One Man’s Phistory | Stepping into Yesterday

Back in February, Phish bassist Mike Gordon was kind enough to speak to me in the lead up to a gig with his solo band at MontBleu. After the show, I caught up with him at the merch table to get some vinyl signed and chat.

My first memories of listening to Phish take me back to summer before seventh grade. … I was gifted a handful of dubbed cassette tapes containing various live shows. Just like that, I was hooked.

“So what do you think about another interview for the Phish tour opener?” I asked.

“That wouldn’t be fun,” he replied, an all-too-knowing smile crossing his face, just like on the album cover of “Billy Breathes.”

“Well, maybe we could do it with another member,” I suggest. “How about Page?”

I knew it was a long shot. The keyboardist is the most reclusive of the four artists. While Gordon and guitarist Trey Anastasio tour regularly with their solo bands, and drummer Jon Fishman now serves as a town selectman in his hometown of Lincolnville, Maine, McConnell spends most of his time laying low in upstate Vermont.

“Yeah, maybe with Page,” says Gordon, completely straight-faced.

“Really?” I ask, my enthusiasm growing at the unlikely prospect.

As a pianist myself, Page was always my favorite.

“No, no, no…,” he trails off with that sarcastic smile once more.

Suffice to say, I did not land a Phish interview. The tickets sold out in minutes and at this point in their illustrious yet homegrown career, they really don’t need the publicity.

So instead I thought I’d write a bit about my own personal history with the band that I, and so many others, love so dearly.

My first memories of listening to Phish take me back to summer before seventh grade. A couple of my close buddies had older brothers in high school who had been to shows at Greatwoods and Mullins Center in 1993 and 1994. Through them, I was gifted a handful of dubbed cassette tapes containing various live shows.

Some that stand out include Campus Club 3/13/92 (Secret Language instructions), Crest Theatre 3/22/93 (the third narration of Gamehendge) and Providence Civic Center 12/29/94 (“Lassie, come home!”). Just like that, I was hooked.

Where I grew up in Canton, Conn., the Trading Post was the ultimate head shop in town. Although we weren’t old enough to be allowed into the back room, the righteous dudes at the front desk would let us peruse their list of Phish tapes up front. And if you brought your own blank cassettes, they’d dub copies for you for only a couple bucks.

I played those tapes until the plastic wore thin. The following summer, I clearly recollect listening to “Hoist” at Uncle Ed’s cabin on the banks of Lake Caspian in Greensboro, Vt., where Willey’s Store (and its wares) still stand.

When the older brothers went to Greatwoods in the summer of 1995, we were so jealous we listened to the Gamehendge tape in the basement and danced to our own version of ecstasy imagining we were there with them.

The following summer one of my friends went to The Clifford Ball in his brother’s creamsicle-colored Volkswagen bus. He survived intact and that was all the evidence I needed to convince my parents to drop me and my friends off at Hartford Civic Center on Oct. 23, 1996, for our first show.

Since that life-changing night (which requires another story all its own), I’ve had the privilege to catch a handful of Phish shows a year whenever they were on tour. I was at some classics over the years including the 1997 New Year’s Run and the IT festival in 2003.

I remember floating my way out of Madison Square Garden after an epic pentagram Harpua took the boys well past midnight on Dec. 30. And I’m pretty sure we all made in to Gamehendge and back during the blockbuster 46 days>Julius, Lizards, Secret Smile>Run Like an Antelope final set in Limestone.

When I attended my first post-break-up show at Jones Beach in 2009, it didn’t take me long to recall why I loved this band so much. It wasn’t the most amazing show I’d ever seen, but something just felt right. It was like I was back home with my family with the old mix tape playing on the stereo again.

Thirty-four years in, the boys from Vermont are going strong, making the changes they needed to keep it going and live their lives and musical legacy to the fullest. Thirty-six years into my own personal journey, they’re still inspiring me to do the same.

July 17-18 | Harvey’s Outdoor Amphitheater | Stateline, Nev.