Written by: Eli Sable
The foundation of social psychology revolves around the “social psychology theory” which argues that an individual develops his/her self concept (how he/she perceives him/herself in society) from his/her membership to a specific social group. Phans across the board are largely aware that in many ways Phish’s cultish devotees comprise a definitive counterculture group. Much like the Grateful Dead’s renowned followers, Phishheads adhere to some of the same touring principles (The majority of Phish fans are a different breed of people from the classic Deadhead, but that idea is for another time.) In life, people belong to many social groups based around what they identify with; ranging from an individual’s religion or race to their occupation or hobbies (if you have any other than Phish). Phish fans are a proud bunch (or school) and if you’re anything like me, you wear your fandom on your sleeve. Although I have become that guy who loves and always listens to Phish to many of my friends, I take pride in it. Phish’s music has always been exciting, invigorating, and a source of comfort for me. Being at a show feels like a being at home. As the band plays, you might sense that everyone around you (or mostly everyone around you) is there for the same purpose. There is an energy at a show that is much larger than the band. The boys pump out their groundbreaking jams as fans dance and groove in approval which propels the band to push on, and in turn makes fans go harder. This cyclical process energizes the band and stimulates the audience. You can find Trey talking about this energy in Bittersweet Motel and interviews all over the internet or check out this video about the first ever glowstick war during The Went Hood.
Even though the glowstick war’s meaning has faded a little, I think it used to be a good example of this energy. This intangible energy extends beyond the band and the fans. In other words, if Trey is a Jedi, than this communal energy might as well be called “the force.”
On countless occasions I have experienced this “force” when meeting random fans at shows, walking the lot, sharing a look with a guy/gal next to you when Mike hits that crunchy note that vibrates your core, or by simply listening to Phish with my own friends. On Halloween 2010 in Atlantic City two friends and I tailgated with two random brothers for hours. After sharing Phish stories, talking about the music and guessing what the cover album may be until show time, we extended the guys an invite to our section as we headed into the show. Although we figured it was simply a nice gesture, out of the corner of my eye during Ghost -> Spooky I saw the two brothers standing at the top of the steps in our section. They spotted me, ran down to us and shared in the groove with us for the rest of the first set. Fast forward eight months to Superball IX and my buddy and I are working the Hawaii toll gate for the Work Exchanged Team an hour before set one of the weekend begins. We walk over to the car to scan tickets and it was the AC brothers. We lost our minds, exchanged some words, shared in a quick laugh, and that was that. We never saw them again, but that experience embodied the sense of the Phish community. We didn’t even know eachother’s name and as far as I know all we had in common was that we all loved Phish; but that’s all it took to share an unforgettable laugh and memory.
Although I have never gone to a show alone, I have friends who have, and they have enjoyed every minute of the show. They don’t feel lonely or isolated; rather, they feel amongst friends and family. Who else but Phish fans would sell you two face value tickets, after spending a shitload on NYE, to see Phish on 1/1/11. No other band’s fans would be as ecstatic as Phish fans to hear the opening notes to “No Quarter” or lose their minds when the band entered “Whole Lotta Love” out of “Chalkdust Torture” (check out the dudes in the front row at 2:54).
Listen to any hose jam at its peak, whenever the band teases something, or plays something quirky and you will hear and feel that cyclical energy only present at a Phish show. Yes this stems from Phish, but without the well developed and highly knowledgeable fanbase these moments and musical notes would fall onto deaf ears. Phish fans are unique and one of a kind. Only Phans would receive compliments for their behavior at a show from the acting chief of the Essex Vermont police department or get praise from locals and county officials in Watkins Glen for “stellar behavior” during a problem free July 4th weekend. I don’t think other band’s fans would be as open to a Little Feat filled set of music when fans may have been expecting a Zeppelin album. Nothing against Little Feat, but I believe only Phish fans would love an album out of left field like that Waiting for Columbus. This open-mindedness may be a quality instilled in fans by the band, but Phish fans reciprocate and respond to the band with positive energy. Phish fans are undeniably critical of the band’s music, and may be Phish’s harshest critics at times, but it is simply out of love.
The foundation of having flocks of crazed people following a band from show to show already existed well before Phish, but the Phish fans reincarnation of this concept is unprecedented. Phish fans are adept internet users and have set up sites like cashortrade.org to keep “the man” from ripping us off. Phans have created support groups of drug free concert attendees like the “Phellowship,” and environment protection groups like “Clean Vibes” who strive to keep concert grounds clean and litter free. Many Phish fans continue to travel around the country while they maintain high profile jobs and are contributing members to society. (check out financial strategist Dan Greenhaus).
Similarly, the age range at a show is constantly widening making Phish fans a more diverse group of individuals. Phish fans are arguably the most unique group of fans the music industry has ever seen. We break almost every mold and cookie cutter description that the media tries to portray us as. Even though we are often pigeon holed, there is no one way to describe the typical fan; however, collectively, Phish fans form a social group that has a clear purpose to enjoy the music and overarching identify based on Joy.
Even though scene may have changed over the years, and yes there are dicks that are Phish fans, fans continue to flock to Phish for the music and a sense of community. At the end of the day, my love of seeing Phish shows and listening to their music has played a major role in my life, but the greatest gift Phish has given me is the ability to connect with people through such a positive energy. Not only have I met awesome people through Phish, but it has helped enhance friendships with some of my closest friends. Clearly Phish is about the music, but enjoying it with close friends in a comfortable environment with likeminded people makes the Phish experience even more rewarding and uplifting.