photo by Andy Duback
for a Jam Band
perhaps Burlingtons most famous birth. Phish. Midwived in large
part by UVM dorms and buildings, the foursome slipped from the city in
the mid-1980s, each band member a native son, none a Vermonter. Trey Anastasio
and Page McConnell migrated north from New Jersey, Mike Gordon 87
from the Boston suburbs, and Jon Fishman from upstate New York. (All but
McConnell started at UVM, Gordon the only alumnus).
The bands name, with its soft-nosed whimsy, has become synonymous
with Burlington with Nectars, with The Front, with Battery
Park. Together, the four students tapped the spirit of the city. Or was
it the other way around? For many UVMers, similar spiritual transactions
took place here among friends, within oneself, between a professor,
toward the landscape.
The bands mythology is rooted in Burlington and Phish-heads the
world over descend upon Nectars Lounge. But the stories go back
even further to UVM, to Redstone Campus, to Harris-Millis and Slade
Hall, to early lyrics posted on dorm-room doors, to a cafeteria gig drowned
out by Michael Jacksons Thriller.
As a freshman in the late 80s, I twice saw Phish perform, once at
The Front on Main Street, and the second time at a converted fraternity
house in Amherst, Massachusetts. Visiting a friend at Hampshire College,
Id been dragged to hear this great band. The place was
packed, and tacked to the walls were half-full bags of Pepperidge Farm
Goldfish with the fronts cut away (an ingenious calling card for the little-known
band). I was surprised to learn it was Phish, and shouted over the music,
Hey, I know these guys, even though wed never met. My
first flush of Burlington pride.
But for whatever reasons, I never Let Go and Let Phish. I had been raised
on American hair bands and Soviet death metal. With their jabberwocky
wordplay and prankster jams, Phish offered more fun than I was looking
for. Though I secretly found Trey Anastasios sky-tickling licks,
his growling guitar capable of producing the same nine-foot tall, stepping-over-buildings
sensation that metal gods once delivered.
During my first summer in Burlington, Run Like an Antelope
and Fee served briefly as anthems. Hearing those tripping,
unbridled melodies today whisks me back to lazy July afternoons, lounging
on porches and rooftops, watching the summer sun slip behind the Adirondacks.
When the album A Picture of Nectar came out some years later, UVMers
were reminded of another institution. No matter where in the world wed
landed, there were those gravy fries again, being passed through the take-out
window to a swaying, sweaty, exuberant crowd. There again was Nectar Rorris
manning the register with his mustachioed smile, the swirl of bartenders
behind the horseshoe bar, the black-clad waitresses with drink trays for
hands. There again was Huntington Gorge, North Beach, and parties at farmhouses
rented by the friends of friends. Some of those friends, friends with
Much has changed since the late 80s. Nectars is under new
ownership, the Front is an office for The Ski Rack, and after an epically
muddy farewell festival in Vermont, Phish is no more. But each fall, new
mythologies start taking shape, stories to be read years from now
of inspired times and lousy times, of friends and antagonists, of bar
stools and diner booths. And each fall, new circles of students gather
on the rickety porches of old houses on Buell Street or North Winooski
or Intervale Avenue, taking in their own nascent soundtracks.
Caleb Daniloff 94