This article was originally published in the Fall 2010 edition of Surrender to the Flow Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.
Phish is celebrating their 30th year in 2013, but they are also passing a certain milestone – 25 years since the release of their first album Junta, which makes them eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Voting takes place this fall among a committee headed by Rolling Stone founder/publisher Jann Wenner. This past year’s inductees – Rush, Public Enemy and Heart, among others – were announced in December 11th, 2012. Expect an announcement on or around December 10th with Phish and Nirvana leading a class that includes notable acts such as Fugazi, The Offspring, Widespread Panic, De La Soul, Fugazi and Keith Richards.
But does Phish merit inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on the first ballot? I’ll give you the argument in favor of such a prestigious honor, and you can debate among friends if they will be voted in, coincidentally, right around their 30th anniversary.
First, who is it that votes bands, musicians, songwriters and industry executive into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Good question! There are 30-35 music industry individuals voting on induction. This includes musicians, writers, critics, managers, historians in this wide array of individuals with expertise across the musical spectrum.
Second, are they even eligible? Yes, this is the first year Phish is eligible. The criteria from the Rock Hall states:
To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.
Check on the 25 years (Junta came out in 1988), and a BIG check on musical excellence! As for musical influence, this is the loaded area that keeps some artists out and brings other artists in. Influence on artists in the musical sense is a given, with many bands of today citing influence from Phish in one form or another. In Phish’s favor, look at the numerous independent live touring bands out there today, including but not limited to moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident, Railroad Earth and many more are all quite independent of a major label and run things as they see fit without interference from the corporate music level. This goes the same for major acts like Dave Matthews and others that have followed the Phish model of doing business and incorporated it into their own management. Depth and length of career is well addressed, as the band is entering Year 30 and have played all but five of those years (give or take), including a comeback from what looked like the end in 2004, better and stronger than before. Innovation and superiority in style and technique: we’ve been to enough Phish shows, so I’ll save the ink explaining how they meet this one. Musical excellence being the essential qualification, it’s safe to say that yes, Phish will be getting a call in December to confirm they are going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Marc Brownstein of The Disco Biscuits and Conspirator, and an avid Phish fan, had this to say about their chances of induction: “How could they not? They’re the biggest touring rock band in the last 30 years. How can they not be in?” Fair point Marc, and based on conversations with fans about this possibility, they readily agree that the time is right for Phish to take their place beside the greats in the Rock Hall.
Then again, they could end up not being voted in, perhaps because some of the voters are not open to an act that bucked the system, controlled their own destiny and focused squarely on the music. But those are all things rock and roll loves – rebellion, charting your own path and letting music be the driving force. I tried to look at the other side of this, but it’s tough to argue against induction.
Perhaps they don’t need this honor, simply because they’ve been so out of the mainstream that this seems to be antithetical to the band’s personality. As David Paul Kleinman wrote on Hidden Track earlier this year: “They became wildly successful in the absence of radio play and massive marketing budgets. They are the most successful independent musicians of all time. They are the culmination of the indie movement.”
Phish has most certainly earned the honor, simply by being the greatest independent touring act of the past two decades.
Who will induct them? I posed this question to fans last year, and the three names that came up most often were John Popper, Dave Matthews and Phil Lesh. I’m going to guess Phil inducts them, as a member of the Grateful Dead bringing Phish into the fold makes the most sense from the viewpoint of those who arrange the ceremony.
Now who has my extra for the induction ceremonies?