DEC 1999 - "Achieving a Higher Consciousness: Support Groups & Sobriety in the Music Community" Jam Bands .COM

MAR 2009 - "Phish fans in a barrel" Post Star .COM

MAY 2009 - "The return of the Phish phenomenon" The Boston Globe

JUN 2009 - "Phalsehoods: Ryan Has a Phish to Fry" Hodge Blodge .COM

JUN 2009 - "Phish Tickets - History of Phish" New EzineArticles .COM

Achieving a Higher Consciousness:

Support Groups & Sobriety in the Music Community

December 1999

Music fans of every taste and disposition are aware of the connection with music and mind altering substances. From Willie Nelson's "Whiskey River" to the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," musicians have influenced their fans and each other with songs that describe the escape from reality that accompanies alcohol and drugs. For the average fan at a random concert, this usually involves blowing off a little steam and enjoying music with friends. In other cases, the event itself is a transforming experience. Events like the Acid Tests and Human Be-In in San Francisco more than 30 years ago wound music and music fans together in a way that has yet to be undone.

There is certainly no shame in cautious indulgence, as a bit of revelry can be soothing to the soul. Each and every person has their limits, though, and recognizing one's limits can be a tricky process. Anyone who has spent extensive time touring with bands or just following the music scene on an occasional basis has been confronted with decisions about chemicals and their bodies. Today, a substantial number of dedicated music fans have chosen sobriety and united in their cause. Several different communities of music fans have bonded together and made the public aware that anyone can still have a good time at a concert, regardless of his or her chemical intake. The Wharf Rats, the original substance-free support group of Grateful Dead fans, set a positive example that has been replicated by several other groups in the music community today.

Don Bryant was one of the original founders of the Wharf Rats group back in 1984. A recovering alcoholic who had been sober for seven years, Bryant was tempted by a package of free mushrooms that literally lay across in his path in the parking lot of a Dead show in Hampton, Virginia. His willpower and self-denial led to a spiritual epiphany that would culminate in the formation of the group shortly thereafter. A few other Dead fans had similar intentions, so the seeds had been planted.

After a few classified ads in fan magazines such as The Golden Road and Relix, Bryant was amazed at the number of fans who felt his group had something to offer. He recalls "Suddenly a deluge of letters appeared in our mailboxes from people who wanted to be included in our group, on our mailing list, and with us on tour." Interestingly enough, not every member came specifically from a background of substance abuse. "Overeaters, sex addicts, gamblers, and just plain old non-drug using Dead Fans who dug our vibe began to form our group and call themselves Wharf Rats." Soon the group grew from a few hundred that summer tour to thousands today who still have their own table set up at Further Fest and Phil and Friends shows. The Wharf Rats have various informal chapters on both east and west coasts that meet together on a weekly basis. The mission statement of the Wharf Rats states in no uncertain terms that they are present at concerts to "make ourselves available to anyone who feels we may have something they want. We offer support, strength, fellowship, and hope."

Two groups who share parallel experiences as the Wharf Rats, The Phellowship and The Gateway, echo similar sentiments. These two groups are made up of Phish and Widespread Panic fans respectively, and both make it clear that although they are open to anyone, they are not affiliated with any specific 12-step program or rehabilitation organization. Both groups held their first official meetings at past Halloween concerts, and both carry yellow or purple balloons to designate themselves at shows and in the lot. Common rituals of both groups involve meetings during setbreak for discussions and sometimes, even meditation. The Phellowship has even gotten a boost from the Phish's management, who allows them to set up a booth inside venues so they can be a more visible part of the community. Although a brief conversation with John Bell inspired Gateway co-founder Clay Dunbar to organize his group, they have yet to establish an official relationship with the band or their management.

Political sentiments notwithstanding, both groups make their mark on the music community not by what they what they do, but rather by what they don't do. A member of the Gateway we'll call "Brother E" states, "Our group is based on attraction rather than promotion. It's a common misconception about us that we somehow seek to evangelize and convert the masses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem was never the dope or booze for me, it was my inability to handle the stuff responsibly." Paige Clem, founder of the Phellowship, adds "I don't think we're role models because we don't do drugs or alcohol. It would be really easy to turn people off with what we do, but I feel like the passive approach we take makes us unique and more available to achieve our purpose." That purpose, of course, is to provide support for those that seek it out. Paige finds her group achieving its goals because "Fans in general are always stopping by for candy or setlists. We seem to have gotten it across that clean and sober people aren't boring and glum freaks. We are typical fans having a grand old time." Though many members of these groups are also involved with other projects in the community, from live taping to environmental activism, they all seem to agree that aggressively recruiting members or support would not deliver any long-term results.

Since so many people seem to find that music and drugs or alcohol are an inseparable part of the concert environment, it's refreshing to find that sober music fans have not lost any enjoyment within their own personal experiences. To hear many tell it, they truly appreciate the music more now that they are not wrapped up so deeply in the drug culture. One music fan and member of multiple support groups (we'll call her Sister A) shares this story: "This past summer I was at a festival seeing one of my favorite bands. I was so excited, especially because this was the first time I was seeing them since I had gotten clean and sober. A woman came up to me after the show and asked me if I was on Ecstasy during the concert. I told her, 'No, I don't do drugs.' She responded, 'very impressive.' I'm higher now than I was when I was [actually] getting high." Several other fans have echoed similar sentiments and some even feel that they would not have been able to remain a part of the live music scene if they didn't have support of others in the community.

At the end of the day, each individual is responsible for his or her own actions. This kind of freedom or independence is what makes the jamband music scene in America so unique. With great freedom comes great responsibility, and there are many paths through the parking lot that might lead anyone astray. Things like remembering the setlist from the previous night, not having to worry about run-ins with law enforcement, and finding your car in the lot after the show (not to mention being able to drive it home,) all take on new meaning for sober fans. After getting the opportunity to discuss these things with many of them, it has become obvious that the most important thing is still the power of the music itself. To borrow one last quote, a self-described "soberhead" said the only advice he would give to younger fans is to simply "Listen to the music play." Whether it is Jerry Garcia weaving a pretty solo during "Sugaree," Dave Schools dropping massive bass lines in "Stop-Go," or the four members of Phish collectively singing a moving version of "Silent in the Morning," nothing is capable of altering the senses like a live concert. For those that have strengthened their spirits and moved beyond the excesses of the maddening crowd, this realization is a reward in and of itself.

By Chip Schramm

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Phish fans in a barrel - Glenn Falls, NY

Friday, March 13, 2009

Phish kicked off its reunion last weekend in Hampton, Va. By all accounts, the parking lot was just as rife with activity as the inside of the arena. I'm sure the show was an amazing experience for fans who have been waiting five years for something like it to happen. The "d'oh!" moment comes by way of an MSNBC report published on the Monday following the gig. According to the news Web site, police in Hampton said they confiscated about $1.2 million in illegal drugs and more than $68,000 in cash from concertgoers. The boys in blue also arrested 194 Phish fans during the three-night celebration of the band's return to the stage. Most of the arrests were for drug possession, use and distribution, according to MSNBC.

Let me pose a dumb question. Why would you bring drugs to a Phish concert? Isn't it a little like bringing a pipe bomb into a police station? You've got to know that you're a sitting duck. The reason police raid Phish shows is because people consistently bring drugs to Phish shows. It's sort of similar to local police hanging around South Street after midnight. I'm pretty sure the tickets write themselves. I get that you're trying to enhance your experience, give the music some brighter colors and whatnot. I'll be honest, I don't really care whether or not you burn one on your own time. You're a grown up. Your consensual relationship with a plant is none of my business. But like it or not, until Ron Paul gets elected or the U.S. finally yields to the progressive wisdom of its neighbor to the north, you can still get pinched by the fuzz for sparking up. I think there's something ironic in lauding a band whose lead singer finally kicked the habit of drugs. I can't believe that fans who love the man so well as to make him the namesake of their children and pets would thumb their nose at his sobriety.

There is another side to the coin, though. A fan group that calls itself "Phellowship" celebrates the band with a clear head. In its mission statement on its Yahoo! Groups Web page, Phellowship offered; "The Phellowship is a group of Phish fans who choose to remain drug and alcohol free ... The Phellowship has absolutely no opinion on the issue of drugs and alcohol, and neither condemns or condones it. Our simple purpose is to provide 'phellowship,' support and information to those who seek the comfort and camaraderie of other clean and sober people at shows." That's cool. Doesn't even sound preachy. But hey, your body, your choice.

All I'm saying is that if you trek out to see Phish this summer, don't be the guy who thinks he won't get caught.

By CE Skidmore

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The return of the Phish phenomenon

The legendary jam band reunites, igniting fans who see themselves as much more - a community

The Boston Globe - Boston, MA

Tuesday, May 24, 2009

At 10 a.m. on Jan. 30, Live Nation opened its online box office for the highly anticipated summer tour of Phish, the four-piece Vermont-based rock outfit that reunited in March after a five-year hiatus. Within minutes, millions of requests flooded the site and every single seat for all 15 concerts had sold out. Less than 24 hours later, tickets to the band's May 31 kickoff show at Fenway Park were trading hands for as much as $1,600 a pop on Craigslist and StubHub. Just like that, the tribe of Phish heads had spoken.

Plenty of music lovers are fans. The Phish contingent, meanwhile, would be more aptly described as fanatics. They follow their band across the country and around the globe, seeing upward of 20 or 30 gigs in a row and meticulously dissecting set lists with friends and on online discussion boards. They collect dozens if not hundreds of bootlegged tapes of live concerts and can recite, from memory, the exact dates of their favorite performances.

And if you think that the fervor of Phish fandom has long since passed its peak, then you must have missed the group's trio of comeback concerts at Virginia's Hampton Coliseum in March. "When they took the stage that first night, the sheer jubilation and energy in the room took my breath away," says Jeremy Goodwin, a Swampscott native who has seen nearly 100 shows. "Anyone who was there would be hard pressed to name another time when they felt something - anything - remotely like that."

Such a level of obsession is remarkable given that Phish, which is headlining both Fenway Park next Sunday and the Comcast Center on June 6, doesn't have any major radio hits. Its members, who met at the University of Vermont in 1983, are goofy, geeky, overgrown college kids. Yet thanks to the group's moderately sized but immensely devoted fanbase, not to mention its vibrant live shows, Phish has sculpted a highly successful career that spans three decades and had Rolling Stone calling them "the most important band of the '90s."

The group's unique rise to fame has been shaped largely by positive word-of-mouth that extends back to its early days in Vermont. "It was a very grassroots effort," says East Boston resident Peter O'Keefe, who started listening in the late '80s. "Everybody knew someone who had a brother that would drive up to Burlington, tape a show, and bring it down."

The band's relaxed attitude toward taping has been integral to its success. Since long before Radiohead was experimenting with "pay what you want" pricing plans, or Lil Wayne was pushing out an endless stream of unofficial mixtapes, Phish has encouraged free and legal trading of its live shows - and the fan response has ranged from passionate to obsessive. "You build your Phish collection through what can only be described as field recording," says Goodwin, who was a major contributor to "The Phish Companion," a comprehensive reference book with more than a thousand set lists, reviews, and other tidbits of Phish lore. "You're trading tapes through the mail with people from all over the country who you may not have even met before."

In the early '90s, the tape-trading phenomenon was further intensified by the Usenet news group, a pre-Internet discussion board in which fans could trade information and recordings. "The Phish community has always been very plugged in," says Jonathan Schwartz, who serves as DJ of an all-Phish program on Sirius satellite radio. "These college kids had access to resources and were able to use the [Usenet] group as a tool to share music." In the early stages of Usenet, only three other artists were represented: the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.

Nowhere was the group's word-of-mouth ethos more clearly displayed than at Boston's own Paradise Rock Club. In 1989, Phish hadn't yet broken into markets outside of Burlington and was having particular difficulty catching the eye of Paradise management. On Jan. 26 of that year, the band rented out both the club and a bevy of school buses that it used to bring fans and friends down from Burlington. Within a matter of hours, there was a long line of Phish fans that stretched along Commonwealth Avenue. Needless to say, the group hasn't had a problem booking gigs in Beantown since.

To its credit, Phish makes concerted efforts to connect with its audience and break down the wall between band and fan. From golf-carting around the parking lot before shows to, more recently, sending out live Twitter updates of set lists, the band realizes its fans' central role in the trajectory of its career and has even hired fans for key positions behind the scenes in the group's management and marketing.

"They aren't just some disassociated rock stars," says Chelmsford native Jim Raras. "They are humble enough to realize that [the fandom] surrounding them is no small thing, and so they're definitely very cognizant of their fans' perspectives."

Of course, there'd be no Phish mania in the first place if people didn't like the tunes or the band's unwavering dedication to improvisation, spontaneity, and musical variety. Drawing from a well of more than 600 original compositions, Phish can go entire tours without repeating songs, and its dynamic potpourri of influences - ranging from funk and folk to bluegrass and jazz - creates an infinite number of musical possibilities during each performance. Unpredictability is the rule rather than the exception at shows, whether that means playing The Beatles's "White Album" from start to finish, switching instruments mid-song, or simply jamming all night long. (Literally: Phish's New Year's performance in the Everglades in 2000 started just before midnight and continued until dawn broke nearly eight hours later.)

Such epic and diverse concert experiences are what make Phish heads return to show after show and have helped establish a close-knit community. After the five-year hiatus, a show like Fenway is no longer just a way to pass the evening - it's a full-blown family reunion where you might reconnect with dozens of Phish pals. At the first Hampton show, Raras found himself surrounded by fellow fans he hadn't seen since the 2004 farewell show in Coventry, Vt. "The music is the No. 1 thing," he says, "but a close second is the opportunity to catch up with old friends."

Part of the Phish bonding stems from the pre-show "lot scene," borrowed from the Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street," in which concert parking lots become massive, festive flea markets overflowing with fans selling food, beer, art, jewelry, clothing, and more out of cars and picnic baskets. Maynard resident Chris Prinos, who has seen more than 125 shows, describes it as "Mardi Gras meets a flea market, on acid."

While we're on the topic of drugs, Phish heads want to clear something up: very few of them actually conform to the stereotype of the shaggy-haired stoner. Fan organizations run the gamut, including the substance-free "Phellowship", whose members travel the country together seeing shows sober, and the nonprofit Mockingbird Foundation, which has raised more than $750,000 for music education. With a core demographic more than a decade removed from college, today's fans are professionals of all stripes - lawyers and doctors, teachers and executives - who view their Phish fandom as just another aspect of their persona. "Some people go on fly-fishing trips," says Raras, who is chief operating officer of a solar-power company in Colorado. "We go on Phish trips."

For many Boston-area Phish fans, the Fenway show is a rather appropriate collision of two equally devoted demographics. "Both [Sox fans and Phish fans] are obsessive, type-A personalities that know everything about the history and players involved," says Prinos. "They don't do anything at half-speed - they start at a six, and then turn it up to 11."

By Adam Conner-Simons Globe Correspondent

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Phalsehoods: Ryan Has a Phish to Fry

Friday June 26, 2009

I am a phan of Phish (yes their fans really do spell it with a ph.) If you have an older brother or are from Vermont you’ve probably heard of them. They are often compared to the Grateful Dead- both for their touring and their drug culture. And like the Dead they remain on the fringe of mainstream culture. They are in that weird place where Rolling Stone will do a cover piece on them every few years and then ignore them the rest of the time. It’s this periphery of pop-culture that allows most people to have heard “of” Phish without really knowing much. But one month from now their twelfth studio album will be released- which they will promote by, you guessed it, touring. So I thought now might be a good time to fill in the grey areas for you about the biggest band you don’t know much about.

In the summer of 2003 some friends and I followed them on tour during their west coast swing. They played Vegas twice, Phoenix twice, San Diego, Mountain View twice- and for each of these shows we stayed in local hotels (except for San Diego when I slept in my own bed)- suffice it to say this was the yuppie way to follow them. But it was the two shows after Mountain View that set the experience apart. The final location on the west coast leg was in George, Washington (I’m not making that up) at a place called The Gorge. To call this place scenic would be a gross understatement. The stage is set on top of a cliff with a river running behind it and views of the valleys all around. So it was there that we decided we were going to have the phull experience. We camped out with the rest of the phans and went to both shows there. It was this full emersion that allows me to poke some holes in the lore that surrounds the band.

1) That they are a hippie band

The typical Phish Phan is assumed to be a dreadlocked stoner who in between games of ultimate Frisbee goes out and follows Phish around while selling his homemade tie-dyed shirts. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is there along with 10,000 of his closest friends. They are usually named Sunshine and they bring their dog with them (usually a collie-mutt). But I just want to clarify- they are not the most important people of the tour. The outsider is. Usually mid-20s, usually frat-ish, and always white, the one-and-dones are the reason the hippies get to keep going. Before, during, and after every show there is a constant capitalist hum. From grilled cheeses and beer to those tie-dyes, every hippie must make some sales in order to afford to keep going. Amongst each other they can trade a shirt for a mixtape for a meal but the gas station doesn’t take a homemade necklace and neither does Ticketmaster. Eventually they need cash and sales to those one show-ers are their only means of it. If only the usuals showed up, no new money would ever come in and everybody would go broke within two weeks. Those outsiders are the tourists and the Phans are the locals just trying to make a living- but there’s one thing that sells more than anything else…

2) The Drug Culture

Everyone assumes that everyone at Phish shows is high, and for the most part that is absolutely true. Phish message boards talk about which venues are “cool” (read: no security), and those that aren’t cool usually aren’t on the next tour (note: Irvine Meadows=“not cool”.) Of course by now any venue that books Phish knows what they are getting but it was those two days at the Gorge that opened my eyes. “Nuggets”, “E”, “Acid.” As you walk through the impromptu flea market at every show, certain vendors are constantly moving while yelling out what they’ve got like it was a ballpark hotdog. Spend enough time on tour, you do begin to realize how much free time there is when it’s 20 hours between shows and you have no TV- getting high and playing the bongo drums are the only leisure options. The surprise shouldn’t be that the one-show frat-boys are buying every drug in sight, the surprise should be that even the people there night-after-night still have the stamina and desire. (Note: some will point to the Phellowship, a group that only sees Phish sober, as proof that the shows aren’t as druggy as everyone says. The fact that there needs to be a group to distinguish the sober-people should tell you all you need to know.)

3) They are one big happy Phamily

Frankly this is the reason that I am writing this. Like a child who grows up and realizes his parents’ marriage wasn’t as strong as he thought it was, I am still quite bitter. In the wake of another reunion there will be more stories about how much these guys like playing with each other. Don’t believe ‘em. Love the band. Love the music. Love the atmosphere. But don’t for one second believe that this is a perfect happy marriage of four guys that just love to jam. Trey Anastasio, the lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter, is very much Russell from Almost Famous- the talent who’s a little too self-involved, but stays with the band long after he should because of guilt or loyalty or whatever. Phish took a “hiatus” in 2000 because Trey finally wanted to do something else, a few years later they got back together, and then a few years after that they broke up- before now of course reuniting again. In addition to his own eponymous side project, Trey also formed Oysterhead with Les Claypool of Primus and Stewart Copeland of the Police. One of the first interviews he did with Oysterhead they were asked what they viewed the band as (side project or something bigger), Copeland spoke of it as a fun “summer vacation” while Anastasio spoke of big stadium shows- clearly Trey wanted the big time and Phish wasn’t delivering it. Neither did Oysterhead for that matter. Eventually he got on with Dave Matthews for a few years, which I guess provided both the album and the “big stadium shows” that he was craving. But now he’s back with Phish, like a guy having a midlife crisis hooking up with something younger, hotter; before going back to the old ball-and-chain.

Many of the people on tour talk about following Phish like they just joined the circus. They talk about eventually having to go “back to the real world.” These types would rather listen to a scratchy bootleg of a live show than any of Phish’s studio produced albums; there’s a romanticism of the road-life that’s straight out of Kerouac. And maybe it’s just because it’s been so long since I’ve been out there with them, maybe my iPod has just started selling me on their studio work, maybe I’m just more clear-headed now than I was when I was out there too, but there’s something hollow about it now. Listening to their albums, not the jams, but the clean, well-paced studio work, it becomes clear to me that these guys actually are immensely talented. Maybe the road, the tour, the drugs, are more a distraction than they let on. After all even the Beatles decided they would forgo the touring, and the money that comes with it, in order to just make music. Phish separated then got back together, divorced then reconciled, and now maybe they should seriously talk about settling down. This is a band that more people should know about- if only the actual band themselves could just phocus.

By Ryan - HodgeBlodge Phisherman

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Phish Tickets - History of Phish

Wednesday June 10, 2009

Despite their history of anti-climactic breakups and member changes, Phish is known for being one of the top grossing live bands to date. In fact, they are so noted for their performances that fans often stood in line for days in order to get their hands on available Phish tickets. Whether or not it was the fans themselves, their live performances often revolved around extended jam sessions, changing of their original set lists, and their jovial conversation between each other and with the fans.

The fan culture was the driving force that kept Phish together off and on for over twenty years. In fact, fans would often arrive hours before the actual shows because of the overall experience that Phish provided. Going to a Phish concert was an experience like none other, and you can have that same experience if you go online to get Phish tickets. But for those few that went to their 2004 Coventry concert, the legendary final performance before (temporarily) disbanding, it as an unforgettable one.

The show itself is deemed as being unforgettable, but throwing in the final moments when Page McConnell broke down crying during the ballad of "Wading in the Velvet Sea." Also worth mentioning about this show, was the fact that 100,000 people were expected to make it. However, with just over 20,000 people already at the venue, there were rumors of the stage beginning to slip. Having to turn people away, they still managed to get 65,000 people to show up on foot.

Despite the anti-climactic history and the occasional portrayal of emotion, Phish easily maintains a solid fan following. While on tour, they are known to sell food and other home goods, which also attribute to the success of the band, in addition to helping the fan base to grow. Their followers are often referred to phans, phriends, phamily, Phishheads, much like Grateful Dead fans and the nickname Deadheads.

After a long hiatus, both Phish and "phans" will be reunited for a summer tour, being held in various locations throughout the United States. While it is unknown how long they will remain after the tour, they are expected to release a new album midway through the tour. Several of the songs will be featured in their set lists, whether or not they adhere to their planned list.

In addition to attending in droves at the various Phish concerts, fans of the band have also formed various fan organizations, creating smaller communities. There were often a wide range of groups that were established, like "the Phellowship," a group of recovering alcoholics that attended the shows sober or the People for a Louder Mike, which formed in hopes of campaigning to get Mike, the bassist, more playing time.

From their beginning at the University of Vermont, Phish fans have always stood behind the band, giving them the motivation to entertain and to make each performance a unique one. While their music is well known and often listened to, they are most noted for being the band with dedicated and enthusiastic fans. And because of this, they are able to reach out to the many different demographics and to bring out the fan in all.

By Brent Warnken

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