Most people cringe at the thought of having to watch even a single Phish show. Imagine the disgust, then, of the people of New York at the idea that the band would be playing for 13 nights starting this past Friday at Madison Square Garden, for a series of shows called the Baker’s Dozen.
In a past life, I attended as many Phish shows as I possibly could, from Los Angeles, to Vermont. I memorized show dates and songs, traded and collected CDs of live shows with complete strangers, and gave my family great cause for concern about my future. Then certain aspects of it all started to really get to me. After forcing myself to sit through a Phish show at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011, I realized that the band just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I decided to call it quits. I couldn’t believe how much time, energy, and money I had saved and put to better use. But that wasn’t the end of it. Recently, something started to pull me back in and make me curious about Phish once again.
So when I heard about the Baker’s Dozen, I decided I wanted to head to midtown Manhattan to talk to Phish Heads and find out which one of us was really wasting their time, as well as to see what insane reasons they had for schlepping around the country to see 13 nights of jam rock at The Garden.
Samir and Hamburger, Philadelphia
Noisey: How many Phish shows have you seen? When was your first?
Samir: I’ve been to 54 Phish shows. My first was 10/21/99. Farmhouse opener, encore with “Misty Mountain Hop.” It was a good first show. I heard the next night was even better, and I didn’t go to that show.
Hamburger: First Phish show was in 2003 when BB King played. It was amazing. Bought my first marijuana pipe, and I broke it that same night. Ran out of gas on the Garden State Parkway.
Yeah, I had to get bailed out by my parents. This show is my 21st.
What is it about Phish that makes you spend all your time and money to see them?
Samir: They change it up. It’s the rhythm. It’s the groove. It’s the lights, the camaraderie. It’s the fun. It’s the jams. Musically they’re the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. CK5 does a great thing with the lights.
Hamburger: I’m just in it for the pussy.
MaLaCoiD, 33, California
Noisey: How many Phish shows have you seen?
MaLaCoiD: Fifty shows.
What was your introduction to live Phish?
I once drove from Salt Lake City to see them in Vegas with a friend. We were both blown away after listening to mp3s I downloaded.
What is the strangest thing you’ve seen outside of a Phish show?
The Nitrous Mafia is pretty strange to see let loose in a major urban area like SF or Chicago.
The Nitrous Mafia is a group of people with lookouts on radios and nitrous tanks in backpacks.
You wrote a book about touring with jam bands. Tell me about it.
I wrote the book from my travel journal. I kept having amazing coincidences. Things happened that in my mind are beyond luck.
In 2004 I picked up a hitchhiker in the parking lot after a Phish show in Camden, New Jersey. He drove half the night. I lost him five minutes after we parked. Two weeks later I’m in Telluride, Colorado, without a place to stay and yelled out, “Who’s got my floor space?” The same guy was right behind me, and I stayed at his home.
Those pants are crazy. Where did you get them?
I made the pants online for $20 in China.
What do you tell people who think the scene and music of Phish is ridiculous?
I tell people to come to a show and try on a pair of Rainbow glasses. The lights are an essential part. I think of dancing at shows as ecstatic yoga.
Connor, 26, North Carolina
Noisey: How long have you been a Phish fan?
Connor: My first show was in 2015 in Austin. I’d been listening to them a few months before then, slowly picking up, listening to live shows.
Are you here for all 13 nights?
Yes I am.
What is it about Phish that you love so much?
There’s this sense of freedom. Especially on this tour, you can tell on this tour that they are feeling so loose in their song selection and jamming. There’s a certain kind of cohesion that’s rare in other music. And there’s just a palpable sense of community here that makes the scene really special
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at a Phish show?
People playing Twister during a set break.
If you could meet any one member of the band, who would it be and why?
I’d really love to meet the drummer, John Fishman. I really think his playing comes through the most for me. He’s more politically active and a big Bernie supporter. I’d love to pick his brain. He’s a very interesting dude.
Chris, 25, Connecticut
Noisey: When was your first Phish show?
Chris: This is my first Phish show.
Are you going to all 13 nights?
No, just tonight. I woke up this morning, bought a ticket, and got on the train.
What makes you feel connected to Phish?
I appreciate the jam band community. I’m a Dead Head.
Are you here for the music or the party?
Chris: I’m here for the music. And the party…
If you could meet anyone of the band tonight, who would it be?
Probably just Trey, because I respect what he did during the 50th anniversary shows for the Grateful Dead. He put his own twist on it and you can always tell, hey, that’s Trey.
Nick and Sabrina, Bronx, New York
Noisey: Are you going to all 13 nights?
Nick: All we have locked down is the first night. But we’re gonna try to get down here and see if we can get it and get some miracles.
What would you say if you ever met Trey?
Sabrina: Keep playing ’til you keel over, bro.
What is it about Phish that makes you keep seeing them?
Nick: Just getting into the music, you know, through psychedelic experiences or not even, a three hour show can go by in the blink of an eye. I find that to be really special, kind of like a time traveling situation.
What’s your favorite Phish song to hear live, and how long is it?
“Harpua.” Like ten or 20 minutes.
Sabrina: “Meatstick,” and it’s around ten minutes.
What do you say to all the people who think Phish and touring with them is stupid?
Nick: If everyone loved it then it wouldn’t be so special to me, personally, you know?
Sabrina: Everybody vibes their own way. Live your life the way you live it.
Tamara 22, Scarsdale, New York and Hannah 21, White Plains, New York
Noisey: Why do you have your fingers up right now?
Hannah: It’s the universal sign for, “I need a miracle.” A miracle would be a free ticket, or in my case just a cheap ticket for tonight.
Do you come for the party or the music?
Tamara: The music.
Hannah: I come for the music, but the music is the party.
Tamara: Dammit, I was gonna say something like that.
Is Phish a religious experience for you?
Tamara: I was raised Jewish, specifically Modern Orthodox. I honestly didn’t believe in a greater power until I went to a Phish show.
What do you think about diversity in the Phish scene?
Hannah: It’s very clearly a white, male, bro scene. I’m very lucky that I have women around me a lot, but it’s not very diverse.
Tamara: I second that.
Jenny, 23, New Hampshire and Cush, 51, Boston
Noisey: When was your first Phish show?
Jenny: July 1, 2014.
Cush: March 3, 1991.
Are you going to all 13 shows?
Jenny: I’m not going all 13 nights, but my mom is supposed to come to the last show with me.
Cush: I’m hoping to make eight. If I make six, that show will be my 365th.
That’s a lot of Phish.
It means that one out of every 50 days of my life I’ve gone to a Phish show.
Do you ever get tired of seeing Phish play?
Jenny: Heck no.
Cush: You can’t even miss one show. They’ll break out a song, and it’ll break your heart that you weren’t there.
What is it about Phish that makes you spend all this time, money, and energy to see them?
Jenny: It’s walking into the arena with thousands of strangers and you’re all there because you love the same thing, so you’re not really strangers anymore.
Cush: I was there near the beginning, and I need to see the end. I think it’s a historical thing, and I’m glad the world hasn’t caught on yet, because it’s all ours.
What would you say if you ever met Trey Anastasio?
Cush: I would try to display brevity, but would want him to know the amazing effect he’s had on my entire life. Gotten me through some of the worst days of my life, and I’m talking true tragedies. I couldn’t thank him enough.
Michelle, 37, New Jersey and Evan, 38, Denver
Noisey: When was your first Phish show?
Michelle: December 29, 1997.
Evan: June 22, 1995.
Are you going to all 13 shows and what does your family think?
Michelle: Yes, we are doing all 13 nights. I pawned my daughter off on my parents.
How old is she?
She’s five and a half. Her first show was last summer.
What is it about this band that keeps you coming back?
Evan: It’s the music. It’s a spiritual experience as close to God as I imagine religion could get you.
What would you say if you ever met Trey Anastasio?
Michelle: I don’t know that that’s appropriate.
What would you say to anyone who hates on Phish and this scene?
Evan: I’ve tried to make the argument for Phish for 20 years, but it’s like talking to Republicans about Trump. Just bite your tongue and walk the other way.
Jean, 25, New Jersey
Noisey: Why Phish?
Jean: It just happened into my life, and I couldn’t stop.
When was your first show, and how many have you been to?
I saw them for the first time in 2013. Last night was my 35th show.
As a woman, how do you feel about the scene?
I feel like the male domination of the scene is a big issue. There are assaults against women at shows. I also know males that have been groped at shows, too. Right now there’s a grassroots movement called Groove Safe to call people out for their actions against women. Obviously, there’s a dark side to every scene, but I think there’s a welcoming community that’s open, honest, and caring.
Did you design your outfit?
Yes, I designed the top and the skirt myself.
Do you sell them?
The photographers that made these images in the 90s, I feel like it would be a total rip-off of their work. I think it’s something unique that I can create and wear myself.
There’s a lot fans making art, right?
There’s a lot of artists that make Phish merchandise and a lot of really creative people. Like this girl on Instagram who paints acrylic canvases of the light shows from Phish concerts.
What do you have to say to people who hate on Phish?
If you hate Phish so much, focus on what you like. You like Nickelback? Go follow Nickelback on tour. If that’s what you need to do, do that.
Ben, 23 and Nick, 28, Nashville
Noisey: How many shows have you seen on this tour?
Nick: Dayton, then Pittsburgh, and now we’re here.
When was your first show?
Ben: Just this week: Dayton, Ohio.
Nick: Deer Creek, Indiana in 2003.
What is it about Phish that makes it all worth it?
Ben: It’s the ultimate in-the-moment thing. It’s an escape for me.
Nick: It’s the purest form of joy that I’ve ever found in anything.
You’re in a room with Trey Anastasio. What do you talk about?
Ben: He’s just a human. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. I’d probably talk to him about recovery, since we both got off heroin.
Tell me about your shirts.
Ben: It’s based on the Phish song “Chalkdust Torture,” as a play on the Champion brand.
Nick: Mine is based on the Phish song “Harry Hood” and a play on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Does Phish make America great?
I like to think that Phish heads are true American patriots, because they’re out traveling the whole country, exploring, and it’s kind of like the American Dream to go out and have an adventure.
Looking around, the scene seems to be mostly white and male. Why do you think that is?
Ben: Everyone is introduced to it, and I don’t think most discover it on your own. I’ve introduced Phish to my sister. She is Chinese, and she loves it. But I’d like to see more diversity at shows.
What do you tell people who don’t get Phish?
Ben: It’s an acquired taste.
Nick: I wish those people would be more open minded. I’ve been let down at Phish shows and achieved ultimate euphoria too. But I’m a loyal fan.
Carson, 10, and Aaron, 43, Cincinnati
Noisey: How many Phish shows have you gone to?
Carson: Five shows.
Do you see a lot of people your age at Phish shows?
I don’t see a lot of people my age, no.
Do you think there should be more people your age at these shows?
I think there should be because it’s child friendly, a little bit.
What does your mom think of all of this?
She just misses me a lot. And whenever I go, she prepares me. She says you have to stay five feet away from your dad in New York and everywhere.
What was it like taking your son to a Phish show?
Aaron: It was a lot of fun. It’s been a blessing to take my son out and bond with him, taking him around the country to see the greatest shows on earth.
What would you say to those who don’t like Phish or the scene?
Carson: Well, Phish is good and you should just try it. You might like it.
How about you, dad?
Aaron: I like everyone to be their own individual. Go your own way. That’s fine with me.
Vivek, 30, Chicago and Rohit, 29, Rochester, New York
Noisey: What got you hooked on Phish?
Vivek: I was into rock music forever. Even in India there’s a really good music scene, especially metal, but this was completely new to me. In 2015 I was working in Palo Alto, and a friend took me to Shoreline Amphitheater. I saw that show, and it changed my life.
What do you love most about the scene?
Rohit: The community is so great. I meet new people at every show. Even going to shows alone, I’ve met people randomly by my side and had fun with them.
What do you tell people who hate on Phish and think it’s stupid hippie shit?
Vivek: Without really experiencing it, saying that is a bit ignorant. I have taken a lot of my friends to their first show. Friends who don’t listen to much aside from Bollywood music and they come to the show and have a good time. I can guarantee if you’re at the show, you’re gonna have a great time.
Colton and Nick, Worcester, Massachusetts
Noisey: How many Phish concerts have you seen?
Colton: After this weekend, it’ll be my 24th or 25th show.
Nick: Yeah, tonight’s my 24th.
What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled to see Phish?
Nick: South Carolina.
Colton: Oh, that’s right. South Carolina, yeah.
What is it that draws you to see the band play?
Colton: The jams. Different jams every night.
Nick: Yeah, definitely the jams and Trey Anastasio on guitar, moving everyone in the palm of his hands. Moving the whole room.
If you got lost and ended up backstage with the band, what would you say?
Colton: Oof, it’d be so much running through my head. I’d say bring back your guitar gear from 2003, Trey.
Nick: I’d ask Mike [the bassist] for a “Mock Song” and say hello to the rest of the band.
Where are the nitrous balloons?
Colton: 32nd Street.
Nick: West 32nd Street.
For people who think that Phish sucks, what do you say?
Colton: You don’t have the patience to listen to a good jam.
Nick: Go see Billy Joel.
Daniel Shapiro is a photographer based in Brooklyn. Find more about his work on his website.
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