What is shaping up to be quite a season in 2015 for the Tuscaloosa Amphitheatre got a big boost with the announcement that touring legends Phish will perform on August 2nd at the venue by the river. Since the band reunited in 2009, they have been on a breakneck touring schedule that rarely gives them time off for things other than recording. Despite limited radio success, the band has managed to headline major music festivals and sell out venues like Madison Square Garden. Now, they bring one of the most engaging live experiences in music to Tuscaloosa.
Phish are, without a doubt, the quintessential jam band. The term was practically invented for them. While groups like the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band are recognized as laying the foundation for the scene, Phish are the gold standard by which most jam bands are judged. As the hippie scene merged with the alternative college scene in the early 1990’s, they were at the forefront along with Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler. They’re entire career has been composed of relentless touring. Even when the band went on hiatus, the four members were involved in various projects that kept them on the road most of the year as well.
The beginnings of Phish go back to the University of Vermont in 1984 when Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and John Fishman began playing together at fraternity parties and other social gatherings. They became a regional act in the northeast through tape sharing, a practice they still allow at live shows. They began to draw larger audiences after a series of shows in Colorado in 1988, the live recording of which is one of their most well received efforts. By the 1990’s, they were signed to Electra Records and released a string of gold albums such as Picture of Nectar, Hoist, and Billy Breathes. They also changed how major music festivals were viewed at the time, going from touring acts to single-weekend events and proving that one band can carry a festival. Outing such as Clifford Ball and Big Cypress provided some of the 90’s best moments for the jam band scene.
One of the main things that separated Phish from earlier improvisational groups was the broad range of their influences. While the Dead and Allmans certainly influenced the group, acts like Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, David Bowie (whom they named a song after), The Band and Traffic have made waves on the band’s sound. Phish also popularized the use of funk in jam band music. Groups like the Talking Heads and Parliament-Funkadelic were very influential to the band. Phish also sought influence among bands of their time. Collaborations with peers such as Alison Krauss and Bela Fleck show their appreciation for the present as well as the past. The sheer volume of influences has led to a diverse sound that travels back in forth, sometimes in the same song. Many jam bands to this day employ a vast array of sounds, and the genre is defined by having no real defining sound, but instead defined by the unpredictability of live performances.
Phish have not visited Alabama too often. Just recently, they began going back to Birmingham, and have even put on a few shows at the Wharf in Orange Beach. But by coming to Tuscaloosa, they are returning to their roots of performing for college crowds in a true college town. It’s been a long journey for the four from Vermont. However, this recent run has seen them as inspired as ever. Hopefully, their performance will reflect that.

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