Saturday 07/06/2024 by phishnet


[ thanks Andrew Rose, @andrewrose, for this piece. All content on is volunteer-driven, so if you have something interesting that you would like posted on the homepage, feel free to message @FunkyCFunkyDo or @Icculus with your idea. -Ed.]

I was driving down St Urbain yesterday, on the way to Old Montreal to run an errand. I thought waiting until 10pm or so would help me avoid traffic, but neglected to note that it was a Friday night in July, and the Montreal International Jazz Fest was still filling the air with free programming, and the crowds and cars—on the few streets that were still open for traffic—were plentiful. I didn’t mind much. The air was warm, a little humid but not oppressive. Spring and summer have been beautiful here in Montreal this year. A real contrast to the apocalyptic smog-filled skies that literally cast a cloud over the region last summer, starting with forest fires in Northern Quebec and then making their way down the American seaboard. I know those fires will be back at some point, but I’ve been doing my best to appreciate the relative blessings that this season has had to offer.

July 6, 1994
July 6, 1994

Anyway before I hit the traffic I had my windows up, was listening to Phish Radio and a show from 7/5/19 in Boston I don’t think I had ever heard. Five years gone since that Summer Tour already (one that I continue to feel gets better with age). A pretty nice Sand was chugging along. But once the traffic slowed, I rolled down the windows, turned the music down, and let the warm air, the sound of the outdoor shows, and the din of the crowd fill the car as I rolled slowly past the exit for the Place des Arts parking lot. I had this strange sense of comfort and familiarity come over me. Do you ever get those feelings, when there’s a smell to the air that reminds you of a time when you were younger? Maybe it’s like the first chill evening of the late summer or early fall, and it reminds you of starting up school again? Or burning wood in the winter that reminds you of early mornings at a chalet before skiing. Anyway this one took me back to a different time, being a teenager in Montreal, exploring the Jazz Fest for the first time with a sense of infinite possibility. And just as that feeling was narrowing to a more specific moment, I glanced up and took notice of a green road sign—you know, the kind that they put up in tourist-trafficked areas that tells you which direction and how many kilometres away certain monuments or venues are. Normally I wouldn’t have given one of these much of a thought, but this one was different tonight. It said “Theatre St. Denis.”

I was thirteen when that place first took on significance for me. By some divine grace, a few kids years ahead of me at the boys school I went to had taken me under their wings in the year or two prior, and introduced me to what was really important—music. Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Jazz. As Grade 8 was letting out a bunch of them were getting tickets to various Jazz Fest shows and I was encouraged to get in on the action. John McLaughlin with Paco deLucia, up and coming saxophonist Joshua Redman with a quarter that included a then still little known piano player named Brad Mehldau. Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. I remember being at that last show at Place des Arts, sitting next to two of those friends, Omar Ahmad and Rob Gilletti, while an older woman looked at me—what was a little prepubescent kid like me doing at a show like this without my parents? “What brings you here?” she asked. Omar or Rob leaned over and said something like “his older friends who like music,” with a tone that suggested I belonged there as much as anyone, that music was mine too, age be damned. After the show as we were walking out and bumped into some other friends of theirs, someone pointed out a strange looking guy with weird glasses talking to some people a few rows ahead. “That’s Fish,” someone said. Apparently he was the drummer for another show we had tickets for. It wasn’t part of the Jazz Fest programming technically, but it was very much in the plans. We were going to see Phish at Theatre St Denis on July 6th.

I had heard of Phish. It could have been as early as two years prior in what must have been September 1992. I had just turned 12 and started Grade 7, and we kicked off the school year with a camping weekend with the Grade 12 students. I had the good fortune of having this guy Adrian Burhop as my assigned counselor for the short trip. He was immediately disarming, kind, and made me feel like an equal despite what in that context would have felt like a very big gap in years. He was likely the first Deadhead I ever met, the quintessential older cool 'Head with a twinkle in his eye and sacred secrets to share. It’s likely he would have mentioned or played Phish, too. I can’t say for sure. I do know that not longer after a Junta tape made it into someone’s car and I was immediately amused by this band with a song about a car with tires on the road, and a guy who “wrote the fucking book, ok?!?” Adrian graduated the next spring, and I wouldn’t see him again until outside Theatre St. Denis that evening in July 94. He had grown a huge beard, long hair, still beaming, but this time part of a scene I had never encountered before. Girls with armpit hair, which I could easily see because many of them had their index fingers in the air (what did that mean?); strange but not off-putting smells; it was a happening to be sure. I was intrigued, and ripe. Whatever this guy is onto, I remember thinking, I want to figure it out.

I may have known who Phish was loosely, but I didn’t know what I was walking into. Theatre St Denis is a small theatre in the ‘Quartier Latin,’ a bit of a no man’s land between the main downtown strip and a more touristy area that stretches up St. Denis. I don’t think I’ve ever been back there in the thirty years since. By contrast, Metropolis, where Phish had performed just a couple months prior, now dubbed MTelus, I’ve been to probably a hundred times and know intimately, backstage and front.

It was an intimate affair, the balcony was closed. Tons of people had taken off their shoes and put them in a pile next to speakers on Page's side. I did the same, because apparently that’s what you did. There was no smoking, much to the surprise and chagrin of some of the showgoers who made full use of set break to address the issue with something other than cigarettes.

It would be disingenuous at this moment to comment on the show here in too much depth musically with the perspective I now have. I didn’t have it then. I didn’t know “Reba” didn’t usually sound like that in the middle. I remembered the ‘bag it, tag it,’ that stuck, but it would be years before I came around to the significance of that performance, and retroactively come to sanctify it the way I have. But did it become so sacred precisely because of some experience I had that night, that I can’t quite pinpoint or recall? I’ll never know.

I didn’t know at the time how special it was to meet “Fluffhead”, “David Bowie”, and “Harry Hood” (and in those ‘94 incarnations, no less) on the same night, nor the space they would come to occupy in my head and in my heart in the thirty years since.

I didn’t know how many more times I would step into the freezer, how this moment planted the seed for so many others whose significance I would be fully conscious of, like the one eight and half years later at the Nassau Coliseum. Or how much of a kick I would get out of seeing Trey play “Llama” this past May at MTelus with TAB, as a nod to his first time back playing in Montreal since that night.

I didn’t know that the heavy metal extravaganza of “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars”—which made quite an impression on a kid who was also pretty into Metallica in the early nineties—wasn’t exactly typical at every show, or that it would feature on a tape from Rochester, NY three years later that would be an early staple in my growing audio arsenal. Or that the Internet In a Box we got that summer who soon connect me to people all over the world, some of whom would send me tapes in exchange for ‘blanks and postage’—or in my case, blanks and a couple bucks of US cash, because I couldn’t get US postage where I was.

I didn’t know what kind of significance the a cappella “The Old Home Place” would come to have over the years, on this night nodding to the proximity to Vermont, but then applying to the home base of their first festival in Plattsburgh two summers later (my next show, and first of six consecutive festivals), or the Worcester Centrum in 98, after my first fall shows there in 97, and returns in 2003, 2010 and 2012. Or to the performance at MSG last summer, after New Years runs in 97 and 98 and the Bakers Dozen.

I didn’t know that ten years later I’d be wandering around Coventry, Vermont with a homemade t-shirt that said “the moment ends,” and being interviewed for some documentary talking about how excited I was about the music scene emerging in Montreal, with bands like The Unicorns, Wolf Parade, and Arcade Fire. Or that in the coming year I’d go on to fill the Phish-shaped hole in my soul partly by co-founding a record label and releasing Patrick Watson’s first record, later signing the Barr Brothers, whom I had first encountered as the Slip at Oswego in 99.

I didn’t know I’d luck into pit seats at SPAC in 2009, my first post-hiatus show, and end up tearing up during “Guyute” of all songs, newly a father. Or that in December 2010 I’d be similarly moved when the band busted out “Albuquerque”, a song I would sing to my son as a lullaby, a month after learning that his mother’s mom was dying of cancer.

A lot happens in thirty years. People are born, people die. People stumble, people recover. I’m reminded of a passage Tom Marshall wrote in the foreword to the first edition of The Phish Companion: “my favourite ‘thing’ about Phish is more of an emotion … it has to do with holding their children in my arms, and watching their kids play with mine … It’s my pride as I watch them gracefully grow older.” And that was twenty-five years ago!

I don’t know the band personally—as much as it can feel like I do sometimes. That’ll happen when you’ve heard four guys playing out their emotions and their friendship, in thousands of variations onstage and even more on tape, over the course of decades. But Tom’s sentiment still feels like it applies, somehow.

I think about how much bigger the scene has gotten since then, especially these last five years—of course the same words could have been uttered in 1994 or 1995 without any less significance. How silly the consumerism and spectacle of it can be. How much addiction there still is—not just to substances. And how much I’ve learned about addiction, about pain, and what we do to soothe it, and how tragic some of the earnest attempts are on the one hand, and how beautiful and redemptive some are, on the other. About how it’s no accident that music, risk-taking and improvisation are such a beacon for so many of us who have had the good fortune of feeling what it’s like to be part of something bigger than yourself. How much of a balm a string of notes can be when it has no agenda other than to bare its soul as time is torn up in its wake—if you know how to listen. And how enticing it can be to then try and pull that magic down from the ether, preserve it in collective mythology, ritual, and secret language. It’s still a mystery to me, thirty years later, where the sweet spot is in this whole affair that has me writing thousands of words just because of a concert I went to thirty years ago.

And while I’m still taking notes on “Bathtub Gin” vintages (that one from Mexico this past February is no slouch, let me tell you), what’s not a mystery are the handful of people and personal connections that have endured, those who share the soundtrack, that tugs on my heart the most.

On December 6th this past year I was at a hockey game when I learned that Adrian Burhop, that first fan I had ever met, had died tragically cross-country skiing on a lake north of Montreal after a huge early snowfall. Over the years I would run into him around Montreal. He worked at a used sports store in the late 90s and helped me find some hockey skates, and we connected the dots and he was all smiles, as before. Eventually as I settled into the Mile End neighborhood around 2004, I started bumping into him more and more. We never got super close, and didn’t see him at shows, I don’t think he ever became as big of a fan as I was in later years. But he was a full on court jester in our local scene, never taking himself too seriously, full of kindness, equanimity and poise in the face of the cosmic joke of just being alive.

I mentioned him after his passing to another older school friend, Mathias—whom I’ve seen many a big show with over the years—and asked if he remembered him, to which he replied, "of course! he was always carrying around a copy of The Dharma Bums, if I recall correctly." Big Bodhisattva Energy. If you wanted to be a little mystical about it, you could say he lived his life with the kind of grace and humour of someone who somehow knew they had limited time.

Mathias and I are going to see the shows in Bethel together this summer. Our first together since SPAC 2016, and the first time we’ll have seen three shows back to back together since doing ten or so twenty-five years ago in Summer 99. Neither of us were fortunate enough to have gotten a tip about Gamehendge last December, but it stung a little less being able to share the story. Of course if you had told me on 7/6/94 that they’d be doing Gamehendge at Great Woods at the next show, I likely wouldn’t have known what that meant nor made my way there if I did. I was a kid. I didn’t know.

Adrian knew though, and I learned pretty quick: la la la la la la la … life is just a bundle full of joy (if you know how to listen).

If you liked this blog post, one way you could "like" it is to make a donation to The Mockingbird Foundation, the sponsor of Support music education for children, and you just might change the world.


, comment by dreamcatcher
dreamcatcher Love this story
, comment by kipmat
kipmat Amazing story, lots of feels over here. Thanks for writing this!
, comment by BillyBass
BillyBass There's a strip club up there where anything goes. God bless Canada.
, comment by youalready
youalready I'm sorry for the loss of your partner, and I appreciate your openness! You are a true phan!
, comment by Gooblar
Gooblar Great post. A couple shows after my first at Garden State Arts Center and two months before my arrival in Montreal.
, comment by GenericPhisher
GenericPhisher Hey I lived in Montreal as a McGill University student back when. I believe the first venue pHish played was "Les Foufounes Electrique " which is roughly translated into Electric Buns.

Mostly a punk rock club with weird bands. I recall it was on St. Catherine Avenue approaching the gay district.
, comment by fourhourrainbows
fourhourrainbows Thank you for this - a few weeks later I got my mind blown at Big Birch. Taking my 9 year old to her second show at Sunday Bethel next month. To your point, the cycle is real and it is emotional and we are all so so lucky. Cheers to you Andrew for sharing, cheers to you all for being amazing.
, comment by andrewrose
andrewrose @fourhourrainbows said:
Thank you for this - a few weeks later I got my mind blown at Big Birch. Taking my 9 year old to her second show at Sunday Bethel next month. To your point, the cycle is real and it is emotional and we are all so so lucky. Cheers to you Andrew for sharing, cheers to you all for being amazing.
Indeed looks like you've had a similar show trajectory! Will keep an eye for the both of you in August.

@genericphisher said
Hey I lived in Montreal as a McGill University student back when. I believe the first venue pHish played was "Les Foufounes Electrique " which is roughly translated into Electric Buns.Mostly a punk rock club with weird bands. I recall it was on St. Catherine Avenue approaching the gay district.
I don't know much about this show but do note that it was part of the Jazz Fest! 'Foufs' as it is affectionately referred to is still around. Nirvana famously played a small gig there in 91, a few days before Nevermind came out. An old acquaintance of mine from music biz days booked that gig, I believe..
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