Presentation Abstracts

Friday, May 17

1:30pm-3:00pm: Concurring Panels (90 MIN)

Session 1a: “Shiny Music That Descends from Overhead” – Musicology 1

  • Julie Viscardi-Smalley, “‘Like a Ship That’s Run Aground’: Pedal Point and Drone in the Music of Phish”

The music of American improvisational rock band Phish abounds with the use of pedal point and drone as compositional techniques. Pedal point is often considered a held note (or consistently utilized note) that occurs while additional musical criteria is played (Walker, 2001). Similarly, drone refers to a lengthy held pitch, but quite often held on the tonic or 5th degree of the scale in use (Baines, 2001). Historically, Western classical music tradition traces the use of pedal point to its use in Baroque and Classical-era organ music, but pedal point has occurred across time and cultures, and has quite often been utilized in popular music composition (see Biamonte, 2010; De Clerco, 2019; Koss, 2011; Nobile, 2015; Stephenson, 2002; Temperley, 2007). Through the analysis of two improvised “jams” by Phish (“You Enjoy Myself” from December 1, 2003, Albany, NY and “Piper” from June 19, 2004, Saratoga Springs, NY, otherwise known as the “SPAC Piper”), the use of pedal point and drone within the context of a “Phish jam” will be explored. This research is aimed to contribute not only to a growing body of research related to the music of Phish, but also to research in the disciplines of popular music analysis.


Baines, A.C. (2001). Drone. Grove Music Online.

Biamonte, N. (2010). Triadic modal and pentatonic patterns in rock music. Music Theory

Spectrum 32(2), pp. 95-110. De Clerco, T. (2019). The harmonic-bass divorce in rock. Music Theory Spectrum 41(2), pp. 271-284.

Koss, M.P. (2011). From prog to pop: Progressive rock elements in the pop-rock music of Genesis 1978-1991. The University of Arizona University Libraries.

Nobile, D.F. (2015). Counterpoint in rock music: Unpacking the ‘melodic-harmonic divorce. Music Theory Spectrum, 37(2), pp. 189-203.

Stephenson, K. (2002). What to listen for in rock music. Yale University Press. Temperley, D. (2007). The melodic-harmonic divorce. Popular Music 26(2): pp. 323-342.

Walker, P. M. (2001). Pedal point. Grove Music Online.

  • Blake Emidy, “What Does it Mean to be ‘Completely Free?’ Environmental Constraints as Musical Inspiration During a Phish Show”

We often think of Phish as a band whose collective creativity is boundless. The band is seemingly given carte blanche during each show to perform whichever songs they’d like, with no discernible limits on song length or how far they stray from the song’s original structure. However, this perspective ignores several heavy demands the band must acknowledge during each performance. What blend of new and classic tunes is acceptable to the fans? Will the band be fined for playing too long into the night? Which key can they transition to out of the normal Tweezer jam without it sounding too jarring? As much as Phish may try to emulate a certain weasel named Fee, it is not simply not possible for the band to play a show that is “completely free.” But is this a bad thing? Or is the band made better by the environmental constraints that surround the context of each show?

This paper extends two theoretical underpinnings of Organization Theory to better understand Phish’s group-level improvisation. First, I utilize the construct of “environmental constraints” (Pfeffer & Salancik, 2003) to reconceptualize our ideas of freedom in the band’s improvisation. One might think that a band with virtually no limitations on song length or exploration is free of constraints – but Phish actually performs under intense musical, temporal, and normative constraints during each show. Many view constraints as a hindrance on creativity (and they often are), though I argue that these various constraints are necessary in molding the creative, inspirational elements of Phish’s improvisation. 

Building on this, I revisit Herbert Simon’s ideas on bounded rationality and decision-making (1957) to understand how constraints such as musical key, setlist construction, set length, and audience expectations inform the band’s improvisational choices and experimentation. I also propose an alternative term for Simon’s concept of “docility” (the process of using habit, memory, experience, and external information to aid in effective decision-making). Simon often confessed his dissatisfaction with the word, but could not decide on a better term (McMillan, 2016; Simon, 1993). I propose, however, that our Phan community would recognize this concept using a much more colloquial term: jamming.


McMillan, C. J. (2016). On docility: a research note on Herbert Simon’s social learning theory. Journal of Management History, 22(1), 91-114. 

Pfeffer, J., & Salancik, G. R. (2003). The external control of organizations: A resource dependence perspective. Stanford University Press. 

Simon, H. A. (1957). Administrative behavior: A study of decision-making processes in administrative organization. Macmillan. 

Simon, H. A. (1993). Altruism and Economics. The American Economic Review, 83(2), 156-161. 

  • Rob Collier, “Imitating or Counterpointing: Listening to Phish through Mike Gordon’s Bass Lines”

In a largely off-the-cuff conversation as part of his “What are you doing?” video series on Instagram, Trey Anastasio asked Mike Gordon to talk about the band’s improvisational style. Gordon began his response by saying members of the band “might be imitating each other” or they “might be counterpointing each other.” He then briefly tried to think of a third category, but quickly gave up, summarizing the remaining possibilities as “all varieties of that from same to different.” In the broadest sense, it is likely that those are the only two options: playing the same thing as each other (imitating) or playing different things (counterpointing). 

Much of the band’s improvisational style is based on tension and release. Using Gordon’s terms, counterpointing–playing contrasting things melodically, harmonically, or rhythmically–often results in an increase of musical tension. Imitating–playing the same thing, or rather, being in musical agreement–often releases tension. Gordon participates in this in a number of ways. When “counterpointing,” he may play syncopated rhythms, avoid the downbeat, avoid the root of the chord, or deny a harmonic progression suggested by another member of the band. When playing in musical agreement with the rest of the band, he will likely play the root of the chord on the downbeat and play rhythms that are complementary to the meter and groove. 

In this paper, I will examine Gordon’s approach to Phish’s shared improvisational language, first by identifying and defining some of his common methods for building and releasing tension, and then by providing specific examples of these methods as they occur in jams. My goal is to clarify Mike’s role in improvisational jams, build on the work done by others in the realm of Phish jam analysis, and provide a foundation for further study of Gordon’s approach to improvised rock bass playing. 

Session 1b: “This Isn’t Who It Would Be If It Wasn’t Who It Is” – Identities and Phish

  • Adelina Cooper, “‘She Whispered Words and I Awoke’: Navigating Trans Fan Identities in the Phish Community”

This research looks at the intersection of identity and subculture membership among transgender fans in the Phish community. Through interviews, it explores how being part of this subculture affects their sense of self. Using a narrative approach, it dives deep into their experiences and how they negotiate their identities within the fan community. The study explores how different aspects of identity intersect for trans fans. Preliminary findings show the diverse ways in which they navigate their identities within fan spaces, highlighting the importance of fandom in shaping how they see themselves. This presentation will discuss the implications of these findings for further discussions on gender, identity, and subcultures, showing how fan communities can empower and create a sense of belonging for trans individuals.

  • Chaone Mallory, “Gender(ed) Expression(s) and Gendered Experiences in the Jam Band Scene through Online Discourse Communities: Phish Chicks and Deadhead Women+United”

What happens when women, trans, and non-binary persons create their own spaces to relate with one another and share experiences, and what unique aspects of gender relations are revealed when those persons identify as aficionados and followers of Phish and/or The Grateful Dead?  How does one of the primary methods for creating discourse communities in the 21st Century—online communities on the internet–present interesting opportunities to explore how gender and gender expectations and expressions operate in the context of the jam band scene?  How also was online space crucial in helping women, trans, and non-binary persons form community and stay connected during the pandemic, when life was largely lived on-line? How did these fan bases become even stronger in the face of global calamity? Specifically, what do Deadhead Women+United and Phish Chicks—the two major online Facebook groups for female, trans, and non-binary Heads–have in common, and where might there be differences in their experiences and concerns as female, trans, and non-binary dedicated followers of Phish or/and the Grateful Dead? By drawing on my own participant-observer perspectives as a gender studies scholar, long-time Deadhead, 1.0 Phan, and user of the internet, this presentation explores the intersection of the specific popular phenomena of Phish, the Grateful Dead, and the internet. Here I draw on the knowledges gained from 1960s and 70s US feminisms from the critical practice of consciousness-raising to explore how women-only online groups and spaces are allowing for liberatory reconfigurings of what counts as “band-related.” In so doing, I draw upon the philosophical insights of ecofeminist theorist Val Plumwood regarding her uptake of Habermas’s notion of a discourse community to explore who and what can be an interlocutor in the spaces of the polis, such as live, improvisitory music. I will also discuss the work of Denise Goldman’s early (2020) work in articulating the value of such communities in helping women, trans, and non-binary folks to “groove safe.

  • Christina Allaback, “‘Have You Seen His Striped Stockings?’ Identity Construction and Performance Through Material Culture”

Phish fans create and perform their identities as Phish fans in many ways at shows and to the outside community. How do Phish fans perform for each other and communicate their being a fan? When at shows, is there a way to communicate their level of “fanness?” Are you a real fan or a “wook?” In this paper, through identity formation and post-subculture theories, I will be showing how Phish fans construct their identity and use material culture to perform it and how along with this identity, come a wide variety of assumptions, some negative and some positive.

The expression of identity is the performance of a self. The self is a process constructed by others around the self and by the self, according to social psychologist Elliot Arnonson. This process in which the self is created is what Richard Jenkins calls the internal-external dialectic of identification. The first part of this theory deals with identity being created internally by the self. When a person becomes a Phish fan, they identify with the group that makes up Phish fans. This group is made up of different types of people who enjoy the music of this band and have created their identity internally by choosing to become part of this group. Externally, they perform the identity of Phish fan to those around them. 

Fans use sign equipment (their material culture) as codes to perform an identity as a Phish fan. These codes are what performers give off and what cues their identity for others to interpret. There are many signs that Phish fans give off as signals to other Phish fans as a way of being ‘in the know,’ or signs that are given to Phish fans from other performers that signify they are not ‘in the know,’ or even a ‘wook.’ A signal that performs the identity of ‘Phish fan’ is often clothing and material culture, especially outside of shows. Adorning parody shirts, buttons, donuts, and a wide variety of other referential Phish related memorabilia; fans passively aggressively perform their subcultural affiliation.

Saturday, May 18

9:00am-10:30am: Concurring Panels (90 MIN)

Session 2a: “Too Busy to See Two Versions of Me” – Online/Offline World of Phish

  • Jason Jarvis, “Phan Tech: The Digital Media History of Phish”

The early 90s jam-band scene was raucous and lively.  The success of the HORDE Tour demonstrated the vibrancy of a newly thriving jam-band community that had begun to transcend the legacies of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead. From that milieu, one band emerged above all of the others: Phish. This essay methodologically deploys the political economy of the media to assess Phish’s past and present success in utilizing the tools of digital media. My analysis contends that Phish is the first digital jam-band. From Usenet Groups (, to social media, to the current Live Phish platform, Phish effectively uses a range of digital media to create a thoroughly technologized version of the Grateful Dead’s grassroots relationship with its fans.  Moreover, the band has shown an ability to nimbly adapt to new tools and harness them to sustain the loyalty of its fan base while also attracting new generations of fans as the decades pass.

  • Devan Rosen, “‘Together We Ascend’: The Phish Community as the Pioneer Online-Offline Community”

Developments in new media have transformed the relationship that individuals have with their social networks and larger communities. The mediation of these relationships using digital media and online communities has revealed a myriad of novel forms of information and resource exchange, and has catalyzed the access to resources that lie beyond a typical social support network (i.e. one’s geographically accessible social network). Information and communication technologies have combined new ways of accessing information and relational contacts with communities of practice to create socio-technical networks that are transactive, portable, and free from geo-spatial limitations. Phish’s online community, (initially, and the growth of the Phish community was one of the initial, and most successful hybrid online/offline communities. The community in this case study generated trust, sense of belonging to a community, and facilitated face-to-face encounters with great success. Previously published research in this vain looking at, a hybrid online/offline community where several million members from around the world locate accommodations and interactions for cultural exchange while traveling by staying in the homes of other members. One of the findings from that research pointed to the importance of offline meetings to generating community engagement and a sense of belonging (Rosen, Lafontaine, Hendrickson, 2011). The Phish community represents the quintessential evolution of humans and technology from a community standpoint. Online/offline communities, such as the one that surrounded the musical group Phish, extends previous models of online communities in that it was a system that specifically allows people to locate, negotiate, and establish new social network ties in any geographic location, opposed to existing ties in a finite cache of locations. Further, individuals used these new ties, and subsequent weak ties that each new tie exponentially reveals, as community capital when establishing trust with other new ties in new locations, and thus is self-recursive. It is in this sense that the decentralized social network utilized communicative affordances (e.g. threaded discussions on discussion boards) to establish agency and social accessibility, but not bounded by the geographic reach of existing social ties, a difference with novel sociological and communicative implications. The implications here can be seen as a version of McLuhan’s global village concept, except that instead of contemporary reworking, that one’s village can span the globe, that geographically distributed people actually have the ability to become a village, given the necessary socio-technical tools and communication technologies to coordinate and cooperate. Using the socio-technical affordances provided by Usenet and the online community, fans were able to locate physical resources in the form of taped copies of live performances, and use the online discussion boards as a way of negotiating resource exchange. The size and success of this decentralized self-organizing system, with several hundred thousand members, represents one of the earliest successful decentralized online resource based communities of this size and scope, resulting in the massive success of a band that had no other form of promotion or mass communication. It was a bottom-up building of success, the initial grass-roots online community. 

  • Denise Goldman, “‘Softly Sing Sweet Songs’: Phish Pedagogy and the Value of Exploring Multimodal Genres in Phish Fan Groups

This study builds upon ethnographic research conducted in 2019, which investigated the communicative patterns of female fans within the “Phish Chicks” Facebook fan page and explored how the genres formed therein facilitated stronger connections to both the band and fellow members. Subsequently, this research methodology has been integrated into First Year Writing courses at Long Island University, where students analyze various online discourse communities to understand the formation of genres and their implications for literacy development. The current research extends this inquiry by examining how participation in discourse communities contributes to genre awareness and writing transfer, essential skills in English education. The study contends that the multimodal genres emerging within the Phish community serve as valuable texts for students to analyze in their comprehension of context and composition practices. To support this argument, the paper first synthesizes recent theoretical frameworks related to genre awareness, writing transfer, multimodal composition, and online discourse communities. Subsequently, it presents examples of a prominent genre within the Phish community, “Crowd Control” on Phish Radio, to illustrate how the skills employed in understanding and composing within this genre can enhance genre awareness and facilitate writing transfer. Through this investigation, the study underscores the pedagogical significance of engaging students in the analysis of diverse discourse communities to foster critical literacy skills essential for effective communication in contemporary contexts.

Session 2b: “I’m Leaving You a Message” – Literary Analysis 1

  • John Michael DiResta, “‘It Will All Feel New’: Structural Evolutions in the Dramatic Arcs of Phish”

The influence of musical theater composers like Bernstein and Porter on Trey Anastasio has been well documented. Less attention has been paid to the trajectory of theatrical storytelling modalities in Phish’s narratives. In this paper, I argue that the arcs of development of both Trey and Mike’s lyrical storytelling can be tracked as a transition from the ancient Greek dramatic structure of Aristotle’s Poetics to a recent embrace of the German Modernist theater of Bertolt Brecht. I argue that the seeds of this transition were first planted in the 80s in Vermont at Peter Shumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater. I conclude by demonstrating how this transition culminated on 4/22/22 with Phish’s Earth Day aquarium set.

“Aristotelian Form” is the traditional arc of a linear play within Western drama. It begins with a status-quo, which is interrupted by an inciting incident, which develops into a rising action, followed by a climax, and concluding with the establishment of a new stasis. This structure is found in several of Trey’s early writings, from the narrative arc of Gamehendge to the tragic journey of Esther. We also find Aristotelian structure in Mike songs like Destiny Unbound and Scent of a Mule. 

Early 20th century playwright and director Bertolt Brecht rejected Aristotelian forms. Brecht wanted the audience to  remember, not forget, that they were watching a play. He demanded the abandonment of linear storytelling and catharsis. His plays revealed the machinery and artifice of the theater. We see this approach to storytelling manifested in Phish’s three original 3.0 musical costumes: Thrilling Chilling…, Kasvot Vaxt, and Sci-Fi Soldier. Also, Brecht’s’ insistence that drama should teach, not depict, manifests in the rise of recent Trey song titles that are direct instructions, like Set Your Soul FreeRise/Come Together and Drift While You’re Sleeping. 

The transition of Phish’s dramatic structures from Aristotelian to Brechtian was catalyzed by the impact of Peter Shumann’s Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater. Schumann has staged gigantic pageant plays throughout Vermont since the 1970s. Bread and Puppet makes public theater that echoes Brecht’s political, educative approach. Schumann expands Brecht’s epic theater by staging outdoor plays with oversized puppets on parade. The members of Phish, as well as much of their team, attended numerous Bread and Puppet shows while living in Vermont, and much of the ethos of Phish Festivals (and the festival circuit they inspired) can be traced to Bread and Puppet Theater.       

Phish’s 4/22/22 Earth Day concert at Madison Square garden epitomizes the transition from Aristotelian to Brechtian forms via the catalyst of Peter Schumann. Using enormous puppets (in the form of drone-powered whales and dolphins), Phish turned Madison Square Garden into a gigantic aquarium on Earth Day. The pageant, bolstered by the lyrics of songs like A Wave of Hope and Sand, rejected the Aristotelian narratives found in Gamehendge and other early Phish. Instead, Earth Day Phish achieved Brecht’s epic theater goals – in this case, teaching the audience about climate change – by employing the meta-theatricality of Bread and Puppet Theater.  

  • Hunter Phillips, “Reading the Helping Friendly Book: Phish Performance as Literature”

Is it possible to read a Phish performance as a piece of literature? Taking as its starting point the ways in which Phish performances have been described as “stories” more than songs, replete with both narrative force and lyric embellishment, this paper will consider how all the elements of a Phish concert—the melodies, extended jams, light show, lyrics, band-audience interaction, and more—work in much the same way as poetry and sublime literature. While Phish and the “Jam Band” scene have historically pushed the boundaries of musicality and music theory, thinking about Phish performances like this also has consequences for literary theory, which has traditionally separated formal categories such as the lyric and the narrative. Phish songs often have stories to tell, most especially the songs of the Gamehendge saga, but they also contain traditional lyric elements in the use of rhyme and rhetorical puns that create songs such as “Simple” or “NICU,” where the effect of the song is achieved through poetics rather than a cohesive narrative. This project will engage as well with the lyric and narrative effects of the improvised jams. Fans often speak of jams“going somewhere” whether it’s the blissful peak of “Harry Hood” or the dark abyss of a “Carini” jam; this speaks to our shared perception that even the instrumental improvisation that makes Phish famous contains some elements of traditional storytelling as songs build, rise, fall, and surprise. Critically, this paper will consider the “lyric” sensations of Phish jams, whether it’s the unnamed feelings and intuitions that impinge upon us as we listen or the bands propensity to transition seamlessly from one song into the next, recourse back into songs from earlier in the show, or contain teases and riffs from their own catalog and beyond, resembling how “lyrical” forms often achieve their effects through emotional resonances and interactions with other pieces of art. Thinking about the live Phish experience in these literary terms helps us connect scholarship on the band to conversations of form happening in other disciplines. Finally, this paper will conclude with the philosophical implications of this conversation, examining how Phish’s blend of lyric and narrative aptly represents how our storied lives become disrupted, challenged, and colored by our emotional, recursive and non-linear selves.

  • Kristine Warrenburg Rome, “Phish’s Everlasting Spoof: Suspense, Stage Antics, Gags, Humor & Wit”

“What is the central theme to this everlasting spoof?” Phish phenomenology, concurrently rhetorical, philosophical, and ethical in interpretation, offers a method of study to explore the lived experience of Phish comedic suspense. Phish has a long history of humor and wit and such funniness can be routinely found in their stage antics, gags, and stunts; paradoxically, “amidst the peals of laughter” are the sometimes nonsensical, peculiar, lyrics. This paper will explore the textual layers of meaning constitutive of Phish atopos (out-of-place) performance art especially those moments when “you laugh and laughing, fall apart.” Trampolines and glider things, dry ice, chess, and a vacuum cleaner; rollerblades, beach balls, musical costumes, and guest artist appearances. A secret language, secret surprise sets, musical mashups, and New Years Eve stunts and shenanigans. Phish has no shortage of jokes, hoax, farce, and/or tricks and they are well known to take the comedy to new experiential levels for fans in the immediate lived experience, in the immediate screened experience, and/or for those who will catch it on the replay (which provides opportunity to reflect on the paradox of suspense in which uncertainty becomes a questionable condition for one to feel the emotion of suspense). Being in the know is a condition for participation in the gag. The problem becomes a loss of impact in atopian moments and ultimately the demise of obsessing over the unpredictable. George Campbell (1851) provides a framework concerned with, “Of wit, humour, and ridicule” to be used in analyzing the comedic suspense of Phish and their atopic performance art. This paper, alongside Campbell (1851), contends that “…wit diverts…tickles the fancy, and throws the spirits into an agreeable vibration.”


1 Halley’s Comet, lyrics by Richard Wright (a.k.a. “Nancy”) and originally performed by Phish on 5/17/1986; for more information see

2 Amidst the Peals of Laughter, lyrics by Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall and originally performed by Phish on 12/31/2013; for more information see

3 This idea was first presented at the inaugural Phish Studies Conference; see Kristine Warrenburg Rome, “Unpredicatable Phamiliarity: Atopy Performance Art and the Fourth Persona ” presented at the Phish Studies Conference (Oregon State University, 2019).; Reeves, Joshua (2013). “Suspended Identification: Atopos and the Work of Public Memory,” in Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 306-327;  Yves Millet, “Atopia and Aesthetics: A Modal Perspective,” trans. By Kari Stunell in Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 11, July 2, 2013.

4 Sparkle, lyrics by Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall and originally performed by Phish on 09/25/1991; for more information see

5 See

6 Christy Mag Uidhir, “The Paradox of Suspense Realism,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69:2 Spring 2011.

7 Campbell, George (1851). The Philosophy of Rhetoric, NY: Harper and Brothers.

10:45am-12:45pm: Concurring Panels (120 MIN)

Session 3a: “Now It’s Starting to Feel Good!” – Music, Health, and Creativity

  • David Rosen, “The Role of Autobiographically-Salient Music in Psychedelic Experiences”

Phish is one of the most acclaimed and long-standing psychedelic rock bands. For many Phish fans, their music, improvisation, lights, and visual aesthetic coalesce into an ideal ‘setting’ for the psychedelic experience. While Phish’s music and freeform jamming can lead to an expansive mindset and state of consciousness, it is unknown the degree to which these effects are elicited from the music (the stimulus) compared to the role of personally relevant, autobiographically salient memories compiled over years of being a fan. In a naturalistic setting, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the role of autobiographically salient memories, band knowledge, and context from the music itself.

For example, on December 31, 2023, Phish performed ‘Gamehenge’, the long-awaited concept album and thesis of guitarist Trey Anastasio, which was played for the first time in 30 years. For this researcher and phan, the show served as a peak music experience, as I had been waiting 238 shows for a full Gamehenge. Additionally, Phish’s ‘Gamehenge’ and other rock concept albums had been formative in my own music and creative endeavors, as a co-creator of a science-fiction, transmedia, rock band with my best friends. Clearly for this fan and many others high levels of personally relevant, autobiographically salient memories impacted this momentous and emotion-evoking historical and psychedelic performance.

Set (one’s mindset and expectations) and setting (one’s environment), are well- established to be central to the subjective phenomenology of the psychedelic experience. In most clinical psychedelic-assisted therapy (PAT) paradigms, music is a primary element of setting, as participants lay supine on a couch blindfolded with headphones. Although music is to be an essential part of PAT, music in these sessions use standardized playlists that are not personalized to patients’ listening preferences and background. There have been no large empirical studies investigating the impact of autobiographically salient, personally relevant music compared to standardized playlists and other types of music.

In this research, we will investigate the role of music in psychedelics and PAT with high dose psilocybin. We hypothesize that individually tuned playlists will lead to higher levels of acute psychological insight, altered states of consciousness, mysticism, flow, and emotional intensity and lower levels of long-term anxiety, depression, and negative affect. Furthermore, we anticipate distinct electrophysiological and physiological correlates associated with the autobiographically salient condition. For each participant, using their input, we will generate autobiographically salient playlists and compare survey, EEG, and physiological data between music conditions, including nature, sounds, world music, psychedelic classic rock, ambient electronica, and two JHU standardized playlists. The primary objective of this study is to better understand how and if autobiographically salient music alters the subjective psychedelic experience and various outcome measures compared to other types of music.

  • Radha Lewis, “The Healing Power of Music in Community: Music Therapy Among Female Phish Fans with Cancer”

Music therapy as a treatment modality for cancer patients has been widely adopted over the last few decades. A substantive body of evidence has shown that music therapy is clinically effective as a therapeutic tool with measurable benefits for mood only when provided by a trained and licensed therapist. It must additionally include the presence of a clear therapeutic process that is personally tailored to each individual’s needs. Only under these circumstances has there been quantifiable improvement in the areas of anxiety and depression among cancer patients.  This contrasts with both “music medicine”, in which prerecorded music is offered by medical personnel, or listening to music in small groups or on one’s own after instruction. In these instances, research has not shown measurable therapeutic benefit to study participants.

For the last five years there has been an online group of women Phish fans navigating their cancer diagnoses and treatments in community. Through interviews with members of this group and sharing my own experience as both a cancer survivor and a holistic medical doctor, I will describe the therapeutic role that the music of Phish and being a part of a group based around this music has played for myself and other across profound illness experiences. 

I argue that among Phish fans with cancer, clinically relevant “music therapy” has a definition which includes healing experiences that are brought about by listening to and interacting with the music as an individual at-home, by attending concerts, and by participation in a group brought together through both a shared love of this music and an unasked-for and unexpected life experience. In this community, healing through music occurs in ways that do not require a trained therapist or a planned, personalized, and overtly structured psychotherapeutic interaction. Drawing upon individual interviews and my own experience, I will describe several examples of subjective improvement in mood, quality of life, and capacity to handle adverse life experiences related to a cancer diagnosis, treatment and post-treatment experience among female Phish fans. I argue that this is at least equivalent to formal music therapy and suggest that further research is needed to justify expanding the definition of measurably effective music therapy to incorporate the healing power of a supportive musical community. 


American Music Therapy Association. What Is Music Therapy?

Binns-Turner PG, Wilson LL, Pryor ER, Boyd GL, Prickett CA. Perioperative music and its effects on anxiety, hemodynamics, and pain in women undergoing mastectomy. AANA Journal. 2011; 79(4 suppl): S21-S27.

Bradt J, Dileo C, Myers-Coffman K, Biondo J. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in people with cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021;10:CD006911.

  • Chris Prince, “‘Get Out of the Way’ Phree Writing to Improve Expression in Developing Writers”

The practices of free writing, composing with a set time and constant, unfiltered recording of thought, and focused writing, free writing with a guiding question, have been implemented as writing tools for a while now. The benefits of these practices are well documented and proven methods to increase fluency and creative output. However, during the typically silent and daunting process, developing writers that struggle the most often get stuck in their own minds, hesitate, and miss out on these benefits.

Phish’s extended improvisational compositions can serve as models of uninhibited creative expression and, if listened to while writing, can ease the intimidating isolation of the free writing process while inspiring thoughtful, creative, and courageous expression. As Trey Anastasio once quipped when asked for the band’s secret to success in improvisational creative moments, “the best thing you can do is get out of the way.”

In my First Year Composition Courses at Kennesaw State University, I applied this concept to student creative writing by challenging a diverse group of students, largely unfamiliar with the band, to conduct free and focused writings while listening to selected extended improvisational jams from Phish. “Get out of the way” served as our mantra.

The results showed that while many had not heard of the band or even had familiarity with ‘jam’ music, the vast majority enjoyed the musical explorations and felt that they produced more complex and better writing. Their work displayed more complexity in syntax and tone, and they reported being more engaged in the writing process. My 20-minute paper will unpack and explore the results of student created works, offer insight on data collected during post-exercise surveys, and encourage the use of PhreeWriting in Secondary and University pedagogical practices, in and beyond English courses, to universally enhance and improve student expression in any genre of writing.

  • Leah Taylor, “Live Music as a Therapeutic Mind-Body-Spirit Practice”

Live music is a popular activity that many adults attend regularly. Qualitative research on live music from a listener’s perspective and the meaning it brings to individuals’ lives is lacking. The purpose of this heuristic inquiry was to investigate the lived experience of attending live‑music events from the perspective of adult concert-goers between the ages of 18 and 65 years. This phenomenon was explored through the primary research question, “What is the experience of attending live-music events?”

Eight co-researchers were selected to participate via a convenience sample recruitment strategy. Data was collected via open-ended interviews and analyzed through stages following the qualitative method of heuristic inquiry.

Three main themes were found to be the core essence of the live music experience: (a) live music connects people deeply; (b) live music is a full body experience; and (c) live music can be transcendent. An increased energy or vitality was evident before, during, and after the live-music events. Co-researchers used these repeated experiences to release, renew, and recharge the positive emotions, and mental resources that they would in turn bring back to their everyday lives.

Findings from this research suggest that listening to live music is a mind-body-spirit practice that can be used by individuals to connect deeply to themselves, others, and something greater than what they know.  As an inherently pleasurable activity, live music influenced people’s ability to be open-minded and appreciative for what they have in life. The experience positively impacted the participants physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, which may have implications on overall well-being.

Session 3b: “Everything’s Overlapping” – Cultural Studies

  • Brendan Driscoll, “Crossing Freely Over: The ‘Swiphtie’ T-Shirt and Fan Identity in 2023”

This article examines a small but revealing crossover between Phish fandom and mainstream popular music. In early 2023, amidst the fanfare surrounding Taylor Swift’s celebrated “Eras” tour, curious t-shirts began to appear, featuring a graphic that morphed Taylor Swift’s name into the official Phish “rainbow fish” silhouette logo.

Sold largely through and other online outlets, the “Swiphtie” t-shirt drew double-takes from Phish fans and Swifties alike. And in May 2023, Instagram user “jfishman60”, otherwise known as Jon Fishman, drummer for Phish, posted a picture of himself wearing the shirt.

  • Robert Gardner & Dmitri Sofranko, “‘Will He Plunge in and Join Me Here?’ Sit-ins as Jam Capital”

In this paper, we explore Phish and the broader jamband community as a form of living cultural heritage that has evolved rhizomatically from the early roots of rock and roll through the Grateful Dead and beyond. Over the past 40 years, Phish has established itself as a lead branch in this musical family tree, growing from a common root, but forging a novel pathway. As new offshoots have emerged, various new artists have risen to prominence, establishing additional branches in this evolving lineage within the jamband community. What role has Phish played in this lineage and specifically, what role have members of Phish, particularly frontman Trey Anastasio, played in fomenting interest in and anchoring the position of these emerging bands within the broader jamband landscape? 

In particular, we examine the symbolic role of “sit-ins”, rare live concert collaborations between Trey and neighboring bands (like Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Goose, Billy Strings, Fare Thee Well, Phil and Friends and Khruangbin). These episodic collaborations function as a modified form of career coupling (Wagner 2010), by which relational associations and proximity between musicians establish their relative positions in this evolving family tree. According to Wagner, career coupling “explains the professional and parallel routes of two or more individuals who cooperate- each within their own specialty- during a period long enough to change each other’s professional positions…” which aid each in co-developing or preserving high levels of prestige in the quest for elite level live performance (p.148). Given that Phish tours as a marquis band and has seldom opened for other bands and hosted few opening acts in the past several decades, these live collaborations with other bands highlight their symbolic power to shape fan understandings of their relative positions in the history of jamband music.

For Phish fans, sit ins play a powerful symbolic role in establishing the next generation of jambands by endowing emerging artists with important and distinct forms of social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986). Through these inter-band collaborations, “jam capital” functions to serve as an unofficial endorsement of musical prowess and therefore elevated status for new and emerging bands given their established relational proximity to Phish. We further develop and explore the ideas of jam capital and career coupling in the Phish scene and explain how each contributes to the enduring musical legacy and living heritage of the broader jamband community.

  • Jason Del Gandio, “Gamehendge Analysis: Revolutionary Vibe-Flow”

This presentation unpacks some of the social and political implications of Trey’s undergraduate thesis (TMWSIY) and the overall Gamehendge story. I focus on the calls for “revolution” within the story and argue that “surrendering to the flow” posits an alternative way of living that challenges current day social structures. To be clear, I do not think the young Trey or even the matured band is explicitly calling for a revolution of flow. Much of the story and corresponding lyrics are open for interpretation, and at times even comedic and nonsensical. But particular Gamehendge themes highlight the experience of “flow,” and seemingly invite phans to think differently about life, existence, and society. This interpretation is evidenced by the grand “IT” experience of live shows. Most dedicated phans argue that there is something unique about the show experience, the communal dancefloor, and the exchange of energy between the band and the phans. In brief, there is a correlation between the social and political themes of Gamehendge and the embodied, collective experience of the Phish phenomenon. Both of which point to an alternative society.

  • Sho McClarence, “A Study in Thirdspace: My Introduction to Phish through a Study of Spaces”

This study is a composite of knowledge surrounding the idea of thirdspace, or rather an authentic type of lived human space. The traditional understanding is that there are two types of space. The first type of space is the perceived space which would be what might be understood as the tangible space. Perceived space is material, physical, or even objective space. On the contrary there was also conceived space which was imaginative. Conceived space was understood to be made of the ideas, ideologies, and figurative images. Despite having these two spaces there is a piece of the puzzle missing, which is what Henri Lefebvre was investigating in the 1960s. Lefebvre posited a richer theoretical idea of space that would combine the perceived, conceived, while also bringing in a “social spatiality of human life” (Soja 102). This idea is third space. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre describes an example of a third space. Lefebvre starts by describing a theatre with a ‘real’ space that is experienced (the stage, or pit) and the conceived space of the production alongside the spaces walking in between (Lefebvre 195). The locations and spatial moments of walking between the stage and pit, become the spaces that the audience cannot see. For Lefebvre, “a third space which is no longer either scenic or public” and exists as both “fictitious and real” which is something within the culturally constructed space and yet foreign to it (Lefebvre 195). The thirdspace is both constantly in existence and yet unknown until a person inhabits it. All this theory is interesting but how do we apply it. I will be taking this idea of the authentic thirdspace and considering my own experiences with studying Phish through the philosophical, mystical, and artistic ways of my first experiences with the band, community, and performances. This study hopes to invite an auto-ethnographic response to thirdspace and the authenticity of spaces created by Phish and Phish community members. I hope to show that by creating spaces that allow for moments of authenticity, Phish and the Phish community actively create opportunities to be in touch with moments of the mystical. For the purposes of this work we will think about the mystical through William James’ lens of the mystical group, and this will help us conceptualize the somewhat magical spatial moments happening all around the Phish community.  

2:15pm-4:15pm: Poster Session

  • B. Elizabeth Beck, “Call and Response: Ekphrasis and Phish”

Phish relies upon the rich tradition of call and response in their music. The audience responds to cues that are both rehearsed and spontaneous. The rehearsed responses have evolved from a forty year relationship between band and audience. Ekphrastic response takes call and response to a new level. Poems and prose have been published in response to the band, its music, and culture. 

Painted Daydreams: Collection of Ekphrastic Poems (Accents Publishing, 2019) is the perfect example of poems that weave Phish lyrics, deconstructing them into a new form. Many of the poems are responses to the experience of being a fan. All five of my collections of poems pay homage to Phish. Dancing on the Page (Rabbit House Press, 2024) is my autobiographical collection that details my journey from surviving a traumatic childhood by using the tool of connecting to music to heal. 

Summer Tour Trilogy (KDP 2020-2023) is a unique call and response. It focuses on the scene that surrounds the band. The characters are teenagers who travel on 2019 Phish Summer Tour. Set authentically (with setlists included), I explore the community, magic, and passion of the lot. The protagonist, Sam heals from the grief of losing his mother through connecting with this group of characters and touring with them in an RV called Suby Greenberg. I purposefully chose Sam to have not even heard of Phish. “Fish?” The result is that readers not familiar with the Phish culture can learn about the beauty, wisdom, and experiences without feeling alienated. The reader learns through Sam’s eyes and feels comfortable delving into a book about a unique culture not seen anywhere since the Grateful Dead. The response to my call has been extraordinary. Yes, most of my readers are avid Phish fans, but many are not and have even cued up music when their interest is inspired by reading the book. 

Two major influences helped to shape the novel. I wrote the first draft with Gurney Norman, author of Divine Right’s Trip. Gurney is a Merry Prankster and part of the Fab Five, a group of Kentucky writers who journeyed to Palo Alto, California in the 1960s. James Baker Hall, Ed McClannahan, Bobbie Ann Mason, Wendell Berry, and Gurney Norman are the Fab Five. Ed and Gurney called me “the next generation hippie,” welcoming my efforts to continue the rich tradition of Kentucky Merry Pranksters. 

Peter Conners, author of Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead supported Summer Tour, offering these words as a blurb: As long as there are teenagers falling in love with music, books, art, and each other, there will be coming of age stories like Elizabeth Beck’s Summer Tour. Hop on summer Phish tour with Sam and his “family,” as they travel the country in an RV named Suby Greenberg, learning how to get by, stay high, and navigate the maze of adolescence.” Conner’s book is a memoir. Summer Tour is fiction, but it draws from my thirty years’ experience as a fan. 

My proposal is to discuss and analyze call and response between the band and audience. Examples include, Wilson, Cavern, and Stash. The band calls and the audience responds. I will further explore how ekphrastic writing is a call and response, relying upon my collections of poetry and the Summer Tour Trilogy.

  • Kristin Gray, “Gamehendge: What Phish Music Can Teach Employers about Handbooks”

Phish fans were in for a very special treat at the band’s New Year’s Eve concert at Madison Square Garden.  For the first time in 29 years, the band played its Gamehendge set in full to the delight of its dedicated followers.  The musical set originated from lead singer Trey Anastasio’s senior college project and has evolved over the decades into an intricate lyrical tale of power and corruption, complete with a diverse group of characters and mythical creatures.  For non-Phish fans, think Alice in Wonderland meets Tolkien set to a fever dream of rock music.  What does this have to do with employee handbooks, you ask?  Far more than you might anticipate.

Our story begins in the mysterious land of Gamehendge, where the Lizard People have enjoyed a peaceful and harmonious existence abiding by the fundamental values contained in the Helping Friendly Book.  The Book was written by the wise prophet, Icculus, and sets forth all knowledge inherent to the universe, including the secrets to eternal joy and never-ending splendor.  This blissful existence is shattered when our main antagonist, Wilson, steals the Book and uses it to establish his own evil dictatorship.  Our protagonist is the retired Colonel Forbin, who finds himself magically transported from the suburbs of Long Island to Gamehendge.  There, he meets the Lizards and learns they are plotting a revolution to end their suffering under Wilson’s tyranny.  Colonel Forbin agrees to help reclaim the Book and restore order and peace to the people of Gamehendge.  

Phish is known for pulling off elaborate stunts and surprises for fans at special events, such as New Year’s and Halloween concerts.  The band’s New Year’s Eve return to Gamehendge was no exception.  Band members were accompanied by a full cast of actors, elaborate puppets, acrobats, lighting effects, and even Orange Is the New Black alum, Annie Golden.  All of these elements came together to usher in a New Year by sending spectators on an epic quest for peace and harmony.

While I have yet to review an employee handbook that contains the secrets to eternal joy or never-ending splendor, handbooks are a vital part of the fabric of any workplace.  A well-drafted and updated handbook is the employer’s opportunity to establish from the very beginning of the employment relationship:

  • The at-will nature of the employment relationship;
  • The culture of the workplace and the employer’s founding principles;
  • The employer’s commitment to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants consistent with federal, state, and local law;
  • The various avenues available to employees to report any workplace concerns that they have about discrimination, harassment, retaliation, safety, ethics, compensation, or any other concerns;
  • The availability of leave options and other reasonable accommodations for a serious health condition, disability, pregnancy, childbirth, or other related condition;
  • The expectations for employees in terms of attendance, behavior, safety, and conduct, as well as potential repercussions associated with non-compliance; 
  • The various benefits and privileges of employment (e.g., paid time off, holiday pay, etc.) and parameters for eligibility and accrual; and
  • The processes in place for ending the employment relationship, such as exit interviews, payment or waiver of accrued leave, and requests for advance notice of the employee’s departure for the employee to leave in good standing.

While all of this is aimed at establishing a harmonious and productive work environment with clear guidelines for employees, consistent enforcement is also key to maintaining a sense of equity, transparency, and fairness.  The Gamehendge saga artfully demonstrates that discontent and even chaos can fester in workplaces without strong policies and consistent enforcement by well-trained managers, leaving employers vulnerable to union organizing efforts and costly litigation from disgruntled employees.  As Icculus sagely warned Colonel Forbin, “all knowledge seeming innocent and pure becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice and greed.”

  • David Schwittek, “Playing with Words: Dead Poets Rise and the Gamification of Improvisational Strategies in Music and Lyrics”

This paper proposes an exploration of the intersection between play, creativity, and improvisational strategies within the realm of music and lyrics, utilizing the innovative tabletop game, Dead Poets Rise (DPR). With a focus on the “Music and Lyrics” category, the presentation aims to demonstrate how the elements of play and creative prompting inherent in DPR can be effectively employed to inspire improvisational strategies, especially within the context of literature and poetry.

The proposed paper will provide a brief historical account of pre-existing improvisational strategies, drawing inspiration from movements such as Dada, Surrealism, Situationism, and the Fluxus movement. Additionally, it will delve into the influential concept of “Oblique Strategies” and explore existing strategies found in creative writing pedagogy.

Central to the discussion is the gamification of these strategies through Dead Poets Rise. This multiplayer tabletop game transforms the often esoteric world of improvisational creativity into an accessible and engaging environment. By combining elements of chance, collaboration, and structured prompts, DPR invites participants, even those unfamiliar with poetry or music creation, to contribute to the crafting of poetry and song lyrics.

  • Hal Stern, “Extended Phish Jams as A Corporate Product Model”

The last three decades of business management models have tended to fall into three buckets: command and control, sports team analogues, or metered creativity.  None of these models have approached the agile enterprise ideal where small teams are able to evolve their products, their working styles and their outputs in response to a rapidly changing user, market or competitive landscape.  

Using a survey of these management frameworks and their rate limitations, ranging from Shoshana Zuboff to Laura Hill, this paper proposes a corporate team management style based on Phish’s approach to extended jams.  The user-creator feedback model has given us some of our most widely recognized technology product, ranging from social media hashtags (added to Twitter after its creation) to Uber’s emergence as a delivery service for food and packages and not just people.

Each Phish jam is a unique “product,” and one that is necessarily different show to show.  Drawing on the design work from Jakub Nielsen to Christopher Alexander, and the decision making frameworks of poker professional Annie Duke, the management model described is user (listener) focused and depends on three future-facing corporate skills: (1) Clearly defined roles and aggressive listening; (2) Real-time experimentation and repeated decision making; (3) Shared symbolic and symphonic vocabularies. 

Without having to create a “lab” or “innovation zone,” Phish’s jams use metered, decision-based experimentation to create novelty, absent an a priori sense of the final product’s shape and flow. These implicit management motifs shape a musical product that is highly engaging, unique and results in future demand.  Once a listener has engaged in the creation and experience of an extended jam, the feedback loop is in motion, and the Phish ecosystem drives future demand and consumption at a scale that is exemplary of how a user-centric enterprise should operate.

4:30pm-6:30pm: Concurring Panels (120 MIN)

Session 4a: “Policeman Came to My House” – Phish and the Law 

  • Tony Kullen, “Who Gets Paid (or Gets to Say) When the Ocelot Can “Come Out to Play”: How Copyright, Fair Use, Anti-Trust Law, 2 Live Crew, and Michael Jackson’s Estate Each Have an Interest in one Phish Song”

My presentation will be an entertaining discussion of the legal issues involved in the following:

  • Ocelot: a Phish song credited to “Anastasio (Trey), Marshall (Tom)”, on the Phish album “Joy” (2019)>
  • Ocelot’s chorus directly quotes six words from “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles (Lennon/McCartney) (“won’t you come out to play”) but does not credit the songwriters>
  • “Dear Prudence” was regularly covered by the Jerry Garcia Band (“JGB”), and was regularly included in official record/recording releases by JGB and affiliates under a “mechanical license” (cover song) right arising from the anti-trust case that went to the Supreme Court, and resulted in covers being permitted without permission of the songwriter (but subject to a statutory license fee), because of monopoly rights in player piano scrolls, under Supreme Court precedent from 75 years before Phish’s first show: White-Smith Music Publishing Company v. Apollo Company, 209 U.S. 1 (1908)>
  • If the six words used by Phish from “Dear Prudence” may be used without crediting the original authors, that right derives from Fair Use, and the rights were expanded to commercial Fair Use under Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994), the case decided in favor of Luke Skye Walker aka Luther Campbell (along with Fresh Kid Ice, Mr. Mixx and Brother Marquis, “2 Live Crew”) and against Acuff-Rose (i.e, Roy Orbison’s publisher), finding 2 Live Crew had potential Fair Use (parody) rights to use the copyright material of another for commercial purposes in their parody song “Pretty Woman.”
  • How Michael Jackson (and his estate) as majority owner of Sony/ATV Publishing (the holder of the Lennon/McCartney publishing rights in the Beatles’ songwriting catalog) could theoretically interfere with Phish’s rights to play (live performance rights), record (because mechanical rights don’t extend to samples or snippets), or stream (“sync” or synchronization rights to use performed music along with visual images) Ocelot (and why Phish could cover Michael Jackson music in live shows, on 06/25/2010 and in rumored Halloween costume shows, under an ASCAP/BMI live performance venue license)
  • Through the above, the presenter will help a lay audience understand that copyright is actually a bundle of rights, including the rights to control:
    • reproduction of the work in various forms (sound recordings);
    • distribution of copies of the work (selling records or streams);
    • public performance of the work (live shows);
    • broadcasting or other communication of the work to the public (streams);
    • translation of the work into other languages (think alternate Meatstick lyrics); and
    • adaptation of the work (like using Lennon/McCartney lyrics in another song, or using the Hands on a Hardbody story in a musical).
  • Daniel Dylan, “Rail Riders, Tarpers, and Chompers: A Legal Analysis of Claiming Space at Phish Shows”

Grounded in classical legal philosophy, enduring property law scholarship, American property law and constitutional law jurisprudence, as well as sociological scholarship respecting norms, this paper presents a legal analysis of Phish show-goers’ behavior in quasi-public places (shows) which seeks to occupy and claim specific spaces in common areas as the exclusive property of an individual(s) (“riding the rail” and “tarping”) and to silence those show-goers who talk loudly (or “chomp”) in these spaces (and in others) during a Phish show.

There is a certain ritual for Phish show attendance for Phish show-goers. Some enter the venue moments before show time. For others, like their Deadhead predecessors, this ritual manifests by arriving far earlier than show time to wait in line, often all day (perhaps even including the night before), for early entry into the venue to claim spots in the first row of the orchestra pit (this row is referred to as the “rail” and this section is often referred to as “the pit” but is more formally styled as “General Admission” or “GA”). Once obtained or claimed, certain show-goers aim to keep these spaces on the rail and near the stage exclusively for themselves throughout the show and to exclude others from occupying them (“riding the rail”), even when they are not occupying the space they “labored” all day to acquire. In other instances, some show-goers lay out blankets or tarps on the floor of the General Admission area in an effort to claim and occupy the space which is covered by the tarp as their own and that of their “crew,” a practice commonly referred to in the Phish scene (and in those of other bands) as “tarping.” Finally, other show-goers manifest tremendous irritation and indignation when other show-goers talk loudly (“chomp”) during Phish performances, sometimes wearing t-shirts which convey a demand for silence, handing out notices on business cards of the same, or verbally reprimanding others to “shut up.” In their own way, each of these behaviors presents problems to the individual show-goer and to the Phish scene as a whole because they seek to exclude other show-goers from having the best show possible, while maximizing only their own self-interest(s) in the same.

In an effort to offer some kind of clarity respecting all of these behaviors, this paper applies property law and scholarship, first amendment, and fourth amendment jurisprudence to argue that some of these behaviors may be defensible in law while others may not, and and that all of the issues presented by this behavior are probably most appropriately dealt with through norms established and enforced by the Phish community/scene. The analysis ultimately, however, considers and extends to broader contexts in terms of other bands, show-goers, and public spaces at large, i.e. the broader application of this analysis to similar questions in similar contexts involving quasi-public property. As such, this research contributes to show-goers’ understanding of their legal rights at shows, to property law scholarship and to legal and sociology scholarship more broadly.

  • Matthew Maisel, “Wilson, I Lay This Warrant on You: A Prosecution Memorandum on Wilson’s Crimes in Gamehendge”

In his senior thesis “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio describes Wilson who arrives in Gamehendge and resorts to tyranny by stealing the Helping Friendly Book, enslaving the Lizards, cutting down trees, and executing people to maintain his hold on power.  This paper examines Wilson’s vulnerability to criminal prosecution for his conduct in Gamehendge. The paper focuses on potential charges under the Rome Statute in the International Criminal Court.  This paper will introduce a general audience to several international treaties that hold despots like Wilson accountable for their crimes. This paper will also demonstrate to a general audience how attorneys identify issue(s) presented by a set of facts, and determine what law applies and how it applies.

The paper concludes that Wilson could likely be charged with murder and enslavement under Articles 7(1)(a) and 7(1)(c) of the Rome Statute, depending upon when Wilson’s conduct occurred, Wilson’s citizenship, and where Gamehendge is located. It also concludes that Wilson’s theft of the Helping Friendly Book likely violated Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and thus may face criminal prosecution for this theft, again depending upon where Gamehendge is located.

The paper uses legal analysis, statutory analysis in particular, to arrive at its conclusions.  It relies upon the narration in “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday;” songs within the thesis such as “The Lizards” and “AC/DC Bag;” as well as songs that reference it such as “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters” to provide the details of Wilson’s actions which are analyzed. The manner of analysis in this paper is used by real-world prosecutors.  For example, in a game played by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, a celebrity such as Mother Theresa or John Lennon is named and junior attorneys are challenged to identify plausible crimes to indict them on. (Silverglate, 2009, at p. L).

This paper joins other works of legal scholarship which use song lyrics to explore legal concepts. In the essay “Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, Verse 2: A Close Reading with Fourth Amendment Guidance for Cops and Perps Amendment Guidance for Cops and Perps”, a former federal prosecutor explores Fourth Amendment search and seizure legal issues in a traffic stop described in a Jay-Z song. (Mason, 2012). This essay was mentioned by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Examiner, HuffPost, It has also been relied upon by judges: this article was cited by the Oregon Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as well as several U.S. District Courts.  Finally, in the book “Lyrics in the Law: Music’s Influence on America’s Courts”, a Florida appellate judge discusses how courts have used song lyrics to enhance their legal opinions, and how modern-day musical lyrics effectively become recognized legal maxims by the courts. (Klingensmith, 2020).

Session 4b: “Expanding Exponentially Like Some Recursive Virus” – Public and Personal Health

  • Andrew Garrett, “Plague, Pandemics, and Phish: the Public Health Curveballs Continue!”

In 2019 at the Phish Studies Conference I had the honor of presenting an anatomy of how a weather-related public health crisis shut down the Curveball festival, displacing over 40,000 fans and vendors and costing the region upwards of $30M. Since then, the Phish community has been forced to react to several other public health crises including an outbreak of plague in Colorado that threatened the beloved 2019 Labor Day run at Dick’s Sporting Goods park, followed by the emergence of the CoVID-19 pandemic six months later that temporarily decimated the Phish live music scene.

The Phish community depends upon and is identified by the live concert experience which brings tens of thousands of people together to share in a communal social scene. Without question, the band has always overdelivered on its commitment to support the fanbase, with only nine shows cancelled or rescheduled since 1985, prior to the Curveball incident. Unfortunately, since 2019, over 30 shows have been modified, cancelled, or rescheduled due to public health concerns. We need to acknowledge and embrace the risks that we have faced and will continue to encounter as we gather in a world where severe weather, emerging infectious disease, and other public health and public safety threats are becoming more common and will challenge our expectations for a safe, healthy, and peaceful experience at a show or festival.

For the 2024 conference, I will briefly recap what happened at Curveball from a public health perspective, and then continue in that vein to review how and why a plague outbreak and a global pandemic had the impact it did on our community. I will then discuss evolving public health threats to our live music scene and tie these emerging risks into the need for strong partnerships with public health.

  • Amanda Cadran, “Creativity Unbound: A Study of the Perceived Effects of COVID’s First and Second Waves on Jamband Artists’ Productivity”

In 2020, the world as we know it stopped. One industry impacted immediately by the nearly universal quarantines was the field of live music. The first and second waves of COVID-19 lasted from March 2020 to approximately January 2021, and while much has been studied regarding clinical characteristics and other outcomes related to this time period, an area of increasing interest is the resulting amount of published music that has begun to emerge, which was either written and/or produced during the height of this intense period of time.

In multiple recorded interviews with jamband and jamband-adjacent artists who are now able to look back with more objectivity on that time frame, it is becoming evident that while the world was reeling from the uncertainty and very real dangers associated with COVID-19, there were also very fruitful secondary effects felt from many recording artists, whose daily lives and schedules were upended due to a lack of touring and other typical responsibilities. 

This study aims to center their experiences using a collaborative research approach to evaluate the impact of the specific time frame of first and second wave COVID-19 in the United States. Multiple stakeholders (artists, sound engineers, etc.) provide their experiences on this fruitful era, with a focus on understanding changes in perceived creativity and self-efficacy. Transcripts from over 50 recorded interviews were analyzed in addition to survey data. Results suggest that a significant increase in creativity was realized, stemming from the abrupt and significant upheaval for touring and recording musicians alike. These findings provide a powerful narrative about the unintended, yet positively perceived consequences of the early phases of COVID-19 among musicians in the jamband and related music communities.

  • Ryan Rashotte, “‘The Light is Growing Brighter Now’: Between Me and My Mind and the Promise of the Post-Recovery Narrative”

When stories about drug addiction appear in contemporary literature and film, they are usually dominated by a set of harrowing narrative tropes about the degradations that the user must suffer on the path to recovery. Less common, however, are stories about the addict’s post-recovery period, which deal less with the immediate struggles of getting clean, and more with the long-term quotidian reality of living one’s life sober. Whereas traditional addiction narratives are characterized by anguished personal journeys that build towards a tragic or triumphant closure, post-recovery narratives eschew a neat sense of finality, exploring instead how the lessons of recovery—the value of personal vulnerability, the necessity of community—continue to reveal themselves through the exigencies of the sober life.

This paper will offer the first analysis of this developing genre by examining how Steven Cantor’s documentary Between Me and My Mind typifies the post-recovery narrative in its reflective (rather than immersive) narratology of sobriety. The documentary depicts a series of conversations between Phish bandleader Trey Anastasio and his family and friends twelve years after Anastasio’s initial recovery from drug addicition. Although Anastasio’s addiction is often addressed elliptically in these conversations, the significance of his sobriety heavily influences the film’ cinematographic and musical choices, which imbue the film with a mournful and meditative aesthetic particular to the post-recovery genre. In this regard, the film represents a notable tonal shift from the earlier Phish documentary Bittersweet Motel, which tends to portray the band and its community as part of frat-house-style bacchanalia. By offering a reflection on the transitory nature of the party lifestyle itself, Between Me and My Mind presents a more mature version of the band while fulfilling the ethical promise of the post-recovery narrative, viz. that the contemplative work of sobriety can provide the foundation for more fulfilling social connections, a richer self-understanding, and a reenergized creative existence.

  • Jim Vernon, “‘Ancient Secrets of Eternal Joy’: Phish, Reich, and the Transformative Power of Tension and Release”

If there is a signature aspect of Phish’s aesthetic, it arguably resides in their masterful capacity to build musical tension to an explosive peak. Many have noted that “[t]ension-and-release jams are a Phish speciality”,[i] which “wander effortlessly between bliss and despair”, building an energetic pressure that eventually “pours into [an] oceanic release”[ii] whose happiness-inducing impact on the crowd is undeniable. Some even suggest that tension/release is not just the “trick that separated Phish from their peers in the 90s jam scene”,[iii] but that the crowd catharsis achieved through it is effectively responsible for the scene’s enduring popularity.[iv]

This paper argues that the psychanalytic theory of Wilhelm Reich can help explain the immense popularity and personal impact of Phish’s aesthetics. For Reich, every living being is structured by a cycle that begins with sensible excitation, bodily expansion, and thus discomforting tension; the slow build of this tension increasingly charges the organism as a whole with energy, which eventually searches for a cathartic outlet; when healthy organisms are in unimpeded environments, this outlet is eventually found in a contracting discharge in which the tension simultaneously peaks, releases, and gives way to a period of blissful and healing repose. Because it is archetypally actualized in healthy human sexuality, Reich calls this tension-and-release cycle the ‘orgasm formula’; but because he also holds it to be the ground of healthy social relations, Reich also calls it the model of ‘happiness’ and ‘love’. For Reich, it is the impairment of this fundamental biological cycle in modern societies – which alternately block the proper discharge of tension through the imposition of pleasure-prohibitive, anti-sex moralities or thwart the energizing build-up of tension through market-friendly forms of immediate, oversexed gratification – that lies at the root of a variety of social ills, from political authoritarianism to personal anxiety.

I argue that reconnection with this natural cycle may lie at the heart of Phish’s enduring appeal and influence. Carving a middle path between the readily digested pleasures of radio pop and rock and the ascetic strictures of varied improvisational and compositional avant-gardes, the music of Phish demands of the listener a kind of patient restraint and intense focus that, at its best, pays off in a near-orgasmic form of collective release; one, I suggest, that may rekindle in its fans a broader passion for the kind of embodied joy whose denial undergirds much life under late capitalism. Moreover, much as Reich held that connecting with the rhythmic force of life requires the collectively willed transformation of social and political institutions such that they align with it, I show that the members of Phish continually affirm the need to direct the catharsis experienced through their music into forms of communal engagement that work to reunify nature and culture. Read through a Reichean lens, I contend, the music of Phish reveals a transformative power that extends beyond the aesthetic into the political, the personal, and perhaps even the biological.


i Andy P. Smith and Jason Gershuny, 100 Things Phish Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2018), 21.

ii Dave Thompson, Go Phish (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin), 45.

iii Rob Mitchum, “Tension at the Border: 2/22/97, Rome, ITA, Teatro Olimpico”, available at

iv Cf., e.g. Sam Ankerson, who worked in management for Strangefolk: “Phish didn’t invent jam music, but they invented the current formula for it […] Really what they do better than what anyone ever has is hit the peak, coming back with this three chord slamming thing and then waaaaaa, all the lights come on and the place goes absolutely mental. Now it seems really simple and that’s what every single jam band does. They all have different little things they do, but everyone winds up doing the peak. And that’s why we can all survive, because everyone loves the peak” (quoted in Sean Gibbon, Run Like an Antelope: On the Road with Phish (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin), 21).

Sunday, May 19

10:45am-12:15pm: Concurring Panels (90 MIN)

Session 6a: “Bought for the Price of a Flagon of Rice” – Business of Phish

  • Garrett Mitchell, “Twenty (Some) Years Later: A Historical, Cultural, and Nostalgic Look Back at Phish-Tickets-By-Mail with Thoughts Towards a Collaborative PTBM 2.0 project – LivePTBM”

An in-depth review of the of the culture, art, and business practices behind Phish-Tickets-By-Mail (PTBM) mail order system. This story follows PTBM from its role in Phish’s mid-1990’s business practices as a direct mail order pre-sale ticketing service offered through the Doniac Schvice following the Grateful Dead Ticket Sales (GDTS) ticketing model through the rapid digital transformation of the music industry and tickets sales. As the PTBM mail order ticketing service evolved over decades of Phish tours, these popular and coveted artistic tickets became nostalgic memorabilia found as artistic commemorative tickets and magnets while concert ticketing become increasingly digital, mobile, generic, and artistically unadorned and drab in nature. This study draws on independent research in existing literature and direct discussions from artists involved, former and current members of the Phish organization, older fans who recall the nuances of original ticketing instructions to younger fans who know the PTBM tickets as Dry Goods. This study concludes with a proposed reinvigoration of PTBM as a collaborative fund-raising and historical project aligned with the band’s history of charitable endeavors and innovative use of state-of-the-art technologies.   

  • Matthew Lynch, “Collective Conscious Capitalism: Phish, The Waterwheel Foundation, and the Ethical Expiation of Hedonistic Expenditure”

What is it Phish is selling? A collective experience, community, joy through music, an environment conducive to hallucinogenics, an escape from the mundane, a dance party, a religion/mythos, a country club for cool kids? A good time and a chance to do good—and feel good? The band, onstage, generally rejects direct politicking and preaching, reflecting the anarchistic ordering of their Vermont origins: “If you ever preach to me, I wouldn’t want to hear it.”

The band’s values instead get encoded in their activities away from the band: Fishman stumping for Bernie Sanders, e.g., or Trey starting a drug treatment center. Most importantly, perhaps, their charity arm, The Waterwheel Foundation, which gives out millions of dollars in grants both in Vermont and around the country. This charity arm allows the band to do good while not interrupting the vibe and necessary evils of the scene: N2O still flows, tours roam around the country by planes, trains, buses and cars running on fossil fuels, and, most importantly, people continue to put their money where their mouth is.

In order to continue to have this collective experience and all the ritual gestalt that comes along with it, it is necessary to have an economic backbone supporting that endeavor. Yet along with increased revenue comes increased social pressure: artists can’t be perceived as only in it for the gold. Even if the altruistic motive was just a mask, charitable arms can be a means to that end. Indeed, as any major accounting dude can tell you, there are ways that the tax code incentivizes non-profit activity.

In my paper, I will examine this relationship between Phish’s concert experiences, conscious capitalism and its contradictions, and the way that Waterwheel and other charitable endeavors navigate the big boat that the Phish and their scene sail upon. In the process, questions of ethics, hedonism, and their intersection with collective experience and capitalism will be explored. The paper is in conversation with scholarship from economics on the emerging movement of conscious capitalism, and critiques of the same by Slavoj Žižek and others.

My training as a scholar of religious studies, critical theory, and philosophy, and as a former Vermont non-profit employee–as well as a late 1.o phanboy–will be brought to bear in ways both analytic and personal, as I grapple reflexively with the issues emerging from my own interactions with the band, their music, their non-profits, fans–and the (sub)culture they/we have collectively created.

  • Ari Fink, “A Satellite, High Above The Atmosphere”: How we design Phish Radio on SiriusXM”

The time is here: Having grown beyond their early roots and reputation as a band, Phish’s cultural impact and historical legacy are currently being etched in stone by the multi-verse.

The mission’s clear: While they only shared slivers of their personality over the first 30 years of their career, Phish has opened up to us in massive, brand new waves over the past decade, via interactive, wide-scope projects like their own satellite radio station.

It’s later than you think: By contextualizing their artistic journey and sharing more of their singular story, the band has provided phans with deep, meaningful context, taking the symbiotic fan-band relationship to previously uncharted heights, fueled by the personal connection we’ve forged to them as people, in addition to their art. 

Session 6b: “Left in the Now With a Wondrous Glow” – Philosophy and Spirituality

  • Noah Lehrman, “‘And the Helping Friendly Book Will Plant the Seed’: Crews, Jews, & Exegesis”

“Try not to step on your best friend’s feet”

Phish, “Everything’s Right”

“What is hateful to you do not do to your friend”

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

For many the Phish phenomenon represents a communal spiritual tradition. For some Phish also resonates with an organized religious tradition.

The Jewish presence within the Phish community has been noted by the fanbase and by academia, as have parallels between the Gamehendge saga and the Mosaic Sinai narrative.

This paper explores conceptual parallels between Phish lyrics and Jewish texts, including the Torah, Talmud, and works from the Safed metaphysical tradition. We investigate how principles espoused in each tradition manifest through similar modes in both communities and across eras, as ethics arise among Phish crews and Jewish sages.

Juxtaposing these texts and traditions will further our insight into each.

How members of each tradition live as communities in dialogue with texts is examined, including implications from Phish’s production choices in their 12/31/23 Madison Square Garden staging of Gamehendge.

The Helping Friendly Book (HFB) is the sacred text within the text of Phish lyrics written at the start of their career. Yet for many, the subsequent forty years of collective Phish lyrics function as a transcendent text interwoven with their interpretation of life experience. This concept was made manifest when pages containing lyrics from throughout Phish’s oeuvre where dropped on the audience on 12/31/23 after the Mockingbird drone ascended with the HFB. We examine quotes from pages collected by concertgoers in comparison to texts from the Jewish tradition, noting how both HFB/Phish lyrics and Torah/Talmud verses are reinterpreted outside their original narrative, including through the use of phonetic shifts to create new readings.

Examples examined include the significance of negative construction in both Phish’s injunction in “Everything’s Right” to “Try not to step on your best friend’s feet”, and Rabbi Hillel’s Talmudic summation of the Torah with the axiom “What is hateful to you do not do to your friend”. We explore how the dialectic between the concepts of restraint and “flow” manifests in these ethical precepts, and in both Jewish metaphysics and Phish’s music and improvisation.

Other textual comparisons include “Keep what’s important and know who’s your friend” from “Theme from the Bottom”, with the Mishnah’s “Make for yourself a teacher and acquire a friend”.

  • Jay Boda, “The Stoicism of Phish: A Path to the Good Life”

The Stoic philosopher, Seneca, wrote that compared to wisdom offered via music and verse, “the same things stated in prose are listened to with less attention and have much less impact.” Phish, understanding exactly this, has put some of humanity’s most valuable wisdom to music so that it might seep into our brains and arise when we need it most. “That’s what we do up there, you know, through the music,” they once told the audience. “We have a message…that we try to get to you.” Some of that message is captured by these lyrics:

This too shall pass.

Our days are few.

Happiness is how, rooted in the now.

I always wanted it this way.

Some things are out of my control.

Unrelenting, understoked, undeterred, yet unprovoked.

Obstacles are stepping stones.

Fences are filters.

I had a lot to learn.

We’re all in this together.

It is and it always will be love.

Were the Stoic philosophers Epictetus, Seneca, or Musonius Rufus to hear this collection of pithy statements, they might quickly recognize them as a worthy summary of their teachings and approach to life. While encouraging the cultivation of Stoicism’s key virtues – wisdom, justice, self-control, and courage – and spreading thoughts like memento mori (remember death), amor fati (love fate) and oikeiôsis (the duty to act appropriately towards our fellow human beings), amongst many others, Phish, through their lyrics, teaches us how to live a happy life.

Whether intentional or coincidental, Phish and Stoicism have a lot to agree on, and I propose that Phish wishes to do for its devoted fans what Stoicism aimed to help its practitioners do: live the good life. They tell us precisely this on multiple occasions, like, “when you’re ready to step up into the next realm of living, a higher realm, when you’re ready to live in peace and tranquility, when you’re ready to leave all of your worldly problems behind,” the answers are available. While textured and complex in its own right, Phish’s path to the good life, to this peace and tranquility, mirrors Stoicism’s in myriad ways. Indeed, this rich and valuable philosophy drives Phish fan devotion, making a Phish concert our wondering Stoa Poikile, the famed porch on which the original Stoics gathered and learned.

Exploring Stoic notions, values, and virtues and their corresponding Phish lyrics will teach us how Phish and Stoicism lead us to live a better, happier life. While navigating this road of “struggle and strife” requires unremitting practice and dedication, the tools to do so are in our control and the results are merely a function of how we use them. This investigation will help us appreciate that the key to a happy life isn’t a secret – and that we’ve been listening to it all along.

  • Ben Tertin, “By the Grace of Phish: How Phish Transcends Entertainment to Become a Healing Gift”


First-century authors of the New Testament understand “grace” as a gift to be given, received, and reciprocated in specific ways. Phish—the band, music, and fan experience—has become that kind of grace, and understanding Phish as a grace can contribute to healing for individuals and communities. Modern pop-church cultures often oversimplify grace as a spiritualized concept, initially complicating one’s ability to see any relevant connection with Phish. But from a critical realist approach, we can move through those (relatively modern) oversimplifications to see the first-century Greco-Roman understanding of the essence of a gift, or charis (χάρις), the primary New Testament term for “grace.” Evidence from sources like Seneca, Josephus, and apostolic letters from the New Testament will establish the essential nature of grace in context, allowing clear connections with Phish to emerge. From its first Gamehendge performance to the famous mockingbird flapping around Madison Square Garden 40 years later, Phish has been developing what people experience as a shared language and meaningful symbolic world that its fan base interprets, reimagines, and gives to others in their own contexts. By observing lyrics, band communications, and other qualitative and participant research sources in light of first-century concepts of grace, we can see the picture of Phish as a life-restoring grace take shape. When people see others and themselves as gifts (not competitors), peacefulness and hope can result. Rather than outdoing one another, people learn to dream and struggle together, allowing love to carry them through.


For those familiar with the band, this research can deepen appreciation for the gift Phish offers and support ways of life that enhance mutual empathy, compassion, and lovingkindness. By seeing the grace of Phish for what it is, pejorative tags like “drug band” and dismissive labels like “hippy weirdos” make little sense, leading to 1) a dissolution of harmful social divisions and 2) a truer, healthier self-identity for fans. Showing Phish’s tight connection to a first-century concept of “gift” or “grace” may also help to bridge chasms between Phish culture and other subcultures, and it can help people from so-called “Christian” traditions who, in spite of holding grace as a (if not the) foundational concept for their “salvation” doctrines, still do not understand it. If the good life is a flower and grace its nectar, this study can show how Phish is a picture of the best nectar, ever.

1:30pm-3:00pm: Concurring Panels (90 MIN)

Session 7a: “Meaningless Excitement and Smooth Atonal Sound” – Musicology 2

  • R.J. Wuagneux, “‘Sharing in the Groove’: Phish, Affect, and Affordances of the Live Music Environment”

Where there are grooves, we find musicians, listeners, and dancers moving their bodies. These participants understand the musical texture of the groove through kinesthetic involvement, “feeling” the groove with their body as they converse in musical dialogue. 

In this paper, I argue that a shared, collectively embodied and sustained affective experience is an affordance of groove, by examining the emergence of affect in Phish’s August 06 2010 live performance of “Cities.” Drawing on the theoretical foundations of groove (Keil 1994; Zbikowski 2004; Witek 2014), my analysis considers the musical, social, and embodied elements of this groove. Ethnographic evidence from video recordings and online fan communities is combined with original transcriptions of the music to show how the musical structure and synergistic interplay between the band and audience work to generate affect in the music’s process of becoming. Simultaneously, I build on work in Phish Studies (Blau 2010; Yeager 2010; Cohen 2020) to contend that this groove is a musical expression of place and being-in existential communitas. In this way, the band and audience are, as Phish puts it, “sharing in the groove.” 

The “4E” approach from the cognitive sciences and phenomenology is used to theorize how this groove cultivates and sustains a highly affective musical environment that affords complex forms of synchronized engagement, such as dance, via entrainment (Trost et al. 2017; Clayton et al. 2019), cognitive extension (Kreuger 2014 and 2016), and joint-action (Knoblich and Sebanz 2008; Kirschner and Tomasello 2010). I present two instances of collectively embodied “participatory sense-making” as dynamic affective-motivational interactions between the band and audience that propel the jam forward, generating and sustaining waves of affect along the way. 

  • Kev Hollo, “Jah Volunteers: How Reggae and Jamaican Music Informs and Influences the Music of Phish”

From the “original Phish song” to a bevy of identity-shaping covers, the rhythms and vibrations of Jamaican music have played a pivotal role in Phish’s evolution. Yet for a polymathic band steeped in multi-hyphenate styles, reggae is somewhat overlooked as an influential genre for Phish, one relegated to the annals of pranksterism and inside jokes. 

Beneath the comedy, closer reading reveals Phish songs and structures that evolve in performance to include rocksteady or ska “riddims,” often performed during the deepest probing moments of full band improv. Some of the highest rated shows on — even the first release of the live Phish series self-selected by the band — include these riddims, culminating in the pinnacle that is Fall ’95, when the band’s tonal signature begins to regularly mirror the drum n bass heavy sound of dub.

Continuing the trajectory of poetic theory brought forth by critics like Pierre Joris and Julia Kristeva, and writers like Nathanial Mackey and Lyn Hejinian, this paper explores the origins of “Makisupa Policeman” — the first song written by Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall – and how the music of a tiny island nation came to embody their spirit of fearless improvisation and serve as a sonic springboard to greatness.

Reggae’s history is rooted in a complex post-colonial experience, growing directly out of pan-Africanism and liberation movements, a far cry from the quiet suburban roots of Phish. But it is also a diasporic music, borrowing from American dialects to create innovative hybridized sounds. It is also often a channel for the sacred, allowing players and listeners alike the chance to commune with a higher self or God of their understanding. These diasporic and shamanic tenets of reggae are of greatest concern, particularly when cross-examined against Phish’s own pre-occupation with genre mastery and the spiritual experience of music making. 

Although a reading of Phish’s intersection with reggae would benefit from a deep engagement with critical race theory, race is not the primary line of inquiry in this paper. The tropes and idioms of sound supplant race as a primary identifier for this exploration, not eliding issues of whiteness or blackness but replacing the apertures of ethnicity with musical improvisation. Joris’ “nomad poetics” and the rich diasporic translation work of Mackey and        Hejinian provide an instructive lens to view Phish’s musical journey and eventual liberation towards freer and more groove-oriented jamming. This framework of semiotics and language poetry (as defined by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews) helps shine a light on the murky waters of the 90s when Phish was exploring larger venues and the broader musical vocabulary necessary to break free from improvisational constraint.

  • Jake Cohen, “Cover Songs, Genre, and Cow Funk, or, Why Does Phish Play ‘Cities’ So Slowly?”

The Talking Heads song “Cities” has been part of Phish’s repertoire since their earliest recorded gig at Nectar’s in 1984. Yet the arrangement that Phish plays departs in several ways from the Talking Heads original, most notably its greatly reduced tempo. The band has never publicly commented on this choice. For a band that often plays a cover song with remarkable fidelity to the original version, “Cities” certainly stands out.

This paper uses the question of why Phish plays “Cities” at such a slow tempo in order to investigate larger questions about genre throughout the ascendancy of their career in the 1990s. In its original fast arrangement, “Cities” is inarguably derived from disco and other Black and Latinx musics of the late 1970s. Phish’s choice to slow the song down may have represented a desire to forge a more idiosyncratic sound that aligned with the style of groove-based music associated with the Grateful Dead and other rock groups of the 1980s that influenced Phish such as King Crimson, Frank Zappa, or Genesis. The Talking Heads’ racially-hybridized sound, which critics and audiences often found unable to fit into neat genre categories, may not have been as compatible with the style of early Phish.

While “Cities” was an early and regular cover throughout the 1980s, it belongs to a group of cover songs with deep Black influences, such as Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and Robert Palmer’s “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” that largely disappeared from setlists as Phish graduated from playing bars and parties and began their professional touring career in earnest, and then resurfaced in 1997. This paper also considers how Phish’s choice of covers as they began playing clubs and colleges, and then moved on to theaters, amphitheaters, and arenas, served particular goals for catering to their mainly white, suburban audience. Recognizability within the classic rock canon (“Good Times, Bad Times,” “Highway to Hell,”) or fully assimilating into the Phish repertoire (“Ya Mar,” “2001”) took precedence over songs rooted in Black musical practices outside of rock.

When “Cities” finally did return in 1997, it was more neatly aligned with the admittedly white “cow funk” style that Phish embraced in that year, still eschewing the more overt references to disco and Black dance music that the original tempo carries. “Cities” therefore offers an opportunity to examine how Phish navigated questions of race and genre, as well as the role of cover songs within their concert repertoire, while actively courting new fans throughout the early 1990s.

Session 7b: “Read the Words That I Engrave” –  Literary Analyses 2

  • Leo Costello, “Phish and the Romantic Anti-Capitalist Weltanschauung”

Much cultural and historical discussion of Phish, both academic and popular, is centered around the band’s complex network of musical influences and references, from, inevitably, the Grateful Dead, to 70s and 80’s prog rock, to the H.O.R.D.E tour culture of the early 90s, to ongoing covers, side projects and collaborations. Appropriately, this discourse is often driven by the band’s own declarations, whether in direct spoken or written references, or a history of covers, or both, as in the case of Talking Heads, for one.

Less has been said, however, of the band historically, and art historically, looking backwards beyond the 1960’s and in relation to broader socio-cultural movements and theories. This paper seeks to encourage that larger conversation by placing Phish within an ongoing tradition of Romantic and neo-Romantic art and thought. In so doing, I will rely less on the band’s own stated or implicitly defined goals and instead place them in a wider art historical perspective, connecting aspects of Phish’s music, lyrics, visuality, performance and philosophy to the cultural phenomenon of Romanticism. In particular, my account will draw on the work of György Lukács and Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre to consider Phish as a late twentieth and early twenty-first century example of an anti-capitalist impulse that has been an important component the Romanticist cultural worldview, or Weltanschauung, for the last 250 years.

Such an approach has the benefit of explanatory force for many seemingly disparate elements of Phish’s ongoing project, such as: their interest in synesthesia, particularly between the aural and the visual; a related concern with abstraction; Dadaist elements of chance, absurdity and nonsense; Surrealist strategies of dreaming and hallucination; blurred distinctions between artist and audience; the predominance of the grotesque in both form and content; and especially an anti-capitalist approach to the music industry. This latter is often discussed, and rightly so, in terms of the local conditions in the 80s in Vermont, much as the Dead’s emergence is tied to the 60s in the Bay Area. But both of these examples need also to be placed in the larger context of the longue durée of Romanticism and its critical legacies. Discussing the band’s approach in this manner ultimately provides a more oblique point of entry into questions about politics, referentiality and meaning in Phish.

  • Anna Farzinder & Jason Jarvis, “Divided Sky: The Environmental Rhetoric of Phish”

As the planet plunges headlong into 1.5-degree Celsius warming, public support for protecting the biosphere and altering our relationship with the non-human world is critical. This mixed-methods essay analyzes the album titles, song titles and lyrics of Phish to consider their support for environmental protection and preservation. We believe that Phish rhetorically advocates for environmental protection in a range of ways that are both obvious and subtle. To test this theory, we use a mixed methods approach that combines NLP (Natural Language Processing) with rhetorical textual analysis.  First, we use machine learning to classify Phish album titles, song titles and lyrics as “Environmental” or “Non – Environmental”.  Data classified as “Environmental” will be further analyzed through Topic Modeling and Text Categorization in order to group words and phrases that are related to similar topics. Finally, we assess our results using Kenneth Burke’s theory of terministic screens to consider the rhetorical arguments made in Phish lyrics and song titles that relate to the non-human environment.

  • Ellis Godard, “Mondegreens, Meanings, and Means: Quantitative and Qualitative Patterns in Phish Lyrics”

Phish has performed over one thousand songs, including nearly 300 originals for which the lyrics feature 40,000 words. Those lyrics have varied in quantity, frequency, length, and otherwise, both across Phish’s history and among the band members. Quantitative analysis reveals some interesting patterns, and provides a basis for assessing both the breadth and the frivolity of Phish’s lyrics vis-a-vis other artists.

3:15pm-4:45pm: Plenary Panel (90 MIN)

“You Don’t Have to Count Them, Just Enjoy Them One by One” – Quantifying Phish

  • Paul Jakus, “Bombers and Fluffers: Anomalous Rating Behavior and Show Rankings”

Using an (anonymized) Phish.Net ratings database composed of over 16,000 people providing over 340,000 show ratings, each rater/user is evaluated according to metrics and methods grounded in information theory and marketing science. Metrics include the number shows rated by a user, deviation in ratings between the user and other users, and entropy of a given user’s ratings. Entropy—a measure of information provided by a user’s ratings—is, by far, the most useful metric in identifying anomalous users. In contrast to the current .Net rating system, which applies an equal weight to all users, one can use the above metrics to vary weights across users. Show rankings under the current system are compared to show rankings generated by five alternative weighting systems, including one designed to mimic the system used by

  • Jason Zietz, “Who Does Phish Play For? Themselves? The Fans? A Little from Column A, A Little from Column B?”

While Phish’s setlists were originally predetermined, the more recent approach reportedly finds the band creating a list of many possible songs before the show begins, only to have Trey Anastasio, Phish’s guitarist and lead singer, destroy the list right before the show begins.  Given this semi-random approach to setlist design, is it possible to determine what motivates the band to choose the songs they play? 

In this paper, I provide the details of a quantitative analysis of various data associated with Phish’s recorded music and live performances that addresses this question.  This analysis consists of several parts.  First, I examine what songs, on average, fans of the band tend to prefer by determining the most popular songs on popular streaming services.  I then analyze various qualities of these songs, including lyrical sentiment and audio properties such as key tonality, duration, and complexity, to determine if there are any commonalities among these most-liked songs.

To determine what the band primarily likes, I look at the frequency of songs played at shows and generate from the most frequently played songs some general criteria that may predict what the band chooses to play based on the songs’ audio qualities.  Additionally, I also specifically analyze the cover songs the band most frequently plays, since learning another musician’s work likely indicates a high level of appreciation for that music.

Finally, I examine fan perceptions of shows to determine to what extent fan satisfaction correlates with fan preference of particular songs.  This is done by examining both show ratings and semantic analyses of show reviews.  These analyses are presented for the entire career of the band as well as segmented into the commonly used numerical “eras” (i.e, 1.0, 2.0, et cetera) to determine if, over time, any differences among these eras can be ascertained.

These analyses help provide evidence that show setlists indicate that, rather than solely playing for either the band or the fans, Phish instead typically plays for, to quote Grandpa Abe Simpson, “A little from column A, a little from column B”.

  • Matt Sottile, “A quantitative examination of Phish history through audio recordings”

The presence of tapers and the surrounding trading scene has existed for the bulk of Phish’s career resulting in a detailed performance history of the band via easily accessible audio recordings.  This allows us to examine the content of the performances to look at how Phish and their repertoire has evolved.  In this talk I will discuss the kinds of quantitative information that can be derived from this recorded history both manually and automatically.  To illustrate some of the results I will take one of the band’s longest standing songs as an example of study: Reba.  I will look at Reba from a statistical and signal processing perspective to see what can be teased out of over 350 recorded performances of the song from 1989 through the present.  I will also discuss the challenges that arise when applying audio analysis techniques to fan recordings.