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Photo courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse
After years of discussion and rumors, sporadic Phish performances of a couple of its songs, and a well-recieved debut run on the West Coast, the Hands on a Hardbody musical is now on its feet and in previews on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. So it seems a great time to share some reporting on the show. Before the show's initial run at the La Jolla Playhouse last spring, I sat down with collaborators Trey Anastasio, Doug Wright and Amanda Green in New York City to talk about the creative process behind the show, for an article in American Theatre that ran in the May 2012 issue. The discussion was in "roundtable" format, with me asking leading questions meant to get the three artists to run with it. Below is an excerpt, or you can click through to the full piece here.
As we count down to Hands on a Hardbody's official Opening Night on March 21 (for theatre neophytes who don't mind seeing the show before it reaches its final-final form, the difference really is just that preview tickets are a bit cheaper, and the press isn't allowed to review yet), I'll share some of the many unpublished excerpts from that inteview here on the Phish.net blog, including some off-topic material like a Trey riff about the process behind creating Phish Food ice cream.
Excerpt from Trey Anastasio, Amanda Green & Doug Wright: Hands On
Originally published in American Theatre, May 2012
JEREMY GOODWIN: In strict résumé terms, Trey seems the odd man out in this trio.
TREY ANASTASIO: But I grew up around a lot of musical theatre. My grandmother was a single mother and she raised my mom in the ’40s and ’50s, and they went to every show, and it became sort of a family tradition. So when I was growing up in New Jersey, my mom used to take my sister and me to shows almost weekly. She was editor at Sesame Street Magazine and knew a lot of creative New York people. As I grew up, I used to hear around the dinner table that the ultimate dream of creativity is to be on a team working on a Broadway show. So to be asked to be part of this team was such a thrill.
As a matter of fact, I used to get made fun of in the early years of Phish—people would say some of the music sounded kind of “Broadway.” I grew up sitting around my record player listening to West Side Story and South Pacific and Hair.
DOUG WRIGHT: When I first met Trey, he gave one of the most thrilling and insightful treatises on the overture to Gypsy that I think I’d ever heard!
ANASTASIO: That was on perma- loop in my house, growing up. Musical theatre is the one place where you can find all the great elements of American music history. If you think about someone like Leonard Bernstein, and what he brought to his scores—it was popular music, but also serious composition, and development, and all those beautiful things.
AMANDA GREEN: Trey and I were working together [on songs for Phish] at the same time Doug and I were working on Hands on a Hardbody. Doug and I had looked for about a year for a composer partner, and there was nothing that was a fit. And one day Trey and I were writing and I had this lyric from the show with me, and, ha!—I just wanted to slide it over. As I got to know him and his enthusiasm for the musical world, I realized this might be the perfect fit.
This man just dives in headlong—there’s no testing the waters. We got into a room, I said, “Here’s the opening number. Boom—go!” And he just took off. This music came flying out of Trey.
ANASTASIO: I went through the process of making full-band demos of every song—sort of imitating Jesus Christ Superstar, which had an album before it became a show. There’s so much discovery I’m used to making in the studio or in the band practice room, so as a way of orchestrating, I decided to go through that extra, extra exercise. We went up to the Barn, my studio in Vermont, and had a bunch of very talented friends come in.
WRIGHT: For me, as the non-musical member of the triumvirate, it was so cool! Trey and Amanda were up there making these huge decisions about the music. They had the most amazing people, like guitarist Larry Campbell [who has played with Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Cindi Lauper and Emmylou Harris, to name a few]. I just watched these two pound through the score; I watched these amazing musicians improvise; and they were able to orchestrate the score in the most thrilling and dynamic way.
Phish has released another gem from the archives, 5/3/93 New Brunswick, NJ as a benefit for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Download the mp3, FLAC, or ALAC version of the show here. Recorded by Paul Languedoc and remastered by Fred Kevorkian, this show is from the last days of a very strong spring tour by Phish, and includes a stellar 2nd set.
Phish has performed in 775 venues thus far. Many have come, many have gone - and this chart summarizes them all, with the total numbers of venues played for the first and last time in each year. Venues were of course heavily "gained" (played for the first time) during the band's 1990-1994 growth - though many were "lost" (played for the last time) in each of those years as well. Indeed, more were lost than gained in '91 and '94 - and then in every year from '97 onward, with the decline in the number of shows and the resurgence of multi-night runs at the same venues.
Most lot merch aficianados know about Sean "Waldo" Knight of Knighthood Ts, who fought a copyright infringement battle with Phish, Inc. back in the day over the "song title" parody T shirts where someone other than Phish's IP (such as the manufacturers of Tide detergent, say, for the popular "Glide" T shirts) was arguably being infringed.
Waldo won that battle, and it's been assumed by lot merchants and "phan artists" that most companies other than Phish won't bother with similar trademark parodies. Companies like New England's H.P. Hood dairies, for instance, might even be amused by and benefit from the windfall of publicity and goodwill from Phish fans, on the "all publicity is good publicity" theory.
But not so fast says Bridgestone Brands a/k/a Firestone, which recently sued Waldo and his wife Joanne for copyright infringement. Firestone is not amused because it considers itself in the clothing business (NASCAR style race car driver attire) as well as slinging tires. Firestone's suit seeks an injunction against the sale of the infringing items and triple Waldo's profits as provided for by copyright law.
More details from trademark law blogger Lara Pearson's Brand Geek[r] blog here.
Anomaly? Coincidence? Comments are open.
Congratulations to "Runaway Jim", pictured above with phan owner Stacy.
Jim won his maiden race for three year olds and up at the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY in Friday's 8th race (a $48,000 allowance race on the turf for 3-year-olds and up), running 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf and winning in 1:42:40. It was only his second race of the year, after a rehab stint over the winter/spring season. Jim paid $10 to win, $4.20 to place and $3.60 to show.
Photo by Patrick Kerrison, courtesy Saratoga.com.
Annual counts of Grateful Dead and Phish shows form a similar shape in some regards: early rapid rises, a sharp cut after 8 years or so, and relative continuity for the later 15 or so years. The Dead's curve does have twice as many sudden drops, indicating years with shorter or fewer tours. But their "hiatus" didn't even last an entire year (1975, which also included several shows), while Phish have had more years with no shows, and latter years with half what surviving Dead members peformed. Moreover, excluding their festivals, Phish tours typically hit arenas and sheds, avoiding the stadiums that became a key element of Dead tour.
(Note: An earlier post included incomplete Dead data.)
$20 plus shipping; ships on or about June 17th. Order from the Phish.net store here.
Issue #29 of Surrender to the Flow will hit the lots at Bethel with 64 pages of fun. Later issues this year include #30 (eight-page mini-issue) @ Superball IX, #31 (56 pages) for the second leg of summer, and #32 (eight-page mini-issue) for Colorado. Each includes news, reviews, venue info, essays, articles, games, statistics, and more.