A Rare And Different Tune

“So where are you off to for the next two weeks?”

“I’m heading to see some concerts.  You ever heard of Phish?”

“Fish?  Country Joe and the Fish?”

“No, just Phish- with a PH, not an F. Have you heard of the Grateful Dead?”

“You mean Jerry Garcia and those guys?  The hippies? ‘Touch of Grey?'”

“Yeah, them.  Well, Phish are sort of like them.  They tour extensively, never repeating a show, and they improvise on almost all their songs.  But their music is very different.”


phishIf you’ve ever tried to discuss Phish with an innocent bystander over the past couple decades, odds are your conversation went something like this.  Virtually impossible to describe to someone who has never heard of them, the Grateful Dead was often your first attempted reference point.  Generally people understood this comparison, and since their inception it was this constant comparison to the Grateful Dead that pigeonholed Phish as just another hippie band.

The comparison had validity on many levels, as both bands centered their shows around improvisation.  Phish inherited the Dead’s counter-culture that originated in the 1960s and carried it into the next millennium.  Phish were seen as the “new” Grateful Dead- thousands of fans would follow them around the country, hawking goods, creating impromptu parking lot parties, and living outside of mainstream society.  Psychedelic exploration and self-discovery were ingrained in both scenes, causing American culture to view both groups of fans as fringe elements of society.  “Those dirty hippies and their drugs!”- it was very easy to lump the Phish phenomenon in with the trail blazed by Garcia and the Dead.

Yet it was this comparison that Phish could never escape for most of the 1990s.  While their music vastly differed from The Dead, this was often ignored in favor of the cultural similarities.  The mainstream media failed to recognize the importance of Phish early on, and they were generally categorized as just another band with legions of dreadlocked, drop-out fans.  Thus, Phish spent most of their early career steering their band as far away from The Grateful Dead as possible.

space_your_face_f_lWhile The Dead were highly allegorical, using Americana folk myth and heartfelt storytelling to recount symbolic life lessons of an age gone by, Phish created a fantasy land called Gamehendge, formed their concert experience around wackiness and fun, and wrote songs about silly topics with unparalleled musicianship.  The Grateful Dead’s music served as the spiritual soundtrack for a cultural movement, while Phish’s music adopted a more entertaining and light-hearted quality, centered on reinventing what was possible in the concert experience.  Rooted in jazz improv rather than the folk and bluegrass building blocks of Dead music, Phish’s shows possessed a different kind of energy; a faster, quirkier pace squarely centered on mind-fucking fun.  Without judging one band over the other, their show experiences were completely different, and this is what so many non-fans didn’t understand.

Ironically, Phish started as a cover band in college, playing many Grateful Dead songs.  Self-avowed Dead fans, Phish played the music of their mentors, mirroring their songs while beginning to forge their own style.  Yet, as the band began to grow, the Dead and Phish comparisons grew with them- something that Phish wanted to distance themselves from.  No one wants to be thought of as a knockoff, and Phish certainly wasn’t, yet they had work to do to establish their independent legacy, separate from their ’60s predecessors.  Thus in 1987, while still integrating the songs of other artists, they stopped covering the Grateful Dead.  If one thing would keep Phish tied to The Dead, it would be playing their songs, therefore, as newly scribed songs were added to the band’s catalog, the Dead covers slipped away.

savegamehendge-395x561Over the course of the next decade, Phish would continue to forge their own scene, yet the comparisons never stopped.  Especially before 1995, when The Dead’s career came to a sudden halt, many jaded Deadheads and the mainstream media saw Phish as Dead imitators.  But anyone who knew Phish at this time understood that any similarities between the bands centered on the fan culture and parking lot scene; once inside, the concert experiences were wholly different.  Sure, both bands had psychedelic light shows and improvised like fiends, but that’s where the similarities ended.

Phish’s music was so different than The Dead’s music that the constant comparisons seemed absurd.  But these overly-general connections continued, and consequently, the band kept Dead covers, and even songs whose sound resembled The Dead, at arms reach.  During the early ’90s, Phish battled to stay separate from these categorizations, and in the late ’90s, the band finally established their own legacy in the eyes of music fans and the music industry.  Once The Grateful Dead were gone, Phish willingly inherited their rightful crown as heads of modern hippie culture.

"Comes a Time" (R.Minkin)

“Comes a Time” (R.Minkin)

It was at this time that many Dead fans shunned Phish, refusing to “give in” to any other improvisational unit.  Others happily crossed over, realizing the power and uniqueness of Phish, while some fans remained in no-man’s land, refusing to commit one way or the other.  Yet by the time 1998 rolled around, Phish had carved out their own musical niche, and achieved recognition for their own virtuosic music.

During the summer of 1998, Phish went on a rampage of busting out one-time covers of their favorite songs.  Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing,” Smashing Pumpkins’ “Rhinoceros,” and The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” were some of the entertaining pieces that Phish featured during July and August.  But late on the night of August 9th, things would change forever.

1998-08-09mo3Phish had just finished a tremendous set in Virginia Beach, featuring a summer highlight in “AC/DC Bag,” and smoking versions of “Antelope” and “YEM.”  Although there had been a buzz earlier in the day about the third anniversary of Jerry’s passing and what might happen, nothing had materialized musically.  The same rumors floated around Alpine Valley the summer before on August 9th to no avail.  Thus all anyone expected was a conventional encore before heading north to Star Lake.  Yet what was coming was anything but routine.

As Phish retook the stage for the last song of the night, wide-eyed fans mulled about clapping and killing the moments before Phish restarted.  As the band readied themselves, the crowd quieted, and then, like a dream that could simply not be real, Trey began the opening chords of “Terrapin Station.”  My mind had a mental disconnect, as I knew the song by heart, but didn’t understand how it was coming from the stage.  The melody was so familiar- what was it- “OH MY GOD!”  That thought process took all of about half a second as I rushed into the lower pavilion from the walkway that separated the lawn.  Staring at the stage in disbelief, goose bumps covered every inch of my skin, just as they are right now as I recall this magical episode.  Phish was playing “Terrapin!”  Virtually unfathomable, my ears and eyes certainly weren’t lying as Phish broke out the biggest surprise of the summer.  My eyes fixated on the stage, watching every moment unfold in its grandeur, in possibly the most surreal moment of my Phish career.

phish-1After the show ended, I sat on the lawn outside the venue speechless.  My friend, Patrick, and I looked at each other, but couldn’t manage to speak a word.  The magnitude and symbolic nature of what had just happened was overwhelming.  After years and years of establishing their independence from The Dead’s legacy, they had finally done it.  Covering “Terrapin Station,” one of The Dead’s most revered epics, while a clear homage to Jerry, also represented Phish saying, “We made it!”  They were their own band- Phish was Phish in the eyes of all- no longer “that band that was like The Grateful Dead.”  Comfortable with their own place in music history, Phish now honored their heroes instead of trying to escape their cultural wake.

It was all different now.  Following years of speculation, Phish had finally covered The Grateful Dead in the ultimate announcement of self-confidence and reverence.  Having accomplished their mission that began in the mid-80s, Phish had morphed into, and was recognized as, their own phenomenon; unfettered by genre and driven by their own musical innovation.  Driving off into the summer night, the feeling of awe was undeniable.  Among all of the special nights that comprised Summer ’98, this one stood alone.





5.16.95 Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA < LINK

5.16.95 Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA < TORRENT LINK

Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA

Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA

In this one set benefit show, Phish took the opportunity to unveil seven new originals, several of which would go on to become Phish classics.  The debuts included “Free,” “Theme From the Bottom,” “Spock’s Brain,” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Strange Design.”  In addition, this show features the sole performance of “Glide part II” (aka “Flip”).  In between all the new material, Phish threw down one of the most sublime versions of “Reba” ever played.

Don’t You Wanna Go*, Ha Ha Ha* > Spock’s Brain*, Strange Design*, Reba, Theme From the Bottom*, HYHU > Lonesome Cowboy Bill* > HYHU, Free*, Glide II* > You Enjoy Myself, Sweet Adeline, Sample in a Jar

E: I’ll Come Running* > Gloria*#

Voters for Choice Benefit. *First time played #One verse only; for Gloria Steinem.

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208 Responses to “A Rare And Different Tune”

  1. eric Says:

    I just wanted to say, that was a particularly awesome and poignant article today. Thanks miner.

  2. youroutofyourelement Says:

    Wow man!! I’ve heard alot of people try to shed light on this for about 16 years now ,but you man…you,nailed it my friend. I f’n love this site!! Not sure how long you’ve been doing this,but,I’ve been checking in on here frequently(mostly nights) over the last couple months or so, as the anticipation builds.I’ve never posted before,but,I just wanted to say…err,uh…alright,Thank you Mr Miner!! As far as I can tell we share alot of the same views on the scene past,present,and future on a regular basis.But for real,thank you.(esp. for Hampton coverage) Even Andy Gadiel himself wasn’t this deadicated.
    I’m also one of the deadicated AND phaithful,but,Phish,for me,just took it to a different level and navigated the darker/nether regions of the live psychadelic experience that was alluring to me and fit more with what I was into at that time(Beatles,Hendrix,Led Zep).When I figured out that,”this band,they’re from Vermont,they’re kinda like the new Dead”,covered my favorite Syd Barret tunes,well…that was just the shit for me and quickly confirmed my suspicion that these guys were where it’s at/was and have been for me ever since.These guys were just freaky enough and harnassed an energy that was exactly what I was looking for and I’ve been hooked ever since. But,that’s just me…But,just like this site wouldn’t be possible without the early vision of Mr. Gadiel ,Phish blazed a new trail that was first pioneered by… the good ol’Grateful Dead,period.Every Phish phan(noob or vet)needs to recognize that IMHO. It’s a cosmic cycle that will always be and it will go on without us.Years from now when some band from Wyoming with a new sound takes over the throne left by the Mclovins,or whoever it is at that time,there will be some high school kid intersested in the history and origins of it all and think…damn,man can you imagine being alive the same time as the Dead AND Phish!!! That’s something we should all be umm… Grateful Phor!!! (pun intended)

    I had an interesting introduction to the scene that I feel compelled to share after reading today’s thoughts.So here it goes…

    In the summer of 1994 I was going into the 11th grade.I found myself on the wrong side of the law and ended up in the juvenille system before my summer started.This was gonna be the summer when I was gonna finally find out what it was all about for myself,not just hearing secondhand accounts of “It” from the fellow stoners on my baseball team.My buddies and I had grandiose plans to run the local circuit and see Pink Floyd,the Grateful Dead and this band ” that tells stories in their songs that seem to intertwine with each other somehow…I don’t know,I haven’t quite figured it out yet” called Phish.The only downside to the latter is,although cheaper,it was all the way in Charleston,West Virginia and none of us had a realiable vehicle at the time,or licenses for that matter.We all agreed it made sense to save that exploration for another time ,when it was easier and more compatible with our limitations,and just go with the two “sure shots” of the summer at the much closer RFK Stadium. Well,anyone who knows their Phishtory knows what we missed out on. ( Noob hint;) We definately would’ve figured out the whole song connection thing a little sooner…but,the homework sure was fun!!)
    So,the summer was approaching and restlessness set in quick.The afforementioned stoners from my team and I got some 40’s and went into the woods after practice one night and I proceeded to get an underage drinking charge,which didn’t sit well with my parental units, or my asshole p.o. Needless to say,whether I liked it or not,my plans were being scaled down even more,if not completely. I think my mother was picking up on the fact that there was no way in hell I was gonna miss out on ALL the shows and have to hear about it from my crew when they got back.So she decided to throw me a bone,and allow me to go to 1 show as a reward based incentive for some good behavior.(and a few better night’s sleep for her) So,after long debate and many adolescent meditations,it was decided we would see …… the Grateful Dead. I still wasn’t sold on them,yet,but my friends were really into them, it sounded like weird country to me (which I came around to embrace)And even though we sucked,my baseball team WAS a whole lot cooler after I heard the 1st tales of Jerry Garcia and Buckeye Lake.

    However,anyone who came up in that era knows just how annoyingly popular the Dead were( to the uninitiated )at that time,but,let’s just say it was to a point where you could actually be a “poser”.Well,I prided myself on never”posing”,no matter what!! (cheesy I know,but this IS underclassmen high school I’m talking about here) But,as was a rite of passage to all who were curious back then, we’d get together whenever we could at whomevers house didn’t have a parent in it and listen to all types of music,under the influence of all types of consumables,anytime we could.We all agreed Electric Ladyland and Band of Gypsys were the shit, and clearly the high watermark for what we’d been turned onto thus far.Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album were in the regular rotation as well.I could even get into some Dylan for a change of pace every now and then.Even though my pubescent mind couldn’t fully comprehend the lives and tales he spoke of, I dug the imagery his words created,and plus Jimi thought he was cool,so he must be alright. But,I just didn’t get what the fuss about the Dead was all about.Until one day my friend Greg gave me the Aoxomoaxa tape,which I decided was trippy enough to give them an honest chance seeing live and worthy of missing out on Floyd.That tape somehow spawned a copy of Veneta Oregan 72,which turned into a bootleg collection that nearly took up my whole room less than 3 years later.(Thank you Greg!!)
    But,anyone who knows their Dead History knows that what we happend to catch was,hands down, one of the worst performances ever (7/17/94) by the Grateful Dead,ever. (u know something worsre ?) Looking back on it now I lol when I think about how I must’ve looked to all the older heads.I was hearing the music in hologram form and I was more into the visual experience/sensory overload of it all.They probably looked at me the same way some of us are gonna look at the high school kids that are taking up “our seats!” this summer (jk) I didn’t leave there thinking,man,I can’t wait to come back and hear these guys again.I was thinking,holy shit,it’s true,IT does exist…we just missed it by a couple of years.Beleive me,had I been born just a couple of years earlier,even one, I think I’d have been effected more profoundly by the live Dead.(Then again I could’ve been one of the lucky MFers on Phish tour in August of 93!!) All of the other RFK shows were pretty smokin’ IMO. 91 & 92 were some of my favorite bootlegs and I think 85 was a seriously underrated year.So,needless to say,it wasn’t the Earth-changing experience I’d have personally the following year when we,that same crew,thousands of other post-Jerry fun seekers and what seemed like our entire high school (so much for being different) saw Phish for the 1st time in Landover over thanksgiving break.
    However,the core group of my closest friends didn’t quite share the same sentiment as I,(from that vantage point they frowned) and in retrospect this was literally the point where we started “growing apart”. And I think this a point that’s been missed on, what strenghtened the Phish/Dead divide.Although we all had fun,some more than others,alot of the 1st timers thought it was “too mind fucky” as I think alot of the deadheads giving Phish a try for the 1st time felt like as well. “I don’t wanna run like an antelope or play chess against you,Jerry hasn’t even been gone 6 months man…have some repect!!” seemed to be the overall vibe with the heads.I think there is alot of people who just never went back,or ever gave Phish another chance or gave them any proper due respect because them and thousands of other now anti-Phish heads had similar experiences from coast to coast on that very ambitious,much attended, Fall 95 tour.Nothing was or is ever gonna take Jerry’s place for the Deadicated.Just like the hula-hoopers during the first hiatus folks, come on,admit it!!
    The following years I statred seeing less Furthur Festivals and more Phish shows.(duh!)But, I’ve never stopped supporting any and all factions of the Grateful Dead and I never will as long as someone is offering a new translation of what was.(I’m seeing at lest 5 of their shows on the upcoming tour) But,my imaginary bond with Phish is still very strong and I’m pretty sure always will be. I literally measure time past by certain tours or specific eras(IE: the beard phase or the crosseyed and painless tease week lol ) and I don’t think I could change that if I tried.Although,I’m excited to see the Dead,I am ecstatic to see Phish again,to say the least.I thought this shit was out of my system,but,the more shows they announce,the more plans I make and the more old friends come out of the woodwork. It’s not just gonna go away,like my parents had hoped.Unless,that is,it’s taken away,like Jerry was from many loyal and loving true deadheads. And as pissed as I was at Trey, I’m gald we didn’t have to experience that too soon,and am extremely thankful we get another chance at It,and he’s still around in good health and seemingly good spirits.Until that day comes, we’ll never really know what it was like for most deadheads that fall of 1995.

    In closing,I guess,I wouldn’t change a thing.It was inevitable,I was meant to be a phish head.But,had I not seen the Dead who knows,I could have a shrine to Cypress Hill in my house instead of all the many happy memories from tour,like the Terrapin Station encore.It had only been about three years since I 1st heard Jerry in holograms,but,in that time I grew a deep appreciation for Jerry’s music.As we were running late to Va Beach after a late rager at Merriweater we joked in the car that we better hurry up so we didn’t miss the Jerry tribute opener,which,after the past couple shows seemed almost realistic at that point.I forget what eveyone sarcastically predicted,mine was Viola Lee Blues,but long after the show was over,when the tears dried and the words finally came…”Terrapin,that was just classy”.
    I know posts like this aren’t the norm,but,it’s late,the thread is almost over and nobody’s on here,so it’s cool…I don’t know,I guess reading today’s thoughts put me in a reflective kinda mood.Thanks to anyone who read this.I hope you all have a safe return to the road ahead and the life that you love.We need to be good to each other this summer… c’mon what would Jerry do? 😉

    “They’re not the best at what they do,they are the ONLY ones who do what they do” -Bill Graham ( Kinda true for both,ya think? )

  3. cheese Says:

    so I have this recording called the Wendell Studio Sessions and it says it’s from 1991. On this is a song labeled fluffhead / guyute jam. but if you listen to Glidee II from Lowell it’s the same song. There is also alternate versions of the song Rift and Strange Design. And a Grind at the end. Have you heard of this tape? Is it really from 1991?

  4. Andrew Says:

    I remember vividly the silence penetrating the entire crowd on the walk out that evening…I even saw a grown man cry.

  5. quazi motto Says:

    thank you minor for the excellent copy of the benefit show. it will replace my hissy tape version. and oh i am so excited to let it rip load and joyfully

  6. Wookiesmurf Says:

    I got goosebumps as I read your description of the moment Terrapin was played by Phish, as I joined you in recalling it, and remembering the speechlessness and spiritual experience of our band playing such a magical tribute to a timeless cultural and musical folk hero. One of my fav moments of all time at a concert, for certain. Thanks for the elegant words and inspiration of memory.

  7. Heather Says:

    Nice work, once again, Miner… with eloquence and grace… just like the Dead did it… just like Phish do it.

  8. Mikey Dread Says:

    I am sure I will be hung for this, but hey, freedom of speech right. Although Phis is a very talented and totally different band than The Grateful Dead, let’s face it, there is nothing to compare about them or the experience of seeing a show by either. Yes, I have seen Phish plenty so I know what I speak of. I went to over 120 Grateful Dead shows in over 15 years of touring. In all those shows, I have never seen one punch thrown out of anger. At several of my Phish lot experiences I have personally witnessed not only harsh words being yelled, but plenty of blows traded. Not to mention heaps of other disturbing displays of anything but peace and love by these so called fans. The band is great, but a fair few of the fans just plain suck and ruin the experience the band is trying to form. Since then, I have sworn off Phish as I don’t like many of the people who attend. And if you have been to enough Phish shows, I know you know what I speak of. For example…I saw a kid literally get beaten with in an inch of his life for supposedly selling “bunk” LSD. Okay, it sucks to buy a false drug, but to beat this kid half to death? NEVER would you see that on Dead tour. My conclusion, you fans preach Peace and Love, but many of you don’t practice what you preach.

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