Still Basking in the Baker’s Dozen Glow
By Leora Katz
There was one thought repeating itself over and over in my mind as Phish brought Madison Square Garden to a roar during the final song of their 13 night residency. As 20,000 fans jumped up and down, threw our hands in the air, yelled at the top of our lungs, and smiled the most uncontainable smiles you ever did see, all I could think was:
We are so lucky we love the best band in the world.
And it’s not just because they’re unbelievable musicians — four individuals who master their instruments, can jump seamlessly between genres, and improvise with their bandmates to create live magic before our eyes.
It’s not just that they set out to delight us — playing surprise sets at festivals, creating a donut-themed concert series, driving a truck onto an arena floor and performing from it’s rooftop.
It’s also not just their rich history — a band that formed in 1983, has had tremendous highs and lows, and still plays songs that were written by Trey Anastatsio when he was a child.
It’s not just because of their hilarious antics, either — a drummer who uses a vacuum cleaner as an instrument, timing a fireworks show with a vocal jam, turning a newspaper article into a scripted play mid-song.
And it’s also not just because of their songs — a catalogue of music so vast they could play 237 different songs over their 13 Baker’s Dozen shows, including 61 covers, 19 debuts, and songs last played in the 90s.
So what is it, then? If it’s not their musical talent, devotion to fans, rich backstory, hilarious antics, or catalogue of songs — what triggered my mid-encore epiphany that we really do love the best band in the world?
During that 237th song of Baker’s Dozen, I took a split second to take it all in. The floor of one of the world’s most iconic venues was bouncing under my feet as 20,000 people — most of whom should have been absolutely exhausted — danced with every cell in their body. The scene around me was filled with hugs, high fives, and smiles — faces and bodies that were almost literally bursting with joy. We were drowning in happiness.
And that’s what makes Phish special.
The happiest place on earth
Phish somehow creates what feels like the happiest place on earth. Whether it’s at Madison Square Garden or a stage tucked into the woods, the energy at a Phish show is unparalleled.
I’ve been to some of the best music festivals in the world. I’ve seen so many concerts by so many bands, ranging from techno parties in underground venues to up-and-coming hip hop artists in tiny rooms to classic rock legends in huge arenas…and the list goes on. And I’ll tell you something: nothing comes even close to a Phish show.
At a Phish concert, anything goes. You can be 18 or 68. It can be your 2nd show or your 200th show. You can close your eyes and get completely lost in a jam for 27 minutes, or stay laser focused on the stage. You can dance your face off till you lose your breath, or stand perfectly still and get blown away. You can be perfectly sober or on a psychedelic trip. You can wear a sequined dress or jeans and a tee.
As long as you’re not talking and allowing the people around you to enjoy the show — no one is judging you. You can be your best, freest, most-elated self. For a few hours, you’re sucked so purely into the moment that nothing else matters. It’s a feeling of freedom reminiscent of childhood, and it’s delightful.
A community of love
There’s a beautiful buzz around Phish, and it’s more than just the palpable excitement leading up to the show or the way the audience gets lost in the music. You’ll get that at pop shows, deep house DJ sets, you name it — because that’s the power of music.
The difference with Phish is in the community. And that, my friends, ain’t everywhere. Sure, people give high fives at Bonnaroo and hugs at EDM shows and there’s love going around at many musical gatherings… but the Phish community is something else.
The bubble of love Phish exists inside can be found online and on lot, on festival campsites or city sidewalks, in bathroom lines or bar lines, airports, subways and highways. Phish’s music may be the heart of it all, but what’s a heart without a body to beat inside?
You’ll never see hugs as warm as the hugs between friends reuniting before, during and after shows. You’ll never see smiles more genuine. You’ll never hear a crowd so loud — erupting seemingly out of nowhere as we cross the street on the way to a show, in the middle of a song, or as we exit a venue. Because to us, going to a Phish show is so much more than seeing our favorite band perform. It’s being part of something.
As Phish fans, we have one of our favorite things in common — and it’s something we struggle to explain to our families, coworkers, and non-Phish-crazed friends. Whether this mutual understanding validates us or makes us feel like we’re in on the world’s best secret, it certainly connects us.
We talk to strangers we see wearing Phish merch. We plop down in our seats before the show and say hello to the people sitting around us. We introduce ourselves. We share. We give. We high five. We look each other in the eye. We talk. We’re a real, live community in a world where that’s increasingly difficult to find, and it feels really, really good.
Shining a light
And as a community, what took place in New York City between July 21-August 6 may have been our phinest moment. As the days went by, it began to feel like we were becoming the epicenter of one of the biggest, brightest, busiest cities in the world. There was more mainstream coverage than I’ve ever seen before. More curiosity about what all this is. More respect, admiration, acceptance. More support, excitement, and bending of rules.
Despite the millions of things going on in New York city at any given moment — music festivals, cultural events, sports, art, conferences, business, everything — the city issued an official proclamation making August 6, 2017 Phish Day. One part of the proclamation read:
“Tonight, as vibrantly dressed fans gather at MSG to bounce around the room and await the Reprise, I applaud everyone associated with presenting this spectacular Baker’s Dozen residency that has added to the strength of our city’s economic and cultural landscapes, and I commend the gifted members of Phish for their efforts to enrich the soundtrack of our lives and unite New Yorkers and people of all backgrounds through the power of music.”
Despite the 320 events that take place at Madison Square Garden each year, it was a Phish 13 banner that was raised to the rafters to hang alongside championship banners.
Despite strict venue safety rules that bartenders must remove caps from water bottles, after a few Baker’s Dozen shows, the rule was temporarily lifted. Rumor has it venue staff were talking to a fan and asked what they could do to make the shows even better. The fan explained how annoying it was to not have a cap for your water bottle, I assume assuring staff that we care far more about hydration than throwing full water bottles through the audience or at the stage. The next day, not just any venue but Madison Square Garden in the heart of freakin Manhattan, changed their rules.
And on that note, venue staff at any venue Phish plays repeatedly tell us that we’re their favourite fans. (Yes, we actually talk to venue staff as fellow human beings.) Sure we smoke weed and dance in the aisles and try to wiggle our friends into our seats, but we’re happy and loving and kind. We say thank you and act peacefully and have a child-like excitement that’s refreshing and pure.
We are a community — and while of course there is a dark side — by and large, we are a shining example of something that’s truly hard to find.
Okay… those shows
I started this piece mentioning Phish’s musical talent, devotion to fans, rich history, hilarious antics, and catalogue of songs. The Baker’s Dozen is a glorious example of all of those — a glorious example of everything that makes Phish Phish.
The band brought an idea to life that they’ve had for 20 years, setting out to delight both themselves and their fans. And delight us, they did. The donut theme was wonderfully executed — from the donut-shaped tickets and free donuts before the show to the flavor-themed sets and custom cups. And that’s before the music, where somewhere along the line they decided they wouldn’t repeat a single song. The band dug deep into their history to pull out songs they hadn’t played in decades, and spent the time practicing a slew of new covers.
Much has been written about the phenomenal 26 sets Phish graced us with over the Baker’s Dozen residency. The after glow is real after a run like that. We may have left tired and beat and perhaps slightly relieved that there was no night 14, but our hearts are bursting and our music libraries are filled with 13 shows that are worth a re-listen.
Each show is peppered with moments that will blow our minds with every listen. There were long jams and insane bust-outs. Soaring peaks and moments of near silence. We all ticked songs off our ‘chasing lists’ this run, hearing tunes we’d been craving for years and in many cases, assumed we’d never hear.
We welcomed Reba back. We heard a Sunday Morning opener and Sweet Jane closer. We got lost in a 30-minute Lawn Boy as the second song of first set. 1999. Tela, Vultures, and Alumni Blues in one show. That feeling when the words “oom pah pah” came through the speakers, the laughter when we learned that the universe…is a donut. Swept Away. A Mike’s groove for the ages. The slow cheer as we realized Phish was covering Radiohead. The energy during Fluffhead. Sunshine of Your Feeling, and the “We’ve been waiting for that joke for 20 years… this whole thing was just so we could do that!” line that followed. Izabella. I could go on and on and on….
Whether you saw 1 show or 13 shows or streamed them from afar, we all witnessed something overwhelmingly special. And when the boys came on stage for the encore on the final night of the run, the feeling of celebration in the air was overwhelming.
They did it.
We did it.
As Trey and Page choked back tears during the so-perfectly-placed On the Road Again — singing about going to new places, seeing new things, making music with your best friends, and getting back on the highway — our collective heart just soared. Then they momentarily re-visited Lawn Boy, assuring us that yes, it is still Lawn Boy — and demonstrating that the band/fan interplay is just as important to them as it is to us.
So by the time they started Tweeprise, nothing mattered in the whole wide world besides giving it our all. Giving them our all. And in that moment when I looked around at 20,000 of my favorite people drowning in joy, what else could I have possibly thought than:
We are so lucky we love the best band in the world.
Thank you all for another epic adventure. Thank you, Phish, for creating the happiest place on earth.
❤ ❤ ❤