Now I know what you’re thinking.
“Phish fans are just obsessed with Phish.”
“I don’t want to listen to 20-minute guitar solos.”
“I don’t do acid.”
While all of those things certainly exist within the Phish world, they are by no means the norm. Yes, Phish fans are incredibly passionate and invested in the band, but not in an exclusive way. Most of the time what seems like fanaticism is actually genuine excitement that someone else is showing interest in this incredible band. And a lot of the time we just forget how much of what we talk about is “insider info” and not things that we knew as new fans. It doesn’t come from a place of gatekeeping or exclusion but from pure ignorance. It’s also important to know that nobody was that passionate when they started out either. I certainly enjoyed my first show, but I didn’t go home thinking I would love them as much as I do now. Just like with any other hobby or interest takes time and repeated exposure to get more and more involved.
Another important barrier to entry for new fans is the range of Phish’s catalog. As is to be expected with any band that has been around for almost 37 years, Phish has an insanely expansive discography. With over 350 songs, you can find all kinds of different styles and genres to listen to, from reggae to punk rock. This range includes a group of slower, poppier songs that had some mainstream success. Some people look down on this group and the people who like these songs. I like to refer to this particular group of fans as “asshats”. Don’t listen to them. I’ll let you in on a secret: everyone started out listening to these songs. There’s a reason their top 5 songs on Spotify include Farmhouse, Heavy Things, and Bouncing Around the Room. Almost nobody starts out enjoying long instrumentals like Divided Sky or seeking out songs with 15-minute jams. It’s something that you just kind of build up the more listen and the more you experience it. If I’m being totally honest, I hated Divided Sky for years when I started listening. I even skipped the instrumental portion of Fluffhead for a while, which is basically a cardinal sin in the Phish world. But don’t let anyone disparage you for enjoying the songs you enjoy just because they forgot that they used to love those songs too.
If even after repeated listens to multiple live versions, you still end up hating some of the “biggest” songs, so what? Diehard fans don’t even love every song. Every now and then you’ll hear a song that’s about five minutes of cringe followed by a mind-blowing jam (I like to refer to this as “Light Syndrome”, although Soul Planet has taken over the crown recently). One of the benefits of making music for over 35 years is that the band has accumulated a massive catalog. In the 30 shows I have attended in person; I’ve heard them play 218 different songs. What’s even more impressive is that this is just a fraction of their overall repertoire when you factor in covers and rarities. Into good ol’ classic rock? Wilson will melt your face (their cover of Good Times Bad Times at my first show sealed the deal for me). Prefer a nice chill bluegrass song? Nellie Kane’s got you covered. Rather bang your head along to some high octane, heavy distortion metal? Carini will make you question whether you’re at a Phish show or Ozzfest. No matter your preferred musical genre or style, Phish has something for you.
Even if you never become a big fan of the extended jams, that’s totally okay! Despite what the stereotype says, these actually make up an extremely small portion of the shows. In fact, in the 38 shows Phish played in 2019, there were only 21 songs that ended up longer than 15 minutes. That’s only an average of one every other concert. And seeing that most shows end up being around 22 songs, this makes up such a small percentage of the music you’re going to hear. And being in the jam-hating minority isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The opening notes to Tweezer can just be the perfect signal for a bathroom break.
Maybe you’ve given the music your best shot. You’ve listened to all the slow songs and hate them; you’ve tried the jams and fall asleep halfway through you’ve listened to every era and think they’re all terrible. Again, that’s perfectly fine, but you should at least go to a single show. Music aside, Phish concerts have some of the greatest crowd energies I have ever experienced. Every concert can end up feeling like an NBA playoff game 7, or an SEC football game. The band members have said they feed off this palpable excitement, which ensures that every show is, at the very least, a damn good time. They also have an aspect going for them that is much more akin to sports than a typical concert: the anticipation of the unexpected. Because the shows are different every night, you always have the chance to witness something incredible. Personally, I have seen them play a certain jam that they hadn’t played in so long that it had become a running joke in the community (Mike’s second jam, Nashville 8/4/15), as well as a song they hadn’t played in 20 years, and have only played 3 times total (Chalk Dust Torture Reprise, Charleston 12/8/19). Going to at least one show with a group of friends expecting to have at least a fun night is the best way to give Phish a chance.