In Defense of Phish


It never got above fifty degrees that night in Jones Beach.  But even if it had, the driving rain and punishing wind blowing in off the ocean was enough to make mother nature’s point, especially to those of us unlucky enough to have lucked into an upper deck seat.  She was pissed, and she wanted everyone to know it.  She hung the clouds mere feet above our heads, filled them with cold, stinging rain, stirred a blustering wind, and unleashed it all on our heads.

It was a miserable night.  By rights we should have all been home in front of a fireplace.

But there we stood, windswept and wet – the contents of our pockets long since reduced to lint – paying no mind to any of it.  Reveling instead, undeterred by mother nature’s fury, in moments of pure, unadulterated joy.

For the dreadlocked twenty-something next to me who’d thrice offered me a taste of whatever it was that was allowing him to go barefoot on this night, it meant dancing with abandon, arms and feet flailing about wildly.

For the middle-aged brunette to my left, it meant swaying gracefully from left to right, eyes closed while she sang along when she could.

For me, it meant – on this night, during this particular version of “Slave to the Traffic Light” – standing perfectly still, baked in the stage’s mix of yellow and purple light, haloed by it as it bounced off the rain and fog that enveloped us, taking in the moment’s heavenly confluence.  The music’s slow, graceful, melodic build from quiet minimalism to blissful, climactic fervor; the crowd; the weather; the light…the everything.

My name is Joe Bianchino.  I’m a 25-year-old man.  I’m the editor-in-chief of a sports talk website.  And I love Phish.

Because of moments like those.  Because each of the 23 shows I’ve seen has, at some point or another, delivered a moment like that.  A time wherein I was stunned motionless, left to look on in slack-jawed disbelief at the unrivaled talent of these four men, and the melodic webs they manage to weave.

Because at each of the 23 shows I’ve seen, they’ve supplemented moments of graceful beauty like that one with a wealth of equally awe-inspiring, straight ahead rock so ferocious it would bring even the most jaded cynic to their feet in full-throated appreciation.

And because at each of the 23 shows I’ve seen, they’ve tilted things the bass’s way and dropped a groove so funky the dad from Footloose wouldn’t have been able to contain himself – or as the band might describe it, a grove so funky it’s almost as good as James Brown on his worst night.

And because at each of the 23 shows I’ve seen, they’ve injected some manner of light-hearted comic relief.

And because at each of the 23 shows I’ve seen, the quartet, without the benefit of a written or imagined score, have injected all four into one song – wandering and expertly segueing between them, leaving the audience to wonder, the way they would when hearing a Romantic symphony, how in the hell they just did that.

And because at each of the 23 shows I’ve seen, I’ve been surrounded by the kindest, gentlest group of people you could ever hope to have gathered in mass – whether they’re high-fiving you at the start of some long-awaited song, or selling you a grilled cheese out of their trunk.  A group with only two real flaws: an occasional overindulgence in recreational drugs and a sporadic under-indulgence in the hygienic arts.

And because each of the 23 shows I’ve seen, even the ones that didn’t light the world on fire, have been some of the best times of my life.  The people, the band, their versatility, the moments.  There’s nothing like it. Nothing like Phish.

I know many won’t believe me.  After all, “jam band” is a dirty term, and it’s so easy to ignore them as “those guys with the pot-head fans who play really long songs about traffic lights and whatever.”  But when you dig just a little deeper, if you went to one show – just one show – you’d find out the truth.  That beneath the, at times, nonsensical lyrics, you find a musical powerhouse with as much talent as any other ten bands can offer.  You find a band that can move you to cheers, tears, or sarcastic jeers at any one point.  And you find a fan base that just wants to enjoy it, and wants everyone else to do the same.

You find a world you should want to be a part of.  One you’ll never want to leave once you have.

Author: Joseph White

Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBNTS. Email him at