There has been a lot of discussion recently about Phish and their recent performance at Bonnaroo. The complaint I’ve heard is that the music wasn’t very original, the guest performer sucked, and there were a lot of repeated songs from the previous 2 shows in Worcester.
I haven’t listened to their Bonnaroo sets. I attended the two shows in Worcester, but have yet to have time to listen to their sets from Tennessee. That said, Phish has traditionally taken on a different sort of vibe when playing at a music festival that is not their own. At their own festivals, the crowd is there to hear Phish. At a festival with many different acts, especially one as diverse as Bonnaroo, the crowd is there to hear all sorts of different acts. Phish has traditionally played a “festival set” at these types of festivals – that is, a set of “greatest hits” and standard songs. They keep it fun. They give people a little taste of what makes Phish who they are without overwhelming them.
Music festivals with many acts also allow the bands to collaborate. When Phish first played Bonnaroo in 2009, they had Bruce Springsteen join them on stage. By all accounts, it was a good time. This year, they were joined by Kenny Rogers. Also, by all accounts, a good time. While these sit ins may not produce the most spectacular music, mainly due to the little time available to practice together, they can produce a fun once in a lifetime experience for those in attendance. They can also fulfill dreams of those on stage by allowing the artist performing to invite their friends and influences to join them. This happened when Trey invited Bruce on stage in 2009.
When a band plays a concert, they play it for the people at the concert. Phish was playing for the crowd at Bonnaroo, which occurred 2 days after they played in Worcester on the last night of the four day festival. The vast majority of Phish fans in attendance at Bonnaroo were not at Worcester. Having repeated a lot of songs played at Worcester, those in attendance had not already heard them at the previous show. Phish is known for playing a completely different show each night. The Grateful Dead were also known for the same thing. However, the Grateful Dead also commonly played the same songs on multiple consecutive nights, sometimes at the same venue.
I think it’s time that Phish fans lose the chip on their shoulder and learn to just have a good time. If it’s fun, isn’t that really all you could ask for?