The muddy fields of Coventry, Vt. were supposed to be the final resting place for Phish, the wildly popular jam-band known for its quirky compositions and transcendent improvisations. After spending more than 20 years on the road building one of the most devoted grassroots followings in rock history, the band collapsed under the pressure of substance abuse and personality conflicts, ending its run in August of 2004 with a farewell festival in its home state.
Now, after nearly five years of rest, recovery and solo projects, the members of the band — guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and keyboardist Page McConnell — have reunited for what fans are dubbing “Phish 3.0.”
The jam-band kings started their new reign last March with a widely-hailed string of shows in Virginia at the Hampton Coliseum, a legendary spaceship-looking venue held in high esteem by the band and its fans. Fueled by the positive buzz generated from the reunion performances (Phish made recordings of the entire three-night run available for free download), the band has now embarked on a sold-out summer tour, stopping in Asheville on its way to headline two nights at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee.
The band's decision to play the Civic Center in lieu of bigger venues in bigger cities likely owes to members' professed love of Asheville. Although Phish proper has never played in town, all of its members have played in the area with various side projects, including Anastasio's 2001 performance as part of Oysterhead (a supergroup that included Les Claypool and Police drummer Stewart Copeland) and his collaboration with Gordon and the Grateful Dead's Bill Kreutzmann at the 2005 Christmas Jam. At the shows, Anastasio praised Asheville from the stage, making it clear that it's one of his favorite towns to play.
Aided by the extensive trading of bootleg recordings, word of Anastasio's affectionate feelings for the town has spread far and wide throughout Phish-dom, helping make the local show one of the most sought-after tickets of the tour. Several hundred fans waited in line at the Civic Center on a frigid morning when they went on sale last January, many of whom camped out overnight. Most left empty-handed however, due to overwhelming national demand and a computing snafu that released the allotment of tickets reserved for the box office into the general pool. There's sure to be fierce competition for any extras on the day of the show as fans pre-party and tailgate downtown.
Mountain Xpress spoke with local fans about their love of the band, its reunion and their last-minute schemes to try and score tickets for the Asheville show.