Members: Trey Anastasio - guitar, vocals, Mike Gordon - bass, vocals, Jon Fishman - drums, vocals, Page McConnell - keyboards, vocals (joined in May 1985), Jeff Holdsworth - guitar, vocals (left in May 1986), Marc Daubert - percussion (fall 1984)
Phish was a popular American rock band most noted for jamming and improvisation. The band's four members performed together for 21 years until their breakup in August 2004. Although the group received little radio play or MTV exposure, Phish developed a large following by word of mouth. Phish's music had elements of many genres, including rock, jazz, bluegrass, country, heavy metal, reggae, folk, ska, pop, blues, progressive rock, show tunes, classical, acoustic, barber shop quartet, and calypso. The band performed 226 originals (of the 234 they penned) and 394 covers, a total of 620 songs. Each Phish concert was different in terms of the songs included and the order in which they appeared, and (for many songs) in the way in which they were performed. Most of their songs were never played the same way twice. Along with Bob Dylan, The Gratefu Dead and The Beatles, Phish were one of the first bands to have an Internet newsgroup - Phish.net - launched in 1991
Phish was formed in 1983 at the University of Vermont by guitarists Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth, bassist Mike Gordon, and drummer Jon Fishman. Before they were known as Phish, they were first billed as "Blackwood Convention" and played an ROTC Halloween Dance, Sunday, October 30, 1983, in the basement of the ROTC dormitory. They performed "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," and other notable cover songs. Their second gig, and their first billed as Phish, was November 3, in the basement of Slade Hall at UVM. In the fall of 1984, the band was joined by a full-time percussionist, Marc Daubert, who left the band in early 1985. In 1985, Page McConnell joined on keyboards. A year later, in 1986, Holdsworth left the group after graduation, thus solidifying the band's classic lineup, which remained unchanged for the rest of their career. 
In mid-1986, Anastasio and Fishman transferred to a smaller school named Goddard College, located in the hills of Plainfield, Vermont. Trey had pulled a stunt at UVM with his friend and former bandmate Steve Pollak also known as the Dude of Life and decided to leave the college. Under the persuasion of McConnell, Trey and Jon transferred, with Page receiving $50 cash for each transferee. Gordon remained at UVM. At that time, Phish distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes, including The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday (Anastasio's senior thesis), Bivouac Jaun, and The White Tape. The White Tape at this time was known in two varitions; the first was a four-track done in a dorm room circulated prior to 1985, the second prior to 1987 was a remixed/studio version of the four-track and was viewed as the first step towards Junta. The first version was the most circulated version of the compilation, which travelled in tape-trading circles for over a decade before being officially released in 1998.
On October 15, 1986 at Hunt's Bar in Burlington, Vermont, the group began working with luthier Paul Languedoc, who built custom guitars and basses. He would become their sound man and build two guitars for Anastasio and two basses for Gordon, as well as monitors and risers. Since then, he has built only for Anastasio and Gordon, and his designs and Old World approach to craftsmanship have given Phish its own unique instrumental identity.
The band's second studio experiment was a concept album written by Trey Anastasio entitled The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday. The recording was Trey's senior project statement at Goddard College in the July of 1988. Elements of the story, known as "Gamehendge", have comprised no less than 17 songs, only 9 of which were featured on the actual recording. The band performed the entire suite in concert on five occasions (in 1988, 1991, 1993, and twice in 1994). Each song list has been slightly different from one another.
Phish in the fall of 1986.
Starting in spring 1988, the band spent extensive tracts of time practicing. There were two major sessions -- dubbed by the band as the "Okipa (also Oh Kee Pa) Ceremonies" -- at Trey's apartment and the second in August of 1989 at Paul Languadoc's house. During these stretches of time, the band would lock themselves in a room and jam for hours on end. The band attributes the sessions to Trey, who found the idea through the movies A Man Called Horse and Modern Primitives. Also in 1988, Phish recorded a double studio album entitled Junta.
On January 26, 1989, Phish played the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, Massachusetts. The owners of the club had never heard of Phish and refused to book them, so Phish rented the place out themselves. The owners were stunned to see a huge line of people wrapped around the street trying to get in. The show had sold out due mostly to the caravan of Phish fans that had traveled to see the band.
By late 1990, Phish concerts were becoming more and more involved. The band made a consistent effort to involve the audience in their performances. The group developed a special "secret language" where the audience would react in a certain manner based on a musical cue from the band (for instance, if Anastasio played a bar of The Simpsons theme song, the audience would yell, "D'oh!," imitating lead character Homer Simpson; another favorite was "All Fall Down," where the band would play a descending group of notes and the audience would fall on their backs to the floor). In 1992, Phish introduced the "Big Ball Jam," which began with each band member throwing a large beach ball into the audience. Each time a particular ball was hit, the corresponding band member played a note, so in essence, the audience was performing and creating a composition on the spot.
Drummer Jon Fishman would often play an Electrolux vacuum cleaner like a woodwind instrument, and the group would switch instruments to the left one member at a time in an experiment called the "Rotation Jam." Another of Phish's performance antics involved Gordon and Anastasio performing synchronized maneuvers jumping on mini-trampolines while playing their instruments during "You Enjoy Myself".
In 1991, Elektra Records, aware of the band's growing popularity, signed them after attending a show. In 1992, their major label debut, A Picture of Nectar, was released, with far more extensive production than Junta from 1988 and Lawn Boy from 1990, which were re-released on Elektra as well.
Phish in 1992
In 1992, John Popper of Blues Traveler organized the first annual H.O.R.D.E. festival (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere). The lineup included Phish, The Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and Widespread Panic, providing Phish with their first national tour of major amphitheaters. That summer, the band toured Europe with the Violent Femmes and later toured both Europe and the United States with guitarist Carlos Santana.
Climb to the top
Phish began headlining major amphitheaters in the summer of 1993. That year, the group released another studio album, entitled Rift, which continued the band's streak of challenging, complex music, packaged into a concept album as part of heavy promotion from Elektra.
The group changed their songwriting approach again for their 1994 release Hoist. The album featured simpler songs with emotionally introspective lyrics, an evolution that became part of the group's overall sound. This shift to a more traditional song structure was met with criticism from some fans. In addition, the band made their first and only video for MTV, "Down With Disease". The group had become so popular that they sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, on December 30, 1994. Earlier that day, they made their national television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman, where they appeared a total of seven times over the next decade. On New Year's Eve, the band headlined the Boston Garden. Before midnight, the band wanted to make a special effort to get close to every fan in the house, so they flew in a giant mechanical hot dog over the crowd and performed music while throwing candy to the audience.
On Halloween night that year, the group promised to don a "musical costume" by playing an entire album from another band. Fan votes on their website led to the performance of the 30-song, self-titled Beatles classic known as The White Album, sandwiched between two complete sets of Phish's own music.
In 1995, the band experienced a continued growth of their fan base, partially due to decreased Grateful Dead touring following leader Jerry Garcia's death and increasing awareness of the band in popular culture, including the appearance "Down With Disease" on Beavis and Butthead.
The impact of Garcia's death on the Phish scene is somewhat uncertain. Although Phish's music was very different than the Dead's, the fan culture that had grown up around both bands was similar. Each concert was the centerpiece of an event that included a sort of temporary village in the parking lot. Before, during, and after concerts, people socialized and did business (buying, selling, trading of various goods) outside the venue. Many fans who toured with the Grateful Dead began to follow Phish, and there was a certain shift of parking lot vendors, artisans, and drug dealers from the Dead to Phish - many of whom made the shift in 1994, prior to Garcia's death.
Poster for Phish's 1995 Halloween extravaganza
That fall, Phish challenged the audience to a chess game. A huge chessboard was lowered down on stage before each show and between sets. The band made one move before the show, and between sets a representative from the audience made one move, based on votes tallied in the lobby. At the end of the tour, the band and audience were tied 1-1. Phish performed Quadrophenia by The Who with an entire horn section for Halloween 1995. Their first live album, A Live One, featured songs from 1994 concerts, and was Phish's first gold album.
In fall 1996, Phish released Billy Breathes, which featured a mostly acoustic second side of the band. That summer, they put on The Clifford Ball, a two-day festival, which took place at an empty air force base in Plattsburgh, New York. 65,000 people showed up. MTV was on-hand to make a documentary of the experience. Phish set up their own makeshift city, complete with an amusement park, restaurants, a post office, playgrounds, arcades, and movie theaters. For two days, a Phish concert was the ninth largest city in New York. Aside from six sets of Phish, the band hopped on a flatbed truck at 3:00 AM and drove through the campground, serenading the audience. The concert's production company, Great Northeast Productions, went on to host six more Phish festivals.
In 1997, a new jamming style emerged from Phish's improvisational ventures, which came to be known as "cow funk". The previous Halloween saw Phish perform the Talking Heads album Remain in Light. Jams were becoming so long that several sets that year only contained four songs. That same year, Ben and Jerry's ice cream launched Phish Food, which remains one of the company's most popular flavors. The band's royalties from Phish Food are donated to their non-profit foundation, the WaterWheel Foundation. Also created in 1997, the foundation consisted of three separate branches - The Lake Champlain Initiative, The Touring Branch and the Vermont Giving Program.
That summer, the band drew 65,000 people to its second festival, The Great Went, held in Limestone, Maine, just miles from the Canadian border. That weekend, the festival became the largest city in Maine.WP Throughout the weekend, the band had the audience paint their own individual piece of art. Each piece of fan artwork was attached to make a huge tower that was several stories high by the end of the weekend. Backstage, Phish was also creating their own piece of art. During a jam on the final day of the weekend, the band passed their artwork through the audience. The audience attached the band artwork to the fan artwork, thus connecting band and audience in true fashion. The tower was then burned to the ground.
In 1998, the band tried a new approach to recording. They recorded hours and hours of improvisational jams over a period of several days, and then took the highlights of those jams and wrote songs around them. The result was The Story of the Ghost album (followed by the all-instrumental The Siket Disc in 1999). Phish headlined Farm Aid in the summer of 1998, sharing the stage with Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Paul Shaffer. The group also returned to Limestone for The Lemonwheel festival, which drew another 70,000 fans. Once again, the gathering was the largest city in Maine during the concert. This time around, the band had the audience make candles throughout the weekend. At the end of the show, the band lined the stage with candles, turned out all the lights, and played one long, quiet, ambient jam.
For their 1998 Halloween show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the group performed Loaded by The Velvet Underground as their musical costume. Playing two nights later at a show in the middle of Utah to a small audience of only 4,000 people, Phish performed Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety towards the middle of the second set.
In 1999 the band decided to skip the annual summer festival in order to prepare for the New Year's Eve millennium celebration. However, at the last minute, they decided to hold a summer festival anyway. 65,000 people came to an abandoned airport in upstate New York for Camp Oswego held in July. The following weekend just a few towns away, Woodstock 1999 was making new headlines as 200,000 people rioted and burned the concert grounds. However, New York Governor George Pataki did make mention of the peacefulness of the Phish show as compared to the debacle at Woodstock.
For the Millennium Celebration, Phish went to the southern-most tip of the US - the Florida Everglades - at the Big Cypress Indian Reservation. There were huge New Year's Eve concerts all over the world that night besides the one Phish was holding - Sting, Barbra Streisand, Elton John. Peter Jennings reported on the huge audience in an episode of ABC World News Tonight. 85,000 people showed up for two nights of music, culminating with a seven-and-a-half hour second set that began at midnight and ended at sunrise. The band's performance of "Heavy Things" was broadcast during ABC's millennium coverage. At the beginning of the set, Trey Anastasio mentioned that the band had portable toilets onstage so they could use the restroom during the marathon set, and a team of security guards lined the stage to prevent band members from "wimping out" and trying to leave the stage. When the band left the stage in tears at sunrise after the extremely emotional performance, Trey Anastasio said to Jon Fishman, "we should stop."
Phish kept going. They glided through the year 2000 with no Halloween show, no summer festival and no new songs. May 2000's Farmhouse contained recycled material from their live repertoire dating back as far as 1997. That summer, the band announced that they would be going their separate ways following their upcoming fall tour. On October 7, 2000 at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, they played what was to be their final concert before their then indefinite hiatus. The final song before the concert was The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time,". The band had played a regular show and left without saying a word as The Beatles' Let It Be played over the sound system while the audience gave the crew a standing ovation.
The members of Phish always had musical projects outside of Phish, but the breakup allowed them to explore them more deeply. Trey continued the solo career he'd begun two years earlier and formed the supergroup Oysterhead with Primus bassist Les Claypool and drummer Stewart Copeland of The Police. He also did orchestral work and conducting with the Vermont Youth Orchestra. Mike Gordon made two films - Outside Out and Rising Low - as well as an album with acoustic guitar legend Leo Kottke before launching his own solo career. Jon Fishman alternated gigs with The Jazz Mandolin Project and his rowdy bar band Pork Tornado. Page McConnell formed an electronic trio, Vida Blue, with Meters drummer Russell Batiste and Aquarium Rescue Unit bassist Oteil Burbridge.
Many existing jam bands such as moe., The Disco Biscuits, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey's McGee and Particle seemed to experience a swell in their audiences as a result of the hiatus. The annual Bonnaroo festival opened the doors for several groups inside and outside of the jam band world.
One more time
Over two years after the hiatus began, Phish announced that they were getting back on the road, returning to the stage on New Year's Eve 2002 at Madison Square Garden. To capture the very first moments of the reunion, the band recorded a new album, Round Room, in only three days. When the band's much-hyped return to the stage took place on New Year's Eve, they pulled a prank on the audience that fooled the entire United States media. McConnell's brother was introduced as actor Tom Hanks, and came onstage to sing a line from the Phish song "Wilson" making a connection for many to Hanks' onscreen island companion in Cast Away. Because of the uncanny resemblance, many media reports noted that Tom Hanks had "jammed with Phish" at their reunion show. The prank was revealed days later.
Chris Kuroda lights up Phish at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, in July 2003
At the end of the 2003 summer tour, Phish held their first summer festival in four years, returning to Limestone for the IT festival at Loring Air Force Base . The festival drew in crowds of over 60,000 fans, once again making Limestone the most populated city in Maine according to The Phish Archive. At 2:30 a.m. following the first night's show, the band performed an hour-long, ambient jam on top of the air traffic control tower overlooking the base. Anyone still awake was treated to the sight of an intricate light and laser show with acrobats performing suspended from the tower by bungee cords. In December, the band celebrated its 20th anniversary with a four-night run of shows at the FleetCenter in Boston. The band shocked the Phish world by inviting founding Phish member Jeff Holdsworth to jam onstage for the first time since 1986. Phish placed Holdsworth front and center, and allowed him to lead the band for the rest of the concert, just as he had done two decades earlier.
In order to avoid the exhaustion and pitfalls of previous years of non-stop touring, Phish played only sporadically after the reunion. Tours were only about two weeks long. Though the band debuted a wealth of new material and had clearly improved on their classic improvisational style, they were not practicing their older material, and were therefore becoming sloppy. Phish had made a name for themselves by practicing and being "tighter than a mosquito's ass" in concert (as one fan put it); the band simply did not play enough to gain the momentum that had carried previous tours.
After an April 2004 run of shows in Las Vegas, Trey Anastasio announced on the Phish website that the band was breaking up for good after a small summer tour. Their final album, Undermind, was released in the late spring.
During the summer of 2004, the band jammed with rapper Jay-Z at their second Brooklyn, NY show, and performed a seven-song set atop the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater during an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, delighting fans who had gathered on the street outside the theater and channeling the spirit of The Beatles in their final public performance on a rooftop in London. The final show was to be the last Phish summer festival - Coventry, named for the town that hosted the event which was held in the group's home state, Vermont. 100,000 people were expected to attend. It was simulcast to thousands more in movie theaters across America.
Unfortunately, a week of rain had flooded the concert field to the point where people were turned away, causing gridlock on the highway and roads leading to the site. Rumors circulated that the stage was sinking. Mike Gordon got on the radio and told everyone who wasn't already in to turn away and that no more cars would be allowed in. At that point, only about 20,000 people were in the concert area.
The fans did not fight police, drive cars through barriers, or riot. Instead, tens of thousands parked their cars on highway medians, in breakdown lanes, and on the sides of roads. Then they hiked in to the concert venue, some walking as far as 30 miles to the venue. Local residents stepped in and began shuttling fans in and out of the site and to their vehicles. It was an extremely emotional showing and a perfect example of the incredible bond Phish had with their audience. The performance was called sloppy by some, who attributed this to the emotional roller coaster of the band playing their final gig. They broke down crying onstage several times, most notably when McConnell choked up during the poignant ballad "Wading in the Velvet Sea." Unable to continue singing, he turned the microphone to the audience, who took over in chorus. Adding tragedy to the unfortunate events of the festival, 25-year-old Ian Niles Gardiner, of Bristol, Connecticut, was found dead in a tent at 2:18 a.m. Monday following the final show.
Phish's final bow, August 15th, 2004
Despite the negatives, Coventry was an emotional goodbye for Phish and its audience, an end to Phish's story in rock music. Without any help from radio, music television channels or album sales, Phish became the biggest live band in America, and a group that Rolling Stone called "the most important band of the 1990s."
Band members (1983-2004)
Trey Anastasio - guitar, vocals
Mike Gordon - bass, vocals
Jon Fishman - drums, vocals
Page McConnell - keyboards, vocals (joined in May 1985)
Jeff Holdsworth - guitar, vocals (left in May 1986)
Marc Daubert - percussion (fall 1984)
Phish played their first show on December 2, 1983 and their final show on August 15, 2004. The band was on hiatus from October 7, 2000 until December 31, 2002.
Phish's musical ethos is a playful mix of skilled improvisation, psychedelic rock, folk, bluegrass, funk, jazz, a capella/barbershop quartet, reggae, heavy rock, and intricate compositions. Some of their original compositions (such as "Theme from the Bottom") tend towards a psychedelic rock and bluegrass fusion, with more rock, jazz and funk elements than the Grateful Dead and other earlier so-called jam bands. Their more ambitious, epic compositions (such as "Reba" and "Guyute") are often said to resemble classical music in a rock setting, much like the music of one of their heroes, Frank Zappa.
Anastasio has repeatedly credited Vermont-based composer, pianist, and teacher Ernie Stires as a major source of early inspiration and instruction in musical composition and arranging. The importance of this influence in Phish's early trademark sound cannot be overestimated and is especially noteworthy on The White Tape, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Junta, Lawn Boy and Rift. While not a household name, Stires is widely lauded in certain musical circles as a stunningly unique composer of art music. He is most distinguished, perhaps, for juxtaposing atonal melodies and harmonies against catchy swing rhythms. Stires is a cousin of well-known late-Romantic composer Samuel Barber, and has been employed as a tutor and mentor by a number of pop, rock, and jazz musicians.
De facto leadership, community spirit
While Anastasio has never clearly affirmed or denied musical leadership of Phish, he was viewed by many fans and enthusiasts as its frontman for a number of reasons. This is principally because he composed the music for the vast majority of the band's original repertoire (however, all four permanent band members have made lasting contributions to the catalog). A versatile composer of music across a wide spectrum of genres, Anastasio used techniques ranging from riff-based and/or verse-chorus songwriting to unusual chord progressions, modes, atonality, polyrhythm, irregular and compound meters, and polyphonic textures somewhat in the tradition of neoclassical composers such as Stravinsky and Ravel. Anastasio's adventurous use of polyphony has often been highlighted, although many commentators have mistakenly referred to the use of fugue in examples which are actually of a simpler type of counterpoint, canon (e.g., in the tune "Reba").
Trey's de facto leadership being duly noted, the other members of Phish were far from merely supporting personnel. Each played a unique and indispensable role in the band's persona and overall sound, and they have each enjoyed successful music careers outside of Phish. Fishman's relentlessly inventive but rock-steady drumming was clearly a major source of the group's solidity and cohesiveness. Bassist Gordon is cited for his straight ahead, no-frills, but imminently tuneful and deeply sensitive playing. McConnell, aside from adding the essential, trademark grand piano sound to the band, is highly regarded as a master of the Hammond B3 organ, and is a brilliant texturist and a winsome soloist on other keyboard instruments such as the clavinet, the Rhodes piano, and various synthesizers.
Early vs. late period material
The Phish pieces written by Anastasio after the band had begun touring nationally on a full time basis, as well his compositions for his past and current touring projects outside of Phish, have tended with few exceptions to focus on simpler, more direct songwriting than many of the more involved works of earlier years. Accordingly, dynamic, large-scale improvisation became more of a driving force than detailed composition in the band's final decade. Anastasio has said that this shift was at least partially due to time constraints imposed by Phish's increasing fame, family responsibilities of the members, and other considerations. As a band of carefree college students, Phish was able to spend vastly more time writing and rehearsing challenging material. Many of the tracks on the early Junta, as well as some other material from roughly the same period (1985-1990), were notated wholly or partially in full score by Anastasio and were learned by the band in this manner; all four members are experienced at reading notation. This contrasts starkly with their later practice of making demo tapes of original compositions, some of which were later released for sale, from which the band would then aurally pick up and develop selected material.
Trey Anastasio with B.B. King, February 2003
Blending the groove
Sometimes several compositional forms and elements were blended into a single piece of music, with the end result rarely coming off as overly cerebral because of the collective musicianship of the bandsmen and because of the innate "groove" of much of the music. This aesthetic reflects Phish's taste for danceable music with intellectual and artistic depth, in a tradition that can be traced as far back as the instrumental dance music of baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and can be followed through the hard-swinging but intricately crafted arrangements featured by many big bands of the early 20th Century. Anastasio, in particular, has spoken of his lifelong attraction to music that can be richly appreciated in both the intellectual and the corporeal planes of experience. An increasingly common criticism of some modern popular music has been that, while it is often catchy and danceable, these qualities sometimes come at the expense of musical depth. Phish and other jam bands have always striven to bring the best of both worlds to their fans. This attitude was also a driving force behind bebop jazz, which characteristically featured virtuosic and harmonically complex improvisation over the choruses of well-known popular tunes (jazz standards), often taken at unusually fast speeds.
Anastasio's vibrant electric guitar was consistently the most prominent voice in Phish, and he sang more lead vocals than any other member, both onstage and in the studio. From the band's inception through the mid-1990s, Anastasio's guitar playing was recognizable by its rich, full tone and incredible sustain, a style owing much to Carlos Santana. Later Anastasio became well-known, both in and outside of Phish, for his skilled, tasteful, and often pioneering use of an extensive rig of electronic effects to enhance or otherwise alter the sound of his guitars. His extensive use of a pitch shifter, of phrase sampling devices and long "space" delay, and of multiple-stage overdrive became signatures of his sound, apart from the unique tonal qualities of his custom-built Languedoc guitars. Gordon and McConnell are also known for judicious use of electronic effects.
Trey Anastasio and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall.
Gordon wrote a number of compositions for the Phish catalog, beginning perhaps with "Minkin" from The White Tape. His compositions are marked by humorous lyric content and a straightforward musical style. As another example, Gordon penned the music for the title track of Round Room, which is a more rhythmically and harmonically complex piece of music than exemplified by his usual songwriting style within Phish.
On many album credits, multiple members or all the members of Phish are listed as composers. This has been the cause of some confusion. While not exclusively true, it is generally the case that Anastasio was the composer of most of these numbers, with other band members thereafter making contributions to the music to varying degrees of significance. These changes were sometimes subtle and sometimes major, and ranged from more or less immediate revisions to alterations that were years in the making.
Grateful Dead comparison
Particularly in lengthy jams and in less thoroughly-composed and more lyrically-styled material, the dynamic interplay and collective improvisation between all four members was certainly as much a calling card for the band as were Anastasio's kaleidoscopic compositions and guitar work. It is in this respect that Phish has often been musically compared to the Grateful Dead, and this aesthetic is really at the heart of all jam bands by connotation. Neither Anastasio nor the Grateful Dead's Garcia ever definitively acknowledged themselves as figureheads of their respective collectives, though widely perceived as such among their fans; this is indicative of the community spirit and sense of partnership evoked by much music, with each musician viewing himself as an equal part of a whole. Notably Phish embraced a Dead policy allowing recording and trading of concert bootlegs.
Songwriter Tom Marshall
Anastasio's boyhood friend and schoolmate Tom Marshall was the primary lyricist for Phish, though by no means the only one. Marshall, an accomplished biologist, has written lyrics ranging from arbitrarily assembled nonsequitur ("Stash") to the poignantly expressive ("Lifeboy"), and all points in between. Though most fans never attached the importance to Phish's lyrics that they did to the music, Marshall's lyrical style was a distinctive part of the Phish experience. Often Anastasio would pull lyrics for compositions from large notebooks of prose and poetry kept by Marshall, although the two have also directly collaborated on a number of songs. Anastasio himself is the next most prolific contributor of Phish lyrics, notably in the Gamehendge cycle. Both lyricists focused heavily on wordplay and musical language, with content taking a subordinate role to the sounds of the words and phrases. Therefore, many of the lyrics were open to interpretation, allowing fans to draw their own personal meaning from the lyrics. In essence, if a song lyric suddenly had deep meaning to the listener, it was by accident, which Phish fans insisted was part of the band's magic. Anastasio has mentioned that some Phish songs don't have a particular meaning to him personally until years later. This trend was gradually reversed beginning with Hoist and Billy Breathes. Many fans have noted that Phish's lyrics seemingly grew "deeper" and more meaningful as the artists themselves grew older and more seasoned.
Phish truly transcended genres, as evidenced by the sheer number and varying backgrounds of guests who took the stage with them over the years. In addition to Nelson, Santana and Jay-Z, Phish shared venues with, among many others, Jimmy Buffett, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, Wynonna Judd, Ken Kesey, Kid Rock, B.B. King, Alison Krauss, Phil Lesh, Dave Matthews, Del McCoury, Sarah McLachlan, Buddy Miles, Noel Redding, Ricky Skaggs, Son Seals, Bob Weir, and Neil Young.
Although studio albums don't paint an entirely accurate picture of the band's creative talent, the band released many. They recorded their debut album, The White Tape, in 1986, and began touring nationally soon after, playing 150 concerts in 1990 alone. They were signed to Elektra Records in 1991 and remained on the label for the duration of their studio career. All Phish albums feature the classic lineup of Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman, and Page McConnell.