Often cited as the heir to the Grateful Dead's torch, Phish long ago found a place for themselves in the jam band firmament. It was at the University of Vermont in 1983 that guitarists Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth teamed up with bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman to form Blackwood Convention. By their second gig, they had become Phish.
As a Grateful Dead cover band, they were joined by percussionist Marc Daubert in 1984, who left less than a year later. Page McConnell then came on board to play keys in 1985. Upon his graduation in 1986, Holdsworth departed, leaving the foursome that would stay in place from there on out.
While still in college, the group released a number of self-produced cassettes. They also met luthier Paul Languedoc who crafted instruments for Anastasio and Gordon, eventually joining the team as their sound man. Languedoc's exclusive designs for the Phish guys helped create their unique sound.
Anastasio's senior project was a nine-song concept album entitled The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday. It was the band's second real studio experiment
In 1988, the band hunkered down and often locked themselves away for extended jam sessions. One of those jams would become the double-album Junta, their first wide release. The following year, Phish rented out the Paradise Rock Club in Boston because the owners wouldn't book a band they'd never heard of. The gig sold out as throngs of fans traveled to the show.
By 1990, those fans were a part of the interactive shows that were Phish's trademark. All of the growing hubbub landed the gang a deal with Elektra Records in 1991 with A Picture of Nectar arriving the following year.
In 1992, the first annual H.O.R.D.E. festival gave Phish their first national tour. A slot with Violent Femmes got them to Europe.
In the subsequent years, albums were released in fairly quick succession with Rift in 1993, Hoist in 1994, and A Live One in 1995 which became their first gold record. They also continued to experiment in their performances including playing the entire self-titled Beatles' album at a Halloween show in Glens Falls, New York. The followed that up at 1995's Halloween show with The Who's Quadrophenia
Phish's 1995 New Year's Eve concert at Madison Square Garden was cited by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the greatest concerts of the decade.
The 1996 studio effort Billy Breathes saw more acoustic guitar work than previous outings and became known as Phish's best studio work ever. It also yielded “Free,” their most successful single to date. The first two-day festival, The Clifford Ball, supported that release and involved more than 70,000 fans.
By 1997, the live jams were so extensive that sets were sometimes limited to only four tunes. Such was the Phish phenomenon that Vermont ice cream makers Ben & Jerry's created a Phish Food flavor to tribute the home-state group
More festivals ensued with The Great Went, Lemonwheel, and Camp Oswego taking place in 1997, 1998, and 1999, respectively, each drawing upwards of 60,000 attendees. More improvisational recordings came, as well, as did the Halloween performances covering other bands. Their Millennium Celebration garnered more fans than any other paid concert that night, beating out Sting, Billy Joel, and Barbra Streisand with an attendance of 85,000.
The turn of the century found the band shifting gears and taking some time off after they completed a fall tour. The two year break ended with a New Year's Eve show at Madison Square Garden in 2002 followed by the release of Round Room which was recorded in only three days
After a 2003 summer tour, Phish returned to their festival ways with It. They continued to tour sporadically and, in 2004, released Undermind just prior to breaking up as a band. Their final festival, Coventry, was soaked in rain which forced fans to park their cars on the roadsides and hike into the show. It was an emotional farewell.
A few years of various solo projects led to rumors of a reunion. With a 2008 performance at the wedding of their former tour manager, Phish seemed to be back in business. Their first official shows together were on March 6, 7, and 8, 2009 in Hampton, Virginia. They followed that up with a few more dates and a headlining slot at Bonnaroo
Phish's 14th studio album, Joy, was produced by Steve Lillywhite and released in September, 2009. Their Halloween gig was combined with their festival tradition in Festival 8 set in Indio, Calif. where they performed the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. in its entirety. Footage from the event was turned into a 3D documentary, aptly titled Phish3D, and released in April, 2010
Anastasio and company also performed a tribute to Genesis at the 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony prior to launching a sizable summer tour.