The Melody of Motion: Following Phish and Widespread Panic, by Carl Cole

Buy The Melody of Motion: Following Phish and Widespread Panic as a Hardcover, Paperback or E-book at

Book Review

               This book takes me back to the start of my journey with Phish in the late 1990s. The Melody of Motion: Following Phish and Widespread Panic is a very fun read and the pages turned rapidly as the story got more complex and developed with easy relatable characters. The main character of the book, Melody, “had arrived at the everyday parade” at Oswego in 1999 and provided the backdrop for an accurate telling of the bonds forged between fans of Phish by the characters sharing their stories with each other. In the first 50 pages, even the casual fan can quickly identify with any of the well-thought out and elaborate personalities, capturing the Phish vibe and how it relates to their individual lives. The characters of Melody, Nathan, Phil, Lucy, Kale and Jessica are powerfully correlative as to what a microcosm of the Phish community looks like from the inside out. This glimpse of one group of friends is connotated by Cole with attention to detail of the lot, so much so that you can visualize Oswego’s life on the runway, falling in love on tour, the tribulations of Phish tour, all captured in a slow-building glorious payoff.

               Melody’s character brings to mind girls from years past who hopped on Phish tour, found the vibe they were looking for and took it not just to heart but made it one with themselves. Her youth and beauty are well written and accurately captures the many aspects of Phish, both on and off tour: falling in love, back stories each fan has, and most importantly (and impressively), the relationships built spontaneously that last years, coupled with the feeling we get when the music begins. The Melody of Motion dissects the differences between Phish and Widespread Panic very simply and clearly, citing the firsthand knowledge of someone who appreciated and understood the intricacies of both bands, rather than a fan of one band with a fleeting knowledge of the other.

              One of the significant highlights in the book is a first-hand account of the shock Widespread Panic fans received in April of 2002 when it was revealed that Mikey Houser, the namesake of the band, was diagnosed with and dying of pancreatic cancer. Shared clearly and with great detail is the police crackdown at Oak Mountain in Pelham, Alabama in April of 2001 and again in Memphis in November of 2002. The first Bonnaroo’s heat is felt through a blistering retelling, coupled with attending to medical needs while at a festival and falling off tour due to frustration. Panic’s summer 2002 tour with the loss of Mikey, the moment of candles at Fiddler’s Green, pregnancy and marriage are all breached and evoke powerful emotions for even the most casual, if not skeptical Widespread Panic fan.

                Life as we know it happened in between the 1.0 and 2.0 incarnations of Phish, and likewise between the 2.0 and 3.0 Phish eras, as well as the McConnell years of Widespread Panic and the break the band took in 2004-2005. A remarkable gesture by the band – free tickets given to Widespread tour regulars for the final show before hiatus on 12/31/03 in Atlanta, is shared and shows a generous nature of the Panic community. With both bands on break for a few years, life off of tour during that time showed many growing up; those young kids who met at Oswego and fell in love over Phish, they grew up too.

              New Years Eve 2009 in Denver saw once fractured and divided relationships that were strong enough to withstand not seeing someone for years at a time, showing that capturing the same feeling that you get from Phish shows is attainable from Widespread shows (yes, it’s true). What has been brought together again is broken prior summer 2009 when Phish reunited and the characters find themselves back with each other, bringing life full circle with Phish playing the soundtrack to this new chapter of their lives. Finding meaning in every song as it is played, the reuniting of friends and a band, and growing up at Red Rocks in 2009, the main character, Melody, finds what she has been looking for. Ten years removed from Phish and seven years since her last tour, she finds what she has been looking for with a little help from her friends and Phish. Although some may not agree with the lifestyles and choices that the characters make in the book, they are well developed and taken from real life, easily identifiable to any number of fans. Melody is an amalgamation of girls and friends I have known on tour over the past decade or more. This is a must read for any phan who has spent any amount of time on tour or amongst the Phish and Widespread Panic communities.

              Finding meaning in phish again, meaning in life, identifying with lyrics in ways they never had before, this is what Phish does to and for the 30-something crowd looking for answers to the next step of their lives. Reading the book was painful at times, only in the sense that Carl’s words were eerily reminiscent of what had transpired in my life and that of many friends Phish returned two years ago. Cole captures the scene perfectly, saying “Since the dawn of civilization there have been traveling gypsies making a circuit through the sedentary people. As usual, those stable people were baffled, excited, and a little scared by the nomads who roamed the countryside.”  

            This book is PhanArt Recommended, PhanArt Approved. It is a great read and a fantastic story.

             Carl Cole has spent the last 15 years sporadically and spontaneously involved in the tour scene of Phish and Widespread Panic. He sometimes made a living quasi-legally vending food in the parking lots. He was also a protege’ of Daniel Quinn, bestselling author of Ishmael, publishing a weekly column on Carl first saw Phish and Widespread Panic in the spring of 1997, having  seen well over 100 Panic concerts, 50 Phish shows, and lived countless other musical adventures.

Buy The Melody of Motion: Following Phish and Widespread Panic as a Hardcover, Paperback or E-book at

2 thoughts on “The Melody of Motion: Following Phish and Widespread Panic, by Carl Cole”

  1. Thanks so much Phanart for helping to promote this book. It was a long process writing it, and an even longer one living it. In fact, the process of living it continues this summer. Phish phans, look for me on lot. I’ll be everywhere trying to get you to read this book. Remember: We’re all in this together.

  2. Thanks Cole for bringing back those memories Good times traveling in that van!!…cookin’ and smilin’

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