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On Phish and Humor

This article was originally published in the NYE 2013 edition of Surrender to the Flow Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

“Stop me if you heard this one before. Trey, Wilson and a ginger walk into a bar…”

A defining characteristic of Phish that has stood out as unique and helped to broaden their appeal to many fans is the interplay between the four band members on stage and the humor and comedy that is exhibited in music, lyrics and banter. Fans can overwhelmingly appreciate the band exhibiting humor and making them laugh, but when it comes to other sources of Phish-related humor, it’s another story.

Musicians, like comedians, take risks on stage, and can succeed triumphantly or fall flat and have to try again the next night with new material. Phish has tried plenty of stunts that have been risky and have tested their resolve in pressing forward with their craft. The Wingsuit costume this past Halloween, all the various exploratory jamming over the years, Secret Language, the Fuck Your Face show, riding a flying hotdog not once but thrice – the list is extensive where the band attempted an addition to their musical performance, with uncertainty looming until after the crowd and band saw it through together. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they didn’t and it was back to the drawing board. In the development of their live act, whether planned out or an impromptu ad lib on stage, Phish takes on a role similar to that of comedians who act precariously for the sake of art.

The comedic nature of Phish is an important part of the band, and something that separates them from other acts of similar followings – Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band and The Grateful Dead. While these acts may take risks of varying nature musically, they do not take humor to a new level and incorporate it into their performance to the extent that Phish does. Being able to make fun of themselves on stage (the ‘House’ and ‘Tuck’ running jokes come to mind) and on camera (Bittersweet Motel, the Halloween Don Gordleone video) help to break down that wall between fans and band, providing a more human aspect to the group, one that is bridged with recognizing the ability to cross one art form (humor) with another (music).

This is the band that sings a song about a Meatstick, wrote “Ha Ha Ha”, brought out Abe Vigoda on Halloween, includes Easter eggs of humor in the programs to festivals and laugh out loud ads in Halloween Playbills (Gordon’s House of Scarves and Drills, anyone?), hit foam golf balls into/at the crowd from stage level before midnight last New Years Eve, and have the most sought after song, “Icculus”, a play on words that is only revealed to be Ridiculous, that is, after dragging the song out. The fans laugh with the band, the band laughs with the fans, and everyone has a good laugh.

Then there’s the media, specifically, any website that looks to write about Phish. Take for example the recent Cracked.com list of ‘Great Songs by the Worst Bands of All Time’. (Stash came in at #9) At least we made the list, I guess? Naturally, the write-up only gives a cursory glance because it is “14 minutes long, selected randomly from the Internet” and mocks fans for having “LSD-induced absurdity in liking this music” after finally waking up “sometime around 3 o’clock this afternoon and sees their favorite jam band on this list.” But at least Cracked Magazine is a humor magazine, and they tried. (Still, they’re no MAD Magazine)

There’s Christwire.org, a parody site with a religious tilt, writing a long article, “When it Comes to Phish, Music Censorship is not Enough”, full of stereotypes and religious commentary, and funny in a way. And LA Weekly, the website that loves to hate on Phish, either because that’s trendy out west, or because they know they get tons of page views from us in our moment of ire. Phish has been included in blog posts “Top 20 Worst Bands of All Time” (Phish is #17) and “Can an Intelligent Person Like Phish?”, both spiteful and not exactly journalism, and merely a way to keep stereotypes up for those who haven’t tuned in since Fall 1998. Analyze Phish, a podcast with Harris Wittels (a fan) and Scott Auckerman (not a fan), has Wittels trying to convince Scott, and later, Tom Scharpling (also not a fan), that Phish is worth listening to. Neither of them bite and come up with excuses and vitriol, because that’s the easy way out. Where’s The Onion when you need a proper parody written?

Pop culture doesn’t know how to treat Phish or their fans, simply because that would take too much effort. Plus, there is no simple way to explain Phish in a concise and neatly packaged manner. So when websites outside the Phish universe mock the band or try to find humor in the fans, they will look for the least common denominator and roll with it, because it’s all they know.

Not everyone can take a joke, and when it’s coming from outsiders, totally understandable. I took more than my fair share of jokes about my early infatuation with Phish from non-Phish fans while in college. Eventually, those jokes stopped because they were no longer funny as the well dried up. Phish sites, at least they let us laugh at ourselves, properly. Among Phish fans, there are jokes to be told and humor to be shared. Tweezburger, The Phunion, So Yeah Brah… and TheFirstSet.net all make the effort to laugh at ourselves a little bit more, something that has loosened up the crowd at the right time – just as Phish is loosening up. Humor is helpful and cleansing and gives you a clearer perspective on things. Taking things too seriously won’t help your passion, but rather leads to a closed and narrow mindset. Phish doesn’t take the whole ‘We’re famous’ thing too seriously. Yet the fans do, and jokes about the band, and humor in general, are truncated. It shouldn’t be.

We are all dancing and laughing at the same band who are joking around on stage while they’re playing – a twofer in terms of art: both comedy AND music! But it is the collective communal feeling of laughing and smiling as a whole that adds the extra spice to the Phish experience, and one that we can bring with us outside the show, to feel that feeling once again. Some things are sacrosanct, but four musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously shouldn’t be.

Drew Suto’s Hand Drawn Art on Exhibit on Summer in Saratoga

Drew Suto has designed the cover for all 35 of the 37 issues of Surrender to the Flow, as well as many illustrations contained within the magazine’s pages. While his cover art is well known to Phish fans, his art over the past 15 years has included a wide array of drawings in pen and ink, all original, unique pieces, will be available for the FIRST TIME at Summer in Saratoga: A Rock Art Exhibition.

The gallery below shows samples of what you can find at Drew’s table at Summer in Saratoga on July 6th. There are small drawings for venues, never before published Phish-inspired art, posters of Drew’s cover art for Surrender to the Flow, original cover designs and random pieces of art that can fit all budgets.

Drew is more than just the Senior Artist and Cover Designer for Surrender to the Flow – he is a unique artist with rare art, all one of a kind designs, available for the first time exclusively at Summer in Saratoga! Check out Drew’s posters from 2009 that will be available at the show and click through the gallery below for the various drawings of his from over the years at Surrender to the Flow.

Drew Suto’s Cover Art for Surrender to the Flow #37

Drew Suto has added some pinball to the cover of this Summer’s Surrender to the Flow, Issue #37. You can find this on lot, for free, as always, at every stop on tour.

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Surrender to the Flow is planning a Phish Fan Business & Service Directory

Surrender to the Flow, the Phish fan magazine that is available free on lot at every show on every tour, is setting up a ‘Phish Fan Business & Service Directory’ and is seeking participants to be included in this one of a kind publication. This new directory aims to encourage fans to patronize fan-owned/staffed businesses, both locally and nationally, thereby further strengthening the Phish community. The directory will be available free to the public, online, in electronic form in a few months, and will be updated yearly. The business listings are also free to businesses and individuals.

Because Phish fans can be found in every walk of life and in every corner of this country, fans from all fields and areas are encouraged to participate. The directory will be organized both by state and by category.

Categories will likely be quite diverse: financial services, event planning, legal services, health and fitness services, crafts, and entertainers are just a few of the anticipated groupings.

Fans who would like to participate should visit this form to submit their information via short online form.

Surrender to the Flow hopes that this directory will encourage fans to do business with other fans and perhaps inspire new connections and build professional networks. Additionally, it will help fans to shop locally while helping others in the Phish community succeed in their chosen fields, wherever they may reside.

If you have any questions, contact Christy at sttflow (at) gmail.com

Visit Surrender to the Flow on Facebook

 

Surrender to the Flow #36 – New Years Run Issue; Cover Art by Drew Suto

Here is the latest cover to Surrender to the Flow, the Phish fan magazine found on tour since 1998. Published by Christy Articola and compiled by a group of dedicated fans, this issue is available free outside MSG.

Great work once again by Drew Suto with his Gamehendge meets The Hobbit theme.

If you can’t make the shows this run and want a copy of this issue, you can order one by sending $5* (addt’l copies are $2) via PayPal to STTFlowMerch (at) gmail. Orders will ship by December 22nd. While it will ALWAYS be free on lot, its always a bonus to be able to get a copy and keep your collection solid.

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The 100 Show Milestone

I’ll admit, I’m a little nostalgic. Hitting 100 shows is an achievement for Phish fans, a centennial celebration to mark a long journey over many years of seeing Phish. Very few jump on tour and don’t miss a show for 3 or 4 years, netting 100 shows in one quick succession of years. Rather, the journey takes many years. There are some who have seen the band since the late 1980s have yet to crack 100 while a few who started in 2004 are soon to break the barrier sometime this summer. The longevity adds to who you are and says where you have been.

My 100th show was 12/28/11 (as was Dan McKnight’s) and going in, I left all expectations at the door for once. A Ya Mar opener, just like my first show (12/13/97) was my only request and the first ever Free opener erased the thought from my head and gladly so. The New Years Run was devoid of expectations thereafter and my enjoyment of the shows was great, as it started off with an achievement. I looked forward to it and my friends who are soon to crack 100 themselves talked it up.

Think about it – have you ever done 100 of anything and kept count? Beyond kid stuff, anything as an adult? Been to 100 countries? Ran 100 miles? Biked 100 miles? (that one is possible on a long day…) Seen any other band 100 times? Sure, there are Grateful Dead, Panic, Cheese and Umphrey’s fans who might have hit this milestone but outside of this realm of music, achieving a 100 even on a test is tough to do. When it happens, its rare, and worth celebrating

I recall two other friend’s 100th shows in the 3.0 era. Holly hit 100 on NYE in Miami in 2009 while Amy celebrated in her hometown of Utica on 10/20/10. To mark the occasion, stickers and shirts, respectively, were made to commemorate the occasion.

When my 100th show was approaching, I thought it to be a novel idea to follow suit and make a sticker up. I knew the exact date and thanks to the Essex flood relief show falling on 9/14/11, 12/28/11 would be my 100th show. I contacted my friend Jeffery, who also designed his wife Holly’s 100th sticker, and asked him to design a sticker incorporating all my other 99 shows. The resulting sticker was awesome and brought the sports of Madison Square Garden and the beauty of seeing Phish together very nicely.

What I did with these stickers over those 4 days in NYC was sell them, but not for profit. Likewise with Holly’s sticker and Amy’s shirt, it was more to make ends meet than make profit. With stickers being cheaper to make, usually around $1 after shipping, it made sense that these stickers would be a better investment and to make money back in the end.

As a bonus to this, if you can manage to sell your stickers for a Buck or more, why not take that profit and donate it to The Mockingbird Foundation. Having your 100th show be a reason for celebration is one thing, but to make a feel-good donation it, all it takes is a little effort, no matter how many stickers you buy. Through 123stickers.com or Customstickermakers.com (two sites used frequently and are recommended) you can get stickers in smaller quantities for cheaper, or go for 100 to commemorate the day. Either way, you can make a nice donation to Mockingbird and enjoy a nice way to commemorate a milestone in your history – your phanneversary.

Four simple steps:

1) Design sticker

2) Make sticker (see links above)

3) Sell sticker on lot, or on PhanArt

4) Donate to Mockingbird (if you made any extra $$)

You can collect these stickers or shirts from among your friends. It works out to be a nice way to see where you’ve been. Got a group of 10 friends who have seen 100 shows each? 1000 Phish shows seen is a bit mind-blowing and a cool design makes for great art and a nice piece of nostalgia. As fans approach their 100th show, consider commemorating it with a piece of art and possibly helping out Mockingbird in the process. The group effort would be an enormous one over time if this catches on.

Now, I can’t comment on 200 shows personally, but at Dick’s this past September, I ran into my friends on lot and was handed a sticker to commemorate Holly’s 200th show – about 3 years after the last notable milestone, she hit 200. Pretty remarkable, and creative too. Her husband Jeffery designed this one as well.

Then you have those folks who have made it to milestones some may think of as unreachable and unfathomable. Noah Phence hit 300 shows on the third night of Hampton in 2009. Pretty good timing huh? Noah recalled what he thought of when he made a small postcard to give out to friends: “I instantly thought of the movie 300 and the scene where he bellows “Tonight, we dine in hell!” and simply changed it to “Tonight we dance in Hampton!”

Last but not least, Christy Articola, the editor of Surrender to the Flow had a nice surprise treat in St. Louis this summer. She knew in advance that this show would be #365 for her, meaning a YEAR of Phish! Run that one through your head for a second. Mind-blowing, isn’t it? While Christy was taking the show in like no other, a group of her friends worked together to make the small mock-STTF issue (#365) to commemorate the event, they also worked together to raise money to buy the band-signed show poster from The Waterwheel Foundation, even scoring poster #365 in the process! This was a group effort to commemorate a rare milestone for a friend who does tons for others (not to mention publish the best, and only, fan magazine out there) and do some good for others with the effort in the process.

So there you have it. The 100 show milestone, whether you are hitting it for the first time, the second, third or 3.65th time, it’s well worth noting and commemorating with a little art of your own, and possibly a little something for The Mockingbird Foundation. When you hit that mark, share your art with PhanArt and we’ll keep them cataloged for future editions of PhanArt: The Art of the Fans of Phish.

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Surrender to the Flow #35, Late Summer 2012 Cover art by Drew Suto

Drew Suto, Senior Artist for Surrender to the Flow has designed another great cover of the popular fan magazine. You can pick this up at ALL shows on tour this summer for free on lot.

 

Surrender to the Flow Magazine launches Kickstarter drive

Surrender to the Flow published their first issue in the Fall of 1998 for Phish tour and has continued to be a staple of tour ever since. From the tours of 1.0, Oysterhead in 2001 and a whopping SIX issues in 2009, totaling 14 issues total in 3.0 and 33 issues over the past 14 years, Surrender to the Flow is the best information you can get on lot, with great articles, stories and info that fans need while on the road.
STTF has grown to publishing 8,000+ copies per tour and is run masterfully by Christy Articola as editor, working with an all volunteer staff made up of members from the Phish community. Christy plans to keep publishing Surrender as long as the band keeps playing!

In an effort to digitize all past copies of Surrender to the Flow, Christy has found a fantastic digital magazine software called 3D Issue. Through a onetime purchase of the software, Surrender to the Flow will be able to feature pdf’s of all issues, including new issues as well. A hosting site is already secured so the next step is raising the money for the cost of 3D Issue.

A Kickstarter campaign has started so that Phish fans can support Surrender to the Flow’s digitizing effort and like with all Kickstarter drives, you can get some great benefits in return!

Surrender to the Flow #33 Cover Art by Drew Suto

The newest edition of Fanzine Surrender to the Flow will be available at Madison Square Garden and features cover art by Senior Artist Drew Suto. A free publication for all, Christy Articola has produced Surrender to the Flow since 1998 and continues to add to the Phish community with a compilation of venue info, area info and driving directions for fans on tour, as well as articles, essays, reviews and much more from a collaboration of fans from across the country and stretching as far as Japan! Pick up a copy of this great fanzine and have a memento of the upcoming New Years Eve run.

Surrender to the Flow #31 Cover art by Drew Suto

From Senior STTF artist Drew Suto comes the cover art for the next issue of Surrender to the Flow, due out when the band plays at The Gorge August 5th

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