The announcement came on March 23, 2020. The greatest product to come out of Vermont since Ben & Jerry’s, Phish, would present a weekly ‘Dinner And A Movie’ archival video series free of charge to their rabid fanbase, a response to their postponed summer tour that would be rescheduled for 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While no Phan would argue that couch touring is an equivalent experience to seeing the band live in concert, all these months later and 22 episodes of the series in the books, there have been some take aways I think that are worth sharing.
Phish is very near and dear to my heart. As a 3.0 disciple of the band (yes, go ahead and laugh), they have opened me up to a myriad of other genres and a never-ending list of musicians along the way. In many ways they have been my compass to music education and my tastes today.
The series, which has featured shows spanning the band’s three-plus decade career, has given the Phish community a chance to relive or discover periods of the band’s work that we may not been exposed to before. Sure, I’ve listened to some of their performances from the late 80’s at Burlington fixtures like Nectar’s and The Front, but to actually see the band in action during that period in the case of Episode 15 at the Pearl Street Ballroom in Northampton, MA (5/1/89) for example, had me in awe of the foursome just as much as when I saw them for the first time. The fisheye lens aside on the video, it was a wonderful portal into the band’s early exploits.
Likewise, to watch a show that I was actually in attendance for, like in the case of Episode 4 for their 2015 Magnaball festival, it brought back so many fond memories of the journey to Watkins Glen and all that ensued that weekend with some of my closest comrades – setting up the campsite, which in some miraculous way was about 50 feet from the main entrance, exploring the festival grounds and installations during the day and a late night set that left my friend and I in an absolute daze as we looked at each other contemplating what Marco Benevento tune Mike Gordon had just teased (it was “Fireworks,” by the way). There’s no other band in my personal experience that has given me as much as Phish has in so many unique ways.
The Dinner And A Movie series has also facilitated an activity that many would frown upon at a live show: discussion. While there is always a time and place to do so, whether it be post-show, Twitter, Phish.net, PhantasyTour or otherwise, being one step removed from the live show where the vast majority of the crowd is completely locked in to the music, these webcasts have given us the opportunity to do a play-by-play in real time of what we may have been thinking/feeling in attendance or hearing a show/song for the first time.
The prime example I would point to is probably my favorite edition of the series thus far, Episode 19 from Great Woods on July 8, 1994, the last full narration of the epic Gamehendge saga. While I’ve listened to the show before and for that matter Trey Anastasio’s senior thesis, ‘The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,’ it was a joy to watch it play out in motion. To be able to join in the commentary on Twitter with the community and simultaenously recognize and appreciate what we were witnessing, gave me a sense of normalcy that is difficult to come by these days. It goes to show we don’t necessarily need to be huddled all together up on the lawn or in the pit to take part in a shared experience. In the end, it’s the music and the community that unites us and keeps us coming back for more.
The last notion I would offer, unfounded or not, would be the exposure the Dinner And A Movie series has provided for non-Phans. I understand some folks just don’t “get it” or are skeptics when they hear something strange lyrically. Or maybe they’re hesitant to attend a live performance due to the negative connotations that sometimes are attached to the “jam band” scene. I would hope after watching even 5 minutes of some of the dynamic performances that the series has provided and considering the sheer excitement and happiness that the band exudes on stage that is matched if not exceeded by the audience, that they’d be willing to at least acknowledge that there’s a there there. Whatever it may be.
This Labor Day weekend, Phish will broadcast three shows from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO. The venue has become the preferred location for the band to close out their summer tour and has been site to a number of outstanding performances during this era. If we can’t be sharin’ in the groove together, in person, let us do the best we can virtually, as one united community.
Stay safe and take care of one another.