guest sit -in segments, Peter Apfelbaum took center stage in a performance that brought the audience back to the late ’70s era of jazz-rock fusion.  A Grammy-nominated musician for various projects, Apfelbaum is one of few artists who has appeared on stage with both the Grateful Dead and Phish.  With his tenor saxophone, he joined Phish in a twisting psychedelic adventure of “Timber Ho > Taste” that provided the meat of the second set.  This segment has been a fan favorite since the night it happened- something very rare for guest spots.  In addition, Apfelbaum joined the band, and John McEuen on lap slide guitar, for the encore of the best “Amazing Grace” (w/jam) the band has ever played.  Apfelbaum went on to play with Trey’s solo band when it ballooned to a nine and ten piece ensemble.

LISTEN TO 11.30.96 TIMBER HO > JAM > TASTE w/ Peter Apfelbaum NOW!

Jay-Z: 6.18.04 “99 Problems” & “Big’ Pimpin” Coney Island, NY


In a genre shattering mind-fuck, Jay-Z, king of the modern hip-hop scene and Brooklyn native, blew everyone away by stepping on stage with Phish at Coney Island during their final summer.  Retired at the time, no one could believe that Mr. Shawn Carter, himself, was onstage with our goofy heroes.  In an appropriate role reversal, Phish provided the tight backing music to two of Jay-Z’s biggest hits as the Jigga Man stepped to the mic in front of a flabbergasted crowd.  “Big Pimpin'” provided the musical highlight of the stint, even if the stoned-out hippie crowd might not have “bounced” like New York clubs.  Phish held the intricate beats and melodies perfectly for the Grammy winning single, proving once again, anything can happen at a Phish show.  They began the hip-hop interlude with the heavier and more recent single “99 Problems” of The Black Album.  Jay-Z was clearly enthusiastic about the appearance, commenting between songs, “You was hiding all this from me! I felt it!”  In a joining of two unquestionable kings of their scenes, the results were ridiculous memories nobody will soon forget.


The Grammys

The Grammys

An article about guest sit ins would not be complete without a brief mention of the “Worst Guest Appearance of All-Time.” In Las Vegas on 9.29.00, there occurred a complete debacle.  After beginning the second set with the unthinkable combo of “Dinner and a Movie,” “Moma Dance,” “2001 > Fluffhead” and a buffer of “Meatstick,” Phish welcomed Kid Rock to the stage.  With no idea how many drugs were done and/or shared before this miserable idea was hatched, the audience was mostly confused as Trey’s “buddy” made it to stage in the last week of shows before the hiatus.  Ruining the second half of the show with songs that Phish could have slaughtered, this pristine night quickly turned into a mockery.  Spoiling the potential greatness of “Rapper’s Delight” and “Walk This Way,” the band kept the guy on for “You Shook Me All Night Long” and an encore of “We’re An American Band.”  Taking off into the Vegas nightlife and a hiatus that was less than a week away, the members of Phish were clearly over-indulged by this point, and in need of a break!

What are you’re opinions on Phish guests? Respond in Comments below!



7.23.91 The Bayou, Washington, DC SBD < LINK

phish-summertour-91This show is special for multiple reasons.  First, it is a complete performance with the Giant Country Horns.  Second, it took place at The Bayou, a great club that no longer exists.  Third, it contains a performance of “Flat Fee.”  Fourth, it is a crispy SBD.  This is a classic from the Summer of ’91.  Enjoy!

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Foam, The Squirming Coil, My Sweet One, Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Stash, Flat Fee, Bouncing Around the Room, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove

II: Llama, Reba, Cavern, Lizards, The Landlady, Tweezer, Sweet Adeline*, Dinner and a Movie, Gumbo, Touch Me, Caravan, Golgi Apparatus*

With The Giant Country Horns.    *missing from recording

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28 Responses to “Please Welcome to the Stage…”

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  1. Matso Says:

    Best guest ever: Steven Wright, 12.30.96 Scent of a Mule.

    Other notable mention: Boyd Tinsley, Walnut Creek 95 YEM

    Also, not sure this counts as it wasn’t a two setter, but Neil Young’s appearance during Runaway Jim and the follow-up Down by the River at Farm Aid 98 worked really well imo (although Neil Young fans always moan that it wasn’t as good as some of his versions with Crazy Horse).

  2. Jacob Says:

    OK, I love this site, and read every post every day. But no Phil Lesh on 9.17.99? Is this just because everyone recognizes it as the best guest appearance in Phish’s career? The Cold Rain and Snow set closer is some of the most inspired playing I’ve ever, ever heard from Phish.

    Just had to throw my 2 cents in, please carry on.

  3. MLH Says:

    I’m floored that 7.25.92 (YEM, Llama, Funky Bitch) with Santana, Rekow, and Perazzo wasn’t mentioned.

  4. Chris Says:

    While it may not have been a mindblowing musical performance, there was something very Phishy about the zany Harpua encore with Claypool, Elvises, and Yoddlers.

    But in most cases, I would totally agree with you.

  5. play_it_leo89 Says:

    One of my personal favorites was seeing the recently departed LeRoi Moore at Va Beach 7.21.97. The multi-instrument jam was quite a sight to behold. Hopefully there are some others who read this who got to experience that too. Crazy good times.

    Oh, how I wish I could have seen Jimmy Buffett when he joined them…

  6. guest Says:

    sorry, i love your reviews, but you got to be kidding on the kid rock appearance. it was a friday night in vegas and phish closed with a string of classic tunes. yes they were being led by a clown, but the fact that it was kid rock, who at the time was one of biggest mainstream acts in america made it that much more hilarious. it was funny, it was fun and it rocked. i have never had more fun at a show than i did at that one.

    watch the youtube video of “you shook me all night long” and determine for yourself that that crowd is not going crazy and having fun.

  7. eric Says:

    I must agree that the phil guest appearance was killer, I was just listening that show last night in fact. I thought you had completely left off the Giant Country Horns until I read the download for the day. I love some of the early 90s shows with the Horns.

  8. Jeff Says:

    Of the guest spots I’ve been lucky to see, including Bela in 94 and 95 in Nashville, I’ve always loved the John Popper appearence at the Kiel Center in St. Louis. A fun Mean Mr. Mustard into a ripping Weekapaug.
    and the Steve Wright one was by far the most random of all guest spots!

  9. R1 Says:

    While I agree that it was musically disastrous, I literally could not stop laughing the ENTIRE time Kid Rock was on stage. I found it so ridiculous that I could not control my uproarious laughter. Now, that’s not exactly what I’m looking for at a Phish show, but still memorable.

  10. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ fact

  11. themanatee Says:

    good points about Phil and Farm Aid with Neil Young. The down by the river is freaking sick…exchanging melodies with Trey and playing off each other very very well.

    i think its a must hear.

  12. Jeff Says:

    5.5.93 Albany NY w/ Aquarium Rescue Unit. Fantastic YEM!! I’d take that over just about any other guest spot.

  13. Joe England Says:

    What about The Dude of Life, Tom Marshall, or when Jeff came back and sang Possum and Camel Walk with the boys? Just food for thought

  14. Al Says:

    Mr. Miner: you are 100% right! Phish + 1 on stage was mostly just a shortened Phish show. Killed 20 Minutes of it….only very few exceptions.
    Only the 4 of them is magic. Sounds not very open minded, does it? But Phish is Phish, you cannot mix it – doesn’t work for me at least.

  15. Jerrydamule Says:

    I agree that the second set’s minutes were always precious, extremely precious, just not enough of them! If you could ascribe a “boundary” to the second set, the curfew was definitely it. There was always that Jeckyl & Hyde realization that a late set Slave, Hood or Tweezer reprise, although providing immediate, blissful gratification, would ultimately yield to the set’s end. Uggh! nothing worse than that, which is why life is ALWAYS best when you have another show on the horizon. (As an aside, I would always get extremely jittery after a long set break and the house lights were still on at 10:15 pm.) I’ve gotta add a comment about Kid Rock. Although I agree that the energy in the Mack erupted when Kid hit the stage, he brought on some really awkward moments, one of which was during the post-rapper’s delight jam when Kid, apparently bored with the jam, and wanting to ratchet it up a notch, told the boys to stop playing. Also, did he not throw Trey under the bus with his improvised lyrics regarding the previous night’s antics? Or am I just being overly protective?

  16. brandofunk Says:

    I remember fish ripping on kid rock during the rapppers delight jam

  17. Greg Says:

    I aggree with you Mr Miner that most guest spots didn’t make shows more enjoyable, but my favorite was Son Seals at Oswego for Funky Bitch. However the next day I thought Del McCoury was a drag.

  18. Stoned Mellotron Says:

    One of my favorite tapes and jams YEM and GHOSt from this show:
    If you haven’t heard it, GET IT!

    07-09-97 Le Transbordeur, Lyon/Villeurbanne, France

    1: Punch You in the Eye-> Prince Caspian, Ginseng Sullivan, Split Open and Melt, Dirt, Taste, Sweet Adeline, Harry Hood

    2: Down With Disease-> My Soul-> Cars Trucks Buses-> You Enjoy Myself*, Ghost*, Poor Heart*

    E: Hello My Baby

    *With Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

  19. ThinMan Says:

    come on Mr. Miner – giving up 20 minutes for a special guest once a tour is not something we should lose sleep over…the 20 minutes is not that precious

    kid rock was awesome – friday vegas with 5 shows following to hear vintage phish did not bother me in the least

  20. ThinMan Says:

    now, Bob Weir was a horrible guest – ruining the 2nd to last encore before hiatus – that did piss me off and in mind was way worse than kid rock

    but Warren in ’99 was shreading

  21. tubeopener Says:

    Hey man thanks for the ’91 Bayou show. The Bayou was a sweet venue that I saw many great shows at, unfortunately I was 12 in ’91 so I missed that. But in my opinion the Giant Country Horns always sounded like they just blended right in with phish perfectly. Those ’91 shows all have such a unique quality to them, it’s distinctly Phish, but it’s a little twisted, a little different. Great choice.

  22. tubeopener Says:

    Hey man thanks for the ’91 Bayou show. The Bayou was a sweet venue that I saw many great shows at, unfortunately I was 12 in ’91 so I missed that. In my opinion the Giant Country Horns always sounded like they just blended right in with phish perfectly. Those ’91 shows all have such a unique quality to them, it’s distinctly Phish, but it’s a little twisted, a little different. Great choice. Aside from them, any other guest usually did suck up time.

  23. moe419 Says:

    Karl Perazzo 10.29.96-11.3.96, Tallahassee, Atlanta, West Palm, Gainesville
    link goes to bela please fix awesome site bty see you in hampton

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ link fixed. (Why didn’t anyone else tell me that??)

  25. M.O.P Says:

    My first Phish show included a great sit in. Bela and the Flectones dont do much disappointing. This wasnt just a song or 2 it was almost the whole second set.

    08-21-93 Salt Air, Salt Lake City, UT

    1: Buried Alive, Poor Heart, Foam, Guelah Papyrus, Rift, Stash, Sparkle, The Landlady, I Didn’t Know, Runaway Jim

    2: Possum, Horn, Uncle Pen, Fee*, Llama*, Lawn Boy*, David Bowie*, If I Only Had a Brain*, Harry Hood*, Daniel*

    E: Amazing Grace, Nellie Cane**

    *With Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. **With Bela Fleck.

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