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What’s A Deadhead To Do? Many Are Turning To Phish

Joe Ehrbar Correspondent

The death of Jerry Garcia has posed a couple of questions: What’s going to happen to all the Deadheads? And who’s going to the carry the torch for the Grateful Dead?

Well, there’s a handful of jam-oriented, hippie-friendly bands already attracting the interest of Deadheads. One is Blues Traveler, which most recently co-headlined the H.O.R.D.E. summer tour with the Black Crowes. In fact, the H.O.R.D.E. tour, as its popularity grows exponentially every summer, just might provide a good alternative to the legendary Grateful Dead concert institution.

Perhaps to more than any other band, Deadheads will turn to Phish, whose sound is rooted in rock, bluegrass, country and Latin music, and convert to Phish-heads.

For a while now, Phish, which plays a sold-out show at the Opera House on Saturday night, has been considered the heir to the Grateful Dead throne.

Like the Dead, the band generates improvisational, jam music, attracts a loyal legion of fans and sounds best in the live environment.

So does Phish feel any pressure now that the Grateful Dead may have played its swan song?

“There isn’t any (pressure); not direct pressure, anyway,” bassist Mike Gordon recently told a reporter for the McClatchy News Service. “There might be some indirect pressure, although I don’t know if pressure is the right word. I guess there are phenomena that come into our awareness.

“For example, people in the Phish.Net (an Internet web site created by its fans) are worrying that a lot of Deadheads will come to our shows and our scene will expand in strange ways. But that’s not really pressure or something that we worry about. We just keep doing our thing. Anyway, the old-time Deadhead probably wouldn’t like us because we’re too this or too that. I mean we’re not exactly the same (as the Dead).

“But I guess there’s more pressure to accommodate more fans,” Gordon continued. “And since we’re starting the new tour on the West Coast, we might feel a certain kind of nostalgia or tingle toward Jerry, who was obviously a real influence - along with Sun Ra and Zappa and all of our other influences.”

Phish formed in Burlington, Vt., in 1983. Its current line-up, which includes Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman and vocalist/guitarist Trey Anastasio, was solidified in 1985 when keyboardist Page McConnell joined the band.

The quartet self-released its debut album “Junta” in 1988. In 1990, Phish followed with the independently-released “Lawn Boy.” The band’s major label debut came in 1992 with “A Picture Of Nectar.” Also that same year, Elektra, Phish’s label, re-issued its first albums. “Rift” and “Hoist” were released in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

This year, the band put out a live double-disc appropriately-titled “A Live One.”

This album, perhaps more than the band’s other five, best captures the essence of Phish. The live element, where Phish has thrived since the beginning, was created for bands like this. The jams are extended. The playing is inspired. And it also contains the band’s infamous 30-minute-plus epic “Tweezer.”

What’s particularly amazing about the quartet’s popularity is that it spread virtually by word-of-mouth. Early on, fans would follow the band from town to town, club to club, in an effort to spread the word about their treasure. Today, the band plays before thousands at amphitheaters, arenas and large theaters throughout the country.

Radio and MTV have not played a significant role in the band’s success. They won’t touch the band because of the lengthy-nature of its songs.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Phish Location and time: Opera House, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: Sold out

This sidebar appeared with the story: Phish Location and time: Opera House, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: Sold out

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