Originally posted nine years ago today...
IT has long referred to a transcendent moment of sudden appreciation for Phish and their music, an eruptive combination of sensation and experience. Those who didn't previously "get" Phish, and even some who have disliked Phish's music, become unexpectedly entranced. Whether due to a particular jam, new song, stylistic direction, innovative cover or composition, special guest, silly antic, or simply solid performance, they finally "get IT". And with this band, you can get IT again and again.
I got IT the first time I heard Phish. I probably only barely “got” music at all by that time. But when I heard Lawn Boy on the afternoon of 10/10/90, my ears exploded. And when I attended my first Phish show that night, I was absolutely stunned. This was IT – as strong, diverse, original, and fun as I could imagine – more so, certainly. I was awakened to IT.
I have since gotten IT many times, including special sensations at festivals prior to this one: the revolution of the Clifford Ball, the mystery of Lemonwheel, the power of the Great Went, and the endurance of Big Cypress. Much of these sensations cannot translate to recordings or paper. Like the turns of 2-20-93, you had to be there to fully get IT. And I will not have such an experience of the IT festival, for I am not among you. I am missing this IT, and will experience it only through the vagaries and selectivity of recorded history.
I can anticipate some aspects of the IT festival without being there, because of routines and patterns likely to be found at any show. But the idea can be exag7gerated, and has been. I am often asked by reporters to comment on the "culture of Phish fans". As a professional sociologist, I question whether fans so extensively share some set of characteristics and/or beliefs that they (you) could be describable summarily as having one culture.
The persistent patterns that matter probably have more to do with past histories and official procedures than with clothing colors, dancing maneuvers, and drugs of choice. Whatever "culture of Phish fans" might mean, reporters who ask about it are probably not a part of it. They don't get IT, because they rely on recorded history rather than native experience. And the recorded history of Phish (as of anything) is imperfect and incomplete.
All of you at IT are perfectly poised to improve the record. Those of you who have seen and heard Phish previously may come to know their music in a new way, and may soon find yourself revisiting older IT moments through tapes and mementos. Even those experiencing Phish for the first time, who do not yet know what IT there is to get, will have important reactions: Unlike most reporters, you are there, are a part of it, and will come to know IT – the festival if not the feeling.
Each of you can help reduce the vagaries and selectivity, fill out the facts, and round the corners of fact with the smoothness of sensations. You can even become part of Phish history, by helping document it. Simply submit your input – essays, reviews, photographs, ideas, and almost anything else – for the second edition of The Phish Companion. This encyclopedic work about Phish is produced on an all-volunteer basis under the auspices of the Mockingbird Foundation (www.mockingbirdfoundation.org), a nonprofit fundraiser and grantmaker incorporated by Phish fans in 1997.
Proceeds directly fund music education for children, and have so far generated over $180,000 in dozens of grants nationwide, thanks to the support of thousands of fans, as well as Relix, Jambands.com, and many others.The money is desperately needed, as music education budgets everywhere experience drastic cuts. We’ve reinstated scholarships at jazz camps in several states, fully funded innovative programs like bluegrass for troubled kids in Kentucky, purchased instruments and instruction, and helped reintroduce the native Athabascan fiddle to an impoverished river valley in Alaska.
While the IT festival will be fun, and maybe more, the IT feeling is vital. Whatever IT is, it doesn't just come from Phish. IT can come through any music, particularly when performed and shared. By contributing to The Phish Companion, you help more kids experience IT. I’m sad to be missing the IT festival this weekend, but I can’t stomach kids never getting a chance to experience the IT felling. Hopefully, this weekend will remind you why it is important to help preserve both for future generations.
(The author, executive director of the Mockingbird Foundation and file maintainer of the Phish.net FAQ, is at home with his wife, preparing for the birth of their first child, tentatively named HIM.)