- Tom Marshall
There’s that moment at every Phish show where we transition from the bliss of the pre-show party to the business at hand of the show itself. We walk in, get our seats, gaze at the stage, and realize how many of us there are to see this incredible band. With this comes the realization that we’re amongst a wide and disparate tribe of people chasing the same thing, oftentimes from different starting points.
In this episode, we explore those different starting points and the diverse group of fans that make up the Phish fan base. We hear about the challenges some fans face when feeling included in the scene, the obstacles many overcome just to experience a show, and ask some serious questions about who we are as a fanbase. Featuring stories from Malcolm Howard, Shaunea Robinson, Laura Keating, Stephanie Jenkins, and more, we highlight just how many people Phish has attracted, while showcasing ways that we can become a more unified and equal fanbase.
Undermine is brought to you by Osiris Media, the leading music storyteller. Executive Producers are Tom Marshall, RJ Bee, Brian Brinkman and Matt Dwyer. Written by Benjy Eisen. Produced and Edited by Brian Brinkman. Mixed and Mastered by Matt Dwyer. Produced by David Goldstein, Jonathan Hart, Brad TenBrook and Dawn Jenkins. Production assistance and writing by Noah Eckstein and Julia Shuster. Social media by Nick Cejas. Original music by Amar Sastry. Show art by Mark Dowd. Thank you to all of our interviewees. We’ll see you next week!
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Undermine S2E5: “Doors”
Tom Marshall: Phish has performed their flagship anthem, “You Enjoy Myself”, almost 600 known times. And yet, as any Pandora or fan-imagined algorithm will tell you, no two are identical. That’s why we keep coming back for more. And more. And more.
Tom Marshall: In fact, of Phish’s nearly 2000 documented live performances, I defy you to find a pair of twins. Each show is a snowflake, a fingerprint connecting the band with the show, the venue, and the date. So, if you fire up the mainframe at the Gamehendge Time Laboratory, and feed it a “You Enjoy Myself”…
Tom Marshall: You’ll end up with…
Tom Marshall: I’m sure there’s some Phish geek out there right now programming an AI to be able to do exactly that — that is, to not only be able to determine the song, but to also be able to tell you that version’s identity. [And if not, there will be now after this – you’re welcome].
Tom Marshall: Identity is a very interesting word to use, when talking about the Phish universe. Phish’s fans – Phish heads, Phish kids, Phish fanboys, Phish Chicks, or whatever you want to call us — by large identify with the scene itself, at large. That is, identifying as a Phish fan is to acknowledge and allow for the likelihood of a few common traits, fair or unfair. It’s who we are collectively, but it’s not all of who we are individually. Being a Phish fan is our common ground. We all love this band.
Tom Marshall: But, there’s a 100 percent chance that you’re not just a Phish fan. You’re something more. Something unique. You’re also a schoolteacher, a bank teller, a marine biologist, a businesswoman, an astronomer, a lamplighter, a first responder, a second line player, a third wheel, an economist, a lawyer, a caretaker, a student, an introvert… or an extrovert…. an activist, a coder, an athlete, an Uber driver, a mother…or a father… a best friend, a storyteller, a prankster, a dog sitter, a lone wolf, a happy camper. Some of you might be none of these things but all of you — all of you — are so much more than any one of them.
Tom Marshall: Previously, in this season of Undermine, we detailed how some of you may have first heard of Phish, or your first Phish show, or a story from Phish tour. We learned what happens inside the venue on show day leading up to the main event and, on the last episode, we went out to Shakedown Street to check out the scents and subtle sounds of Phish lot.
Tom Marshall: In this episode, we’re going to look at what happens when the venue opens its gates and fans start streaming in.
Tom Marshall: There’s a name for the moment that happens….
Tom Marshall: It’s called Doors – which is also the name of this episode.
Tom Marshall: If you’ve seen Phish live then you have the same experience as all of us of waiting patiently, sometimes hours (and sometimes not so patiently) for your turn to have a security guard pat you down and search all of your belongings and then the moment you’ve been waiting for…. hearing that satisfying as the ticket-taker scans your ticket. In that moment, it’s an even playing field — everyone is waiting to get inside. This episode of Undermine mimics those moments, minus the pat-down and pre-show anxiety. But, today, let’s hear not only from people exactly like you but from people not like you at all. Everyone in this episode has – at minimum – TWO things in common: Everyone here identifies as a Phish fan. And any one of these voices we hear from today could be the person dancing next to you at your next Phish show. Perhaps, even, you already shared dance space with them, made eye contact, joked with them in the beer line, or barked at them for talking too loudly in the row behind you during Ride Captain Ride. On the surface, we’re a fairly homogenous fan base. But go even just one level deeper, and you’ll find… we are infinite. And we are, indeed… everywhere. And you can find us… on the other side of this quick break.
Tom Marshall: Phish formed on the campus of the University of Vermont in 1983. All four members of the band came from affluent families in the Northeast. As Trey Anastasio points out in the movie Bittersweet Motel, they grew up listening not only to the stuff their friends were turning them on to…
Tom Marshall: …or the stuff their parents exposed them to…
Tom Marshall: …but also stuff they heard at the mall.
Tom Marshall: It makes sense that their music would appeal first and foremost to people with similar influences, geographic backdrops, cultural touchpoints, and general backgrounds, since all of those references are embedded in the music. Cow funk did not originate in, say, Latin America and it’s not necessarily big in Japan.
Tom Marshall: Their specific sense of humor, musical throwbacks, and steady stream of cultural nods, winks and references might not translate so easily to audiences abroad… or, even, to different demographics right here in their home country. But as the scene grew, so did the parameters of its demographics.
Shauea Robinson: So, I didn’t have a specific Phish Sherpa. I went to my first show with this guy from my college who had also never seen Phish. But I met this couple on the lawn that were just exceedingly kind, like they brought me waters, they made sure I made it to and from the bathroom at set break, they bought me cig’s. I don’t even remember their names, but they made a lasting impression. If you’re out there and you and your spouse made friends with a 19 year old black girl and MPP in 2010, get in touch. I’d love to reconnect and tell you how you kind of changed my life.
Tom Marshall: That’s Phish fan Shaunea Robinson who is younger than the typical Phish fan and also… not white.
Shauea Robinson: For the most part, the Phish community has been pretty inclusive, although there have been some isolated incidents.
Tom Marshall: One of those incidents occurred at the Gorge in 2018 when two fans of color were attacked in what many suspect was a racially-motivated incident. This reignited a conversation that was heralded, in 2017 by Adam Lioz, an attorney and policy advocate for Demos, a prominent liberal think tank in D.C.. Headcount published Adam’s blog post titled: Phish Scene So White: Let’s Talk
Adam Lioz: I did my best to get in touch with as many fans of color as I could to ask them about their experiences and what I learned was that many folks were having not the same experience as the typical white male Phish fan like me. I learned that folks were facing assumptions when they walked through the crowd about, for example, that maybe this was their first show or that someone else brought them. Or many people seem to be asked often about where the bathroom was at a venue because people assume that they worked there instead of they were actually a fan because of their race. And I learned, by the way, also that many people have had very positive experiences. So there was not sort of a monolithic, unified experience, but there were certainly fans of color who were experiencing the kinds of racial and other dynamics that happen in outside society. We love to think that we can leave all that behind when we come into these festivals, into our community. But the reality is that my black friends who are Phish fans don’t shed their skin color when they walk through the turnstile.
Arvind Gopalratnam : My name is Arvind Gopalratnam. Professionally, I’m the Vice President of corporate social responsibility for the Milwaukee Bucks and the executive director of the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation and personally father of three and avid Phish fan.
Arvind Gopalratnam: It’s certainly not lost on me that I don’t look like a lot of people that go to Phish shows. It’s something I guess I’ve become more aware of as I’ve gotten older, but has never been a barrier for me, for my own connection to what I experienced with the music and the band.
Arvind Gopalratnam: When you grow up with immigrant parents who are raising their first generation kids in this country, there’s it’s a little bit of a different experience. And you can go within different communities and cultures and ethnicities and the upbringing is even different. So for for me, as a first member of the family born outside of India, raised with strong Hindu cultural beliefs within the family, I guess, you know, really talking about bands and music wasn’t something that comes up around the family dinner table or when you talk about with relatives who are halfway around the world so it’s not until you’re really, truly introduced and embraced by your friends growing up in those communities, especially here in America.
Arvind Gopalratnam: And there’s without question times that I have felt uncomfortable, but those are few and far between. And it’s never been a representation to me of what the Phish community has been. Now, that’s my experiences. That’s what has allowed me to have this world be part of my world. And so it starts with welcoming arms that welcomed me into that world where the color of my skin never was a thought until it’s brought up to you.
Shauea Robinson A lot of people assume that it’s my first show or even weirder that I don’t know what band is playing, which I don’t know how I would stumble into an 80 dollar concert and not know who’s playing. But it happens quite frequently. I’ve had people back out of a ticket trade after seeing me, like we will meet on like PT or Redditt or something like that to exchange tickets or something like that. And they’ll see me and then magically, oh, they don’t need it anymore. People always assume that I’m the tagalongs for my fiancee, who has been to maybe five shows, all of which I brought him to like he’s not a Phish fan at all. But whenever I bring him, people just they start talking to him and completely ignore me. They think that I’m just like his girlfriend that he brought along. I’ve noticed, like in the decade that I’ve been seeing Phish, like I have never seen my white friends having these interactions. And then conversely, like my other black friends who are Phish fans, they have similar stories.
Tom Marshall: When Adam published his article, there were divergent reactions from the Phish community. Some fans felt that there was more that needed to be done to create an inclusive environment for everyone. Others were defensive and denied the assertion that the community was exclusive in any way.
Adam Lioz: I think it touched a nerve for a lot of folks. And I think what the conversation that followed to me taught me a few things. This was a real issue in our community that had been under the radar that folks weren’t talking about. There are a lot of fans of color that don’t feel comfortable coming to the shows. And it’s not because the Phish scene is any more racist than the rest of the country at all. But whenever you have a scene or a community that is so clearly majority white, then you have to examine and think about the background around that and sort of how whiteness operates and works and how race operates and works in that kind of culture or scene. And we weren’t doing that as a community. We weren’t asking those questions. We weren’t examining that. And so it really showed me that there was a conversation that needed to happen.
Tom Marshall: Adam realized something. The response to his article, in some ways, it fit the textbook definition of white fragility.
Adam Lioz: We’re taught that racists are bad people and good people aren’t racist. And so if you suggest to me that I may have done anything that could be racist or even had thoughts that could be conceived as racist, then that makes me a bad person. And then I have to spend all my energy defending myself against that accusation. And the reality is that we are raised and acculturated in a society that has its roots in white supremacy. So we are all going to carry around these kinds of assumptions and what’s known as implicit biases. That’s not an indictment on anyone’s character. That is just an acceptance of reality. And so that’s one and another example is this idea of colorblindness, where many of us are taught that the aspiration is to not see race. But the reality is, is that as a white fan, if I tell a black fan that I don’t see race, what I’m telling that person is that I’m not acknowledging that you may be having a different experience than I’m having in our community and in the broader world.
Joong Won Kim: Adam did the hard I think lifting that that is hard to do.
Tom Marshall: Joong Won Kim, a post-doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech University co-wrote an academic research article titled: The Culture of White Space: The Racialized Production of Meaning, and the Jamband Scene published in the journal of Sociological Inquiry.
Joong Won Kim: I’m a Phish fan, like before, I’m a researcher. That’s something that I want to really highlight. I love Phish. I fucking love Phish.
Tom Marshall: Yes, I think we can all say that, right? We love Phish.
Joong Won Kim: OK, so I specialize in race and racism and racial affect, racial ideology and language particularly, and in our culture and cultural practices in particular, my forays into language, how does language play out racially and vice versa? These things are mutually constitutive, right? So our article, with my co-authors, its called The Cultural Y Space: The Racialized Production of Meaning in the Jam Band Scene. We looked at Adam’s article. We looked at the response from Phish fans, people got vitriolic, very toxic. Now, what I started to analyze, we systematically analyzed them, these responses. We figured out a particular pattern, people would do these two things in the article, deflection and racial humor, like they would make jokes, they would deflect. But, you know, it’s not surprising and what’s even more funny is that they’re doing the same thing that we found in the article, the racial humor, deflection. I don’t know if I’m using the particular terminologies within the article. It’s this notion of sarcasm, NIMBY, not in my backyard right? That’s there! And then our conclusive, our sort of theoretical model of how people do not in my backyard guard, keep all of that stuff that is encapsulated with this idea of deflection, racial humor, that is sarcasm crude humor and I hope that this is a grand question of not just being inclusive about racial matters, but understanding that these intersect and I know this term is used over and over and over, but I do have to give due because if you look up on YouTube intersectionality, the first thing that comes up is Prager U’s definition of intersectionality,
Tom Marshall: Whether or not the Phish fan base is racist is a question that would necessitate using broad strokes — the kind that perpetuates stereotypes — for an answer. And we’re a fan base that has, unequivocally, if nothing else, been averse to stereotyping — even though we do it all the time ourselves. Are we racist? Probably… not… most of us… Right? But… Let’s start with this: the majority of us who are white have inherently benefited from the privilege that is ingrained in many cultural institutions.
Tom Marshall: In order to address this inequality, some Phish fans started a Facebook group called Phans for Racial Equity…Phre for short…
Malcolm Howard: So Phans for Racial Equity, Phre, was born out of an article that Adam Lioz’s wrote about the Phish Scene being so white. And he got a lot of backlash for that
Tom Marshall: That’s Malcolm Howard, Phre’s cofounder.
Malcolm Howard: There was a core four or five of us that said, hey, we can make a group out of this and we can bring we can shed some light on it. And if we’re going to take some heat, we’ll take some heat. But eventually, as with all things you know, people see the light.
Tom Marshall: Phre became an official 501c3 organization during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Phre is dedicated to creating an anti-racist community that mobilizes fans to be a force for good, in the scene and in the greater world. Phish chose them as the beneficiary for Dinner and a Movie #35 this past June.
Malcolm Howard: But I tend to think, just like coal turns into a diamond with enough pressure from all sides, things will change. And I think not only do we need to call it out, people need to literally tell people, I don’t think this is the place you should be with that behavior. You know, I hate that we have to police that, but people do like you just nailed it. People get fucked up and they think that’s my right because I can do whatever I want and say whatever I want. But meanwhile, the respect that the band showed you by putting on all these shows every year, the respect that the staff there is ushering you in, making sure you’re safe, getting out because you’re having this experience. And for you to then go out and say, I own this or or push people or start a fight. Like you’re fighting an official for what? For what?
Tom Marshall: If fighting isn’t something you’re used to seeing at a Phish show, you’re not alone. In fact, one of the, ahem, stereotypes of our scene is that we’re a generally peaceful crowd. And statistically speaking, we tend to be — especially in relation to many other fan bases. But we’re not all vibrating with love and light, and if we’re going after diversity, then… maybe we don’t need to be. We don’t all have to share the same beliefs or morality any more than we should all have to share the same religion. But are there questions we should be asking ourselves? Issues that we should be addressing? Are there ways that we can make our scene a more inclusive safe space?
Tom Marshall: Anybody who wants to be at a Phish show, deserves to be at a Phish show. That sounds great, but take a minute to think if you truly believe that. Because that would mean not just fans from all over the world, but also fans from all over the map…. culturally, philosophically, even politically. Take a second to chew on that. We’ll be right back.
Tom Marshall: Before this ad break, we talked with Malcolm Howard who cofounded Fans for Racial Equity as a ripple effect from an article that Adam Lioz wrote about racism and the Phish scene. Adam detailed some of his thoughts for us:
Adam Lioz: And so we mean welcoming folks with a nod and a smile like you would any fan, but not making assumptions about whether this might be someone’s first show or their one hundredth show, not running up and exaggeratedly welcoming a black fan because they’re you hardly ever see those folks, right. Folks don’t want to be singled out and sort of as outsized because of their race at shows. So it’s being intentional about that. Another important part is being ready and willing to intervene. If and when you see racist things happening on Phish lot in our community, we need to send a very strong message that racism is not OK. It’s not what we do here in the Phish community. And folks, especially white fans, have to be ready and willing to step up to send that message, especially when you hear something in the bathroom, when there are no fans of color present. It’s our responsibility as white fans to step up as well. So we need to focus on all of the kinds of fans in our community and think about the experiences that folks are having and making sure that we’re intentional about building an anti-racist and inclusive community more broadly.
Tom Marshall: Let’s hear again from Shaunea Robinson….
Shaunea Robinson: The best way that the Phish community could be more inclusive or maybe the simplest is to treat people like human beings and not curiosities. I don’t want to be reminded every time I meet someone new that I’m a black person at a Phish show. I’m very aware of that. I just want to be, like treat me how you would treat some random thirty five year old white guy that you run into like you know. Yeah, sure I want to talk about last night’s show. I want to, I have feelings about some random Tweezer from the 90s. Like, you don’t have to treat me like you are a black person and you’re here, let’s explore that. Like it’s it’s been done already.
Tom Marshall: The Phish scene is a community and the very definition of community is a large group of people with common interests, characteristics, or geographical location. Inside a show, we’re all in this together. In some ways, it’s impossible to truly be alone at Phish because even if you traveled solo, you can still dance and sing and yell and do the Meatstick dance in unison with 20,000 others, many of whom are like-minded, many of whom you might end up having a lot more in common with than just your passion for Phish… and many of whom you might not have anything else in common with whatsoever, but having established common ground – Phish – you find that you can still fist-bump or trade tour stories at setbreak or even just exchange smiles with as you pass by them in the concourse.
Laura Keating: Hands down, ha ha, I have become the best hand dancer that you could imagine. My hands and my arms can just oh, my God, I am so great moving just my arms and flailing. And you should see my limb by limb dance. Oh, it’s hard to beat. Kind of like a robot meets like a spaz.
Laura Keating: My name is Laura Keating. My first Phish show was July 24th, 1999 at Alpine Valley.
Laura Keating: I have this really weird, rare disease where I got a virus and my immune system overreacted to it. And so I started producing this antibody in my brain and it blocks the signal from my brain to my parasympathetic nervous system. So one minute I was healthy, fine at work, and then the next minute I could no longer control my heart rate, my body temperature, my blood pressure and my fight or flight and my digestive system. Everything is just paralyzed. So I immediately started having to get nutrition through a central line which started in my arm. It was a pick line. And that goes to your heart. And I get all my nutrition through my heart, bypassing my digestive system since it doesn’t work
Stephanie Jenkins: There wasn’t yet a group that focused on disability. I’m a fan with disabilities. It’s not always apparent, but I have in the past had experience problems at shows and I just wanted to connect with other people who had similar experiences. Additionally, I have academic expertize in the field of disability, in the field of disability studies. And and I’m interested in the concept of universal design, which is an architectural principle that gets applied to other areas, focused on how we can kind of make the world more accessible.
Tom Marshall: Doctor Stephanie Jenkins is a Director of the Mockingbird Foundation and a professor at Oregon State University. She started a group to bring together Phish fans with disabilities.
Stephanie Jenkins So currently Access Me is a Facebook group for fans with disabilities and allies. I started the group, but there are, there’s a collective of moderators who help run the group.
Laura Keating: We usually go in earlier, maybe like a half hour before showtime, because there’s always some kind of hiccup with ADA tickets. I don’t know, we either have to go somewhere and get special passes or what the tickets say don’t match up much like the ADA section. There’s always some kind of pick up and it always works out. But we just like to get in and find our spot and know that we have a place to see the show. Because ADA, while there’s like a section, it’s first come first serve on where you sit there. So you need to get there early if you want to be close to the front of the section or the area. And that’s where a lot of people like to come down and spin. And since I’m hooked up to wires and IVs and stuff, I need a place where nobody can kind of jack my medical equipment up. So that getting really I feel old but early.
Laura Keating: And so it’s just safer in ADA. And I know nobody’s going to come in and accidentally tripped over a cord or run into me once I roll into the ADA, even if we don’t know anybody, I’m pretty much automatically protected by this crew. They all have their own medical stuff going on. So I think they’re a little more empathetic. And they’re like, oh yeah, she needs we need the blocker in because this could go south and I want everyone to have fun. Phish fans are so loving and friendly that there’s so many times that they try to wheel me for pat and I’m like launched out of my wheelchair or end up kicking out somebody’s ankles so yea it’s wild! The aftershow is intense.
Laura Keating: It’s amazing because I’ve had my I’ve had serious mental health issues with depression and anxiety since I’ve gotten sick, I’ve had some really dark days. And to know that there’s somebody out there like Trey who, he doesn’t have to do this, you know, he he could sit back on his butt and put his feet up and do nothing for the rest of his life and not struggle financially or anything. And he’s choosing to take his platform and change the world. You couldn’t hope for anything better.
Tom Marshall: Elaine Vario, an usher at MSG, recalls meeting a father with disabilities at a Phish show.
Elaine Vario: They brought their parents and they were both in wheelchairs. But it was their first Phish show. And the kids were respectful and lovely and beautiful people. And we were putting glowsticks in their pockets. When I went on break, I came back with peanuts for the father and we had a few talks and he said he was having a good time. You don’t see that at every concert. You know what I mean? You don’t see the joy that the Phish heads want to share with everyone else is a beautiful thing.
Tom Marshall: When I introduced Dr. Jenkins as a Director of the Mockingbird Foundation, and the founder of Access Me, I should’ve said…that’s not all she is. Dr. Jenkins is also an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University. But, again, that’s not all she is.
Stephanie Jenkins: So the class that I teach is philosophy of art and music. It’s a standard class that goes through canonical theories about music ontology, ethics, the concept of the sublime and so forth. But studying academic philosophy, the ideas the we work through are really abstract and dense. So for undergraduates it can often be difficult to connect to the material, to understand why it’s relevant or even to just get a grasp on what’s going on. So when you give students something like Phish, a shared concrete experience, it helps them apply the ideas that they’re learning and understand why they’re significant in ways that they might not be able to otherwise. So we study some philosophical readings along those lines, and then it’s paired with a Fishman vacuum, solo performance, and then they debate about whether or not it counts as music. And one of the things that happens is that they don’t like it initially. So the kind of gut response is this couldn’t possibly be music. But once they go back through the readings and kind of work through their arguments, almost all of the students come back and say, yes, like not only is this music, this is a kind of performance art. We study esthetics, the kind of kind of philosophy looks at what makes music good or bad. In that unit I give them some Divided Sky and a Big Black Furry Creature From Mars performance and ask them to explain which one they think is beautiful.
Stephanie Jenkins: A standard part of the class is that students attend three concerts over the course of the academic term, and then there are assignments that are organized around helping them unpack their experience and applying it to the concepts that we’re learning. Most years that I’ve taught the class, it’s just been an online course. In 2018, I actually took students on a field trip to The Gorge Amphitheatre. We spent a weekend there, the students camped together and I organized a mini academic conference on the camp grounds so students could hear from other Phish academics who were at the concerts. Once I realized how cool the even was, I opened it up to fans and we had about a hundred fans who came and participated in the conversations.
Tom Marshall: So any of you who cut class to go catch the Phish concert were doing it wrong – if you took Dr. Jenkins class, you’d have gotten credit for attending, and perhaps even extra credit for clapping at the right moments during “Stash” or yelling “Hood.” After all, at a Phish concert, inclusion in the participatory elements is a part of the culture.
Stephanie Jenkins: So one of the things that I did on the field trip was that I paired them with specific assignments that got them out into the community so that they didn’t just stick to themselves. So they met people and other academics at the mini conference. I also gave them kind of an interview assignment where they had to go find a fan who had been to more than 50 shows and ask them questions. They had to find someone to teach them the meat stick. And as a result of that, right, it was a really interactive experience and they learned much more than they would have if they had only been exposed to me.
Tom Marshall: Dr. Jenkins curated the first Phish Studies Conference, which was held on her campus at Oregon State University in 2019.
Joel Gershon: I saw online that there was the Phish Studies conference that took place last May at Oregon State University. And since I teach here, and research is an important part of being a professor, I knew that there was no way I could let this opportunity to potentially present, or be a part of that Phish studies conference, go. I couldn’t let it go without trying to at least submit something and see if it got accepted.
Tom Marshall: Joel Gershon is an Adjunct Professor of Communications at American University.
Joel Gershon: I was walking out on New Year’s and right in front of MSG, I saw two people having an American Sign Language conversation. So it kind of just hit me as soon as I saw it, I was like woah, that’s pretty interesting — maybe I should introduce myself. Maybe that could be a topic. So I did, I went up to them, introduced myself, got their information, and I learned as much as I could and then kind of step by step, person by person, organically, I got to know a bunch of people who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as interpreters, and I put in an abstract to the Phish studies conference, got accepted, and then I really dove in over the next several months to learn everything I could about what it’s kind of like to be a deaf person and Phish fan and the issues that kind of come up.
Aaron: This is Aaron speaking. I’m from Seattle, Washington, and I consider myself hard of hearing. So what that means, I have a lot of hearing. I have a lot of access to sound. I do wear hearing aids and I go to a lot of shows. I go to a lot of Dead and Company, any Grateful Dead-related shows. And I’m really blessed to have the amplification that I have, the access to my hearing through hearing aids. I do feel the music in addition to not only what I can hear, but through the vibrations, the rhythm and the beat sounds that I feel through the arena.
Mike: I went to a mainstream school for elementary through high school, and I was one of the only deaf people in a hearing classroom. I do remember my first experience with music probably was with Pearl Jam. One of my old favorite bands, and when it comes to calling a person deaf or hard of hearing, it depends on the person’s cultural sensitivity to the culture itself. For example, I call myself deaf, but other people’s could call themselves hard of hearing or whatever they prefer because of the cultural context. But it’s important to keep in mind that when a hearing person approaches a deaf person, you’ve got to make sure they have to make sure they call them the appropriate name. You can say deaf or hard of hearing, but the word hearing impaired is not used anymore at all.
Brian: Some of you guys know there’s a song called Sleeping Monkey that refers to something else. During the lyrics, the Interpreters that we had, one of them was kind of cringing when she was interpretting the song. That just kind of made it like, don’t do that. Because you’re supposed to just interpret, not show your facial expressions in disgust. It was just a little off. Other than that It was a great show, but it was just, you know, someone I saw they really don’t agree with the lyrics and it was just kind of like don’t do that.
Mike: Well, it depends on the individual. But for me, I wear hearing aids and a cochlear implant so I can hear most specific, more specific levels of music. But I’m never able to understand the lyrics 100 percent. So I had to train myself to learn the lyrics, you know, myself. And to identify the song if I look on Twitter and then I can see what song it is. So when I hear the music, I can actually it’s real and I can feel it. It’s like when Page plays plays and he does the famous synth thing, I can feel it and I can hear it. But with deaf people in general, I think that we feel more a little bit more sensitive to the sounds than we actually are hearing and trying to understand. So when we always see them live, it feels like it’s it’s real. It’s where we’re close to the speakers, we you know, we can see how they’re reacting, you know, to what we are feeling or listening to as opposed to if I’m listening on a CD, I can feel it somewhat, but it’s not loud enough to, you know, like it is in the arena.
Tom Marshall: If you haven’t figured it out, those were Mike’s words, but they were spoken through an American Sign Language interpreter. When you see an interpreter signing Phish’s lyrics at a show, it’s not just for show – it’s for our deaf or hard of hearing friends in the audience. They are a part of our community too and their show experiences can be both profound and therapeutic. As well as just a good time. Talking of a good time, now would be a good time for a bathroom break, because we’re getting close to showtime. I’ll hold down the seats. Hurry on back.
Tom Marshall: Hey, welcome back – perfect timing. Looks like we’re fifteen minutes past ticket time, the band should be on soon. Before the lights drop, here’s Adam Lioz again – Adam works for a progressive think tank and has some great thoughts about our scene, beyond the race issues that he wrote about.
Adam Lioz: The beautiful thing about the Phish community is that we have our own values that many of us try to take back into the outside world when we leave a festival, that sense of collectivity, that sense of we’re all in this together and we assume good things about each other, that sense that you can go up and start a conversation.
Rob Corwin: So my name is Rob Corwin. I’m one of the founders of Brian and Robert, I’ve been listening to Phish for a long time. I think my first show was Hampton ‘96.
Tom Marshall: Brian and Robert is a group for LGBTQ+ Phish fans to meet up before and after shows.
Rob Corwin: So I meet this guy Danny at this meeting, told him hey if you can get tickets to Hampton, you can catch a ride with us. Interestingly, he he had never dated a guy and actually wasn’t out with anyone but himself at that point. So I made the offer and little did I know. I think I didn’t realize Danny was sort of well-connected in the Phish community. And I think, you know, a day later he called me up and had tickets to the show, which I think was hard sold out at that point. I think Andy Gadiel had hooked him up with some sort of arrangement. He was supposed to crash with the Disco Biscuits at their hotel. He was going to catch a ride down there with us. And so we we piled in the car. We drove down to Hampton. Generally, I think generally, I’d say in the aggregate, I mean, the Phish communities always felt very welcoming. I mean, which is not surprising and very welcoming of a bunch of divergent nonmainstream ways of ways of being in all kinds of senses. I can definitely throughout think of some comments or just some energies that felt weird. Cuddling on each other in the middle of that all night show. You know, some of the looks I could feel was like, oh, shucks, those guys are holding hands. And some of them were like, what’s going on over there? Um, they’ve been random sort of things that shows where people are caught off guard. I can remember specifically that those shows at The Gorge I was describing where we we did maybe it’s a little obnoxious, but we had this massive gay flag that was the size of the RV flying off of it. I can remember the night after that first show feeling exposed out in the lot there or in the campground there. And there were definitely some comments heard and, you know, people passing by that weren’t welcoming, but they’re in the minority, right? I mean, those are the things that most bees don’t sting, but you remember the one that does, right? So those things definitely stand out. It’s a spectrum, like all things, but I would say in the whole yeah, the Phish community has been very welcoming and embracing and I think of anything I’ve seen joy in people’s faces of like, oh, my God, I never thought of that.
Rob Corwin: When you think about why people want to build a community or build on Phish almost like a platform to express their identities and build a community around it, it kind of goes back to those same thoughts I had about that, you know, unexpectedly walking into that first show, right? It’s this fluid, dynamic experience where at least for me walking in there, where I suddenly felt different pieces of myself manifesting them, manifesting at the same time in a more fluid, open, freer way than I had experienced before, and it’s the attraction to wow, I could be me in a different way than I’ve been me before. Weirdly enough, at that concert, it sounds weird to sort of say, but that was sort of the experience, that there is a freedom and a fluidity of person in that moment that I experienced that was tantalizing and attractive and made me want to go right back. I think that’s this idea that it creates this other place where maybe the… It’s funny, I’ll borrow some terminology from the Burning Man community, which is a parallel development, a parallel in my life at least. So there’s this concept of temporary autonomous zone.
Amanda: But we were in Mexico and I think it was set break and we were coming back, we had been Mike side with another lesbian couple that are friends of ours, and we were coming back and we heard these people talking about where to stand. And this one guy was like, let’s go Mike side. And the other guy was like, oh, Mike side dyke side. And we just overheard it on our way back to meet up with our lesbian friends. And were were like, why didn’t we think of that!
Kathleen Hinkel: Yeah, so the idea for Mike’s Side Dyke’s Side originally was talked about, at set break as a really let’s do this thing, let’s do Mike’s Side Dyke’s Side and we’ll have a bunch of pride flags over by Mike’s Side.
Tom Marshall: That’s Amanda Jones and Kathleen Hinkel, respectively. Kathleeen is a Chicago based photographer and Phish fan that came up with the idea of Mike’s Side Dyke Side as an area at shows where the LGBTQ+ community could congregate and come together.
Kathleen Hinkel: It’ll just be a known space where people could come boogie down and find their people. And it was kind of casually represented as that and that’s maybe a dream that’s still in the future creating that space. But but then when you think about it more seriously and you think about, you know, anti trans bills that are going through state legislators in states where Phish have shows scheduled like Arkansas and Tennessee, then you think of more more serious ways where creating a queer space at Phish could have a more important reach.
Amanda Jones: So we were just like, you know, laughing and joking about it with our friends. And then…
Tom Marshall: Amanda is a graphic designer and a program manager at a street paper in Chicago.
Amanda Jones: And then for Kathleen’s birthday, I made her a tee shirt that said Mike Side, Dyke Side and then she made me a tee shirt. We wore it to pride that year and I posted a picture, I think in Phish Chicks, and it got like a lot of attention. And then we posted it a couple other places. And yeah, that sort of was like this is people who had a ton of interest and wanted a group, one of the shirts, and so that’s how it started. We just went with it.
Kathleen Hinkel: So then we were kind of rolling with it. And we have this group called Mike Side Dyke Side with t shirts and a Facebook group and everything. So then we were like, we should probably tell Mike that we’re using his name. So his band was coming to play in Chicago at the Metro and we made a couple Mike Side Dyke Side mugs and got some local coffee and made a Mike Side Dyke Side tee shirt to give him. And so we go to the show at the Metro and we go to eat at the place next to the Metro. And of course, like the whole band is also eating there. And we have this gift bag for Mike, coincidentally. And we were wearing our Mike Side Dyke Side shirts and Robert Walter, his piano player, came up to us and complimented the shirt, so we gave him the shirt and he gave Mike the Mike Side Dyke Side shirt, and then on our way out of the restaurant, we handed Mike the bag, which had like a handwritten note explaining what we’re doing with all these quotes from Mike Gordon songs and the gift bag. So then when they came out on stage, Craig Myers, the percussionist, was wearing a Mike Side Dyke Side shirt and we were like, ecstatic. And after the show, when we bought the poster and Mike does the thing where he meets everybody, he signed our poster for Mike Side Dyke Side. We were totally thrilled.
Steve Silberman: My name is Steve Silberman and I’m the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, and also an old school Deadhead who wrote a book back in the early 90s called Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads.
Tom Marshall: Steve is one of the preeminent voices in the Grateful Dead galaxy and some of you may also remember him from his contributions to Wired Magazine – or from seeing him at shows…including Phish. Or perhaps you heard his amazing Osiris podcast, with David Crosby, Freak Flag Flying.
Steve Silberman: I first heard of Phish probably reading the Village Voice wetlands listings. And when I saw, you know, the name Phish at the wetlands, I thought, what a dorky name.
Steve Silberman: But then on October 18th, 1991, I went to see Phish at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The Great American Music Hall was obviously a storied venue for me because the Dead recorded one of their best shows ever there in 1975. And it turned out to be an unbelievable Phish show, special for various reasons. For one thing, the kids of Ernie Stires, who was of course one of Trey’s great compositional mentors, were there.
Steve Silberman: They started out with a very long jam on Runaway Jim. So I instantly knew that they could jam. They could do what, you know, Jerry Garcia described as instruments talking to each other. So, you know, there was no BS there, they were doing it. And the whole show had a sweep and a power that just completely blew my mind. And they sung Uncle Pen in the second set. So I knew that they were aware of American roots music. And that had been one of the things that drew me to the Dead. They ended up doing Sweet Adeline a cappella. So I felt like I was hearing sort of a history of American music funneled through the lens of these guys. And I remember thinking consciously during Guelah Papyrus, oh, my God, these guys are unbelievable. The next time I see them, it’s probably going to be at like Oakland Coliseum or something. And I wasn’t exactly wrong. But the next time I saw them, it was a wonderful occasion. What I didn’t know at that Great American show was that there was a guy standing probably about, you know, 10 yards away from me who would later become my husband. But I did not meet him there. I met him online in 1994. And then we went to see a tour. Really, that’s how we dated. We went to see the tour in early December in 1994. So we were going to venues like Chico and Spreckels Theater, particularly. UC Santa Barbara, where I nearly got busted because some security guard found some weed in my socks.
Steve Silberman: The second night at Spreckels there was some police action out front and they came out with Makisupa Policeman and Trey’s walk across the stage seemed to be in beautiful defiance of the police clamp down on the fans outside. I knew they were also responding to the current conditions in the venue, which had always appealed to me about the Dead.
Steve Silberman: And it was just like they obviously had it, whatever it was. And it was not the same it as the Dead, it was their own it which came out of their own musical background and, you know, hearing crazy stuff like Frankenstein on the radio, they turned it all into fodder for their musical conversation. And I really respected them. I did feel right at home because there were people having the best time of their lives at an event that was completely spontaneous and improvised and would never be the same, you know, the following night. And so it was really a thrill to be back there in the moment of discovery with kindred spirits.
Tom Marshall: Like so many people we’ve heard from this season, the way that Phish reinterpreted the American Songbook with a rebellious streak that reflected a sort of Anti-Authoritarianism, combined with obvious improvisational mind-reading superpowers, drew Steve into the Phish world. And, as a Deadhead, he found parallel and belonging in the burgeoning community that was springing up in that corner of the musical multiverse. Plus, Phish’s orbit also had something else waiting for him — love.
Steve Silberman: My husband, who is Ward Q Normal on Twitter or Keith in my house, was, I would say, more into Phish than the Dead than I was when I met him, because he’s younger, he’s 12 years younger. And so Phish are the same age as his older brother, whose record collection he absolutely worshiped. So Keith, related to Phish as sort of generational peers. I never related to the Dead is generational peers. They were always older. Phish gave us a chance to get into touring and a new band together and we ended up getting married and very happily so. And we’ve been married for like 26 years now. So Phish turned out to be a new lease on jamband life for us. And it’s been wonderful.
Shaunea Robinson: The most important thing to me at a Phish show is that locked in moment. You know the feeling when you’re dancing so hard and you’re just cheesing like an idiot, but you don’t even care because you’re so in the moment. That’s what I look for going to Phish shows.
Tom Marshall: You’re not alone in that, Shaunea. In this episode of Undermine, you heard from one fish two fish red fish blue fish – that is to say, you heard from a number of Phish fans who love and cherish going to shows as much as you do. Afterwards, they may go back to lives that are very different than anything you’ve ever experienced, but at doors, when everyone excitedly clears security and enters the building, they could be the person on either side of you that you just high-fived for no other reason than you’ve made it inside. And once inside, it — at least temporarily — becomes a place of elegance.
Tom Marshall: Next week we’ll move our clock ahead by an hour, for that moment every Phish fan waits for….
Tom Marshall: …showtime!!! Oh, and also next week’s episode of Undermine is…. Lights!
Stephanie Jenkins: Nietzsche famously said that life without music would be a mistake. And he, in his writings on art, described the concept of Dionysian art quite a bit, which is the kind of overindulgent, expansive, transcendent, sometimes conflicting experience of music. And there’s a lot of dying Dionysian experiences going on at Phish shows. So I think he would like it. And if I had a time machine, I would love to bring him to a concert.
Tom Marshall: Neitzche at a Phish show? Eh. I’ve seen stranger things. Just please tell him not to talk during the quiet part of Divided Sky — or at all, really — and we’ll get along. Alright, Neitzche, down in front!
Tom Marshall: This season of Undermine is all about the Phish community and since that’s YOU, go ahead — get online and judge us! Please rate and review us on your podcaster…if it’s favorable, that is. Oh, and your tour buddies would love a link to this episode, so don’t let them down. While you’re at it, they want your extra mail orders too.
Tom Marshall: Next week, on Undermine…. Phish fan Ari Smith describes what happens when you’ve made it past security and you’re now safely inside the venue, with an hour to kill till showtime:
Ari Smith: So you’re on your way to meet an ex and they occupy an unfair amount of real estate in your soul, and you are totally aware of the fact that that real estate will belong to that person forever. It’s been a few months, I guess, since you’ve seen them last.
Ari Smith: You know it’s going to go well, but you just can’t shake those unknowns. Have they changed? Have you changed? Is the vibe going to be different? Are you guys going to kiss? Are you possibly going to have sex? You know, things are going to go well. You just don’t know what form it’s going to take, you know, how it’s going to look. And despite that, despite knowing that it’s going to go fantastically well and you’re going to be stoked, you’re fucking draped in anxiety and paralyzed by it. Your palms are sweaty. Every conversation you’re having, you are totally dialed out of; you are just numb with anxiety. And then the lights go down — and that shit goes away fast.
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