On Friday night, Trey Anastasio tied a bow on his eight-night virtual residency, The Beacon Jams at New York’s storied Beacon Theatre. As with all the Beacon Jams, the free stream continued to raise money for the Divided Sky Fund, a new arm of Phish‘s charitable WhaterWheel Foundation focused on delivering quality care and compassionate treatment for those suffering from addiction.

Over the last eight weeks, we’ve examined these shows from every angle. We’ve broken down the mysterious nature of the band lineups from night to night, relished the inside jokes born and nurtured over the course of two months, dissected the effect of the Twitch chat section wrinkle on the music being played, weighed the significance of this “beacon” of light in a world of fright. Each Friday night, it seemed, some new theme would come to light, revealing some new angle from which to appreciate this uplifting pandemic residency. On the engagement’s final night, however, it was the Divided Sky Fund and its mission to build a treatment center for struggling addicts in Vermont and northern New York—the redemption arc of Trey’s own journey through addiction and recovery—that took center stage.

Related: Trey Anastasio Discusses Sobriety & What Keeps Him On Track In ‘GQ’ Interview

Before the night got going, those who turned in early were treated to another duet by Trey and Page McConnell from the Barn in Vermont. This performance of Phish favorite “Brian and Robert”, pre-recorded on the porch at the Barn along with the similarly debuted pre-Beacon Jams performances of “Evening Song” (Night 3) and “Waste” (Night 4), felt particularly timely on the final night of this beautiful run. Though short and sweet, the song set the tone for the evening. As if speaking directly to those in the throes of addiction, to the people battling their personal demons in isolation as the world seems to burn around them, this “Brian and Robert” initiated the connection: “If you’re just staring at your walls / Observing echoing footfalls / From tenants wandering distant halls / Then this one is for you.”

Following a brief “stay tuned” photo montage, the Beacon Jams opening animation signaled the start of the show in earnest. While the band lineup on any given Friday during the residency has remained a mystery until showtime, those who have been tuning in these last eight weeks had a relatively good idea of what to expect at The Beacon Jams Night 8. After learning about the lengthy and meticulous COVID dance that Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet/vocals), Natalie Cressman (trombone/vocals), and James Casey (sax/vocals) completed in order to get the full Trey Anastasio Band back together again on Night 7, it seemed a given that they would stick around the Big Apple for another go at the run’s finale.

Still, the Beacon Jams team found a way to turn the final reveal into a joyous surprise. Rather than panning down from the empty venue’s towering ceiling to the band onstage—as they have for past editions—the Night 8 stream faded in on Trey, Jen, Natalie, and James on the Beacon’s backstage stairs. Wielding an acoustic guitar and clad in a shirt emblazoned with the word “Love”, Trey led the backing vocalists through the debut of a new song, “Just A Touch”. Anastasio and company were all smiles as the camera followed them out from the stairway to the stage, where they met up with the rest of the Trey Anastasio Band—bassist Tony Markellis, drummer Russ Lawton, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, and percussionist Cyro Baptista—to finish out the opening tune.

beacon jams 8

[Screengrab via The Beacon Jams Night 8]

After a quick hello to the band, Trey grabbed his Languedoc and lit the fuse on a fantastically unhinged “Carini”, marking the first time the full Trey Anastasio Band has tackled the circa-’97 Phish rocker. Trey wailed away and with searing licks as the song built in intensity, clearly having missed performing this song over these past, gig-less months.

Trey Anastasio – “Carini” – The Beacon Jams Night 8 – 11/27/20

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

Some gratitude toward a group of Yonkers firefighters tuning in gave way to the Latin flair of “Mozambique”, Cyro and the horns leading the way. “Burn That Bridge”, a selection from Trey’s Hands on a Hard Body musical, maintained the energetic momentum. Audible gasps filled the stage as Trey acknowledged a group of streamers tuning in via a Zoom party with an ASL interpreter.

Trey Anastasio – “Mozambique” – The Beacon Jams Night 8 – 11/27/20

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

“I have a paper due tonight, but how could I not watch this!” added one commenter, prompting laughs and callbacks to “Carini” (“The thesis that he’s writing is a load a s**t”). From there, the band dove into the bouncing groove of a stellar “Cayman Review” complete with artful solos by Ray and Jen.

The requisite Turkey Day “spatchcock” jokes ensued as Trey mused, “It’s kinda weird that we got on the spatchcock thing right before Thanksgiving, and then we end it with everybody having actual spatchcock.”

“It’s weird,” added Paczkowski, “I feel like I keep hearing my name, the past eight weeks, the beginning of my name.” “Ray Spatchkowski!” Trey interjected, prompting more laughs from the band.

After pointing out the new feline adornment (shoutout to Joey Anastasio) on his guitar headstock (spatchcock?), and acknowledging Cyro’s new grandchild, Joaquin, whose impending birth last Friday played into Night 7‘s “circle of life” theme, Trey dedicated the ensuing “Speak To Me” to a young student tuning in while studying for their organic chemistry final exam (“Science!” etc.).

As the night went on, the interaction breaks between the songs seemed to get longer and longer, and the subject matter more and more serious. With the Beacon Jams window quickly closing, Trey focused on the work of the Divided Sky Fund, the beneficiary and spiritual guiding light of the run.

The commenters, too, seemed to be feeling the weight of this final, virtual gathering as memorials for fans, friends, and family lost to addiction continued to pour in. Though close to 50,000 people were tuning in, Trey spoke directly to each commenter, forging individual connections from a place of love, empathy, and personal experience.

Following some more acknowledgements of fan groups who pooled donations—including My Thoughts Out On The Page, Surrender to the Flow, Phish Guitar Heads, and Buzetta Teachers—Trey dedicated “Love Is What We Are” with “deep love” to all the parents currently homeschooling their kids as schools remain shuttered due to the pandemic. “I can’t believe what you people are doing,” he gushed. “All of you. If we did nothing over these weeks but to thank all the parents who are homeschooling their kids right now… unbelievable. This one is for you.”

As Beacon Jams regulars, the Rescue Squad Strings, took the stage for their first song of the night, Trey acknowledged a group of donors dubbed the “Philly Spatchcock Quaranteam.” Responding to their tongue-in-cheek reference to recent Trump-ism, “bad things happen in Philadelphia,” Trey brushed over some of the “bad things” that had happened in the City of Brotherly Love during his sordid past (“It’s a family show,” he noted with a knowing laugh). His apt takeaway from the tangent, however, led him out of that implied darkness and into a brightly-lit sliver lining.

“A lot of good things happen in Philly, too,” he mused. “I saw [Philadelphia Flyers hockey legend] Reggie Leach score his 50th goal the year they won the Stanley Cup. I was there. If you’re not from the Philly area, you don’t know what I’m talking about, but let me tell you something, that is burned into my memory. Reggie Leach, blazing down the right wing. I was twelve years old, with my dad. Unbelievable, place went nuts. Flyers won the Cup. I’ll never forget it as long as I live… And by the way, Reggie Leach, first-ever star of Native American ancestry in the NHL, won the Stanley Cup, had a wicked drinking problem, got sober, and goes around talking to Native American kids all over the country. He’s an amazing guy. I’m, like, crying over here. Perfect story to tell at this. Unbelievable guy. Thank you, Philly Spatchcock Quaranteam, for reminding me of that. Thank you, Reggie Leach. He was my hero when I was a kid—I played right wing—and he’s my hero now.”

Armed with his acoustic guitar, Trey led the Rescue Squad into a shimmering “Pebbles and Marbles”, yet another home run from the string quartet. As the strings made their exit, Trey recalled how Tony had seen Jimi Hendrix play live twice—not knowing that Friday was, in fact, the guitar legend’s birthday. “I think reality just got spatchcocked,” Trey exclaimed, thoroughly amused by the coincidence. “Drifting” was up next, Trey’s fingers dancing nimbly on his fretboard over the billowing accompaniment, before he directed the ensemble into a rocking “Night Speaks To A Woman”.

Trey Anastasio – “Pebbles And Marbles” – The Beacon Jams Night 8 – 11/27/20

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the night came next. After starting up “Liquid Time”(“The sea is so wide, and the boat is so small”), Trey seemed to have second thoughts. Just a few short seconds in, in the middle of a line, Trey called on the band to pull the plug on the song, leaving seven musicians onstage and tens of thousands of viewers confused.

“Stop for a sec,” he implored. “I’ve never talked abut this. … I’m so sorry, I have to tell this story. I’m gonna talk about this based on what we’re doing. Because we’re opening this treatment center and it’s really going along. All of you are donating to this thing. I’m so moved. But I got arrested in upstate New York, and my case manager, Melanie, and I talked about trying to give back in that area of the country, so Southern Vermont, upstate New York, small area. … It was such a bad time. And this is… again, this is my last chance to speak, so I’m gonna do it. To anybody who is still sick and suffering out there, I didn’t even know that, kind of. But I will say that you can get out of this mess.”

He continued, “I went up there, I was on house arrest, and I went to jail. … It was just the weirdest… it was about a year and a half that I was up there, and I wrote a couple of songs about how I was feeling. One of them was this one, and so when I say, ‘the sea is so wide and the boat is so small, and the sun burns my skin in this liquid time,’ I was watching the clock go from, like, I’m gonna get out of here in eight months, and it would be like 50 years for it to go 15 minutes. And I just kept thinking about all this—’Time Turns Elastic’, ‘Liquid Time’ were all these songs I was writing. This is short, this is long, this is short. Well, the truth of the matter is, it’s not that long in the scheme of a lifetime. It is hard to get sober. It’s hard, but you get through it, and it looks like nothing in the rearview mirror. And so, please, if you’re out there, don’t give up hope. Seriously. On the other end, it isn’t that long. But that’s what I wrote the song about. … I wrote it in Fort Edward, Whitehall, doing community service and peeing in a cup like 150 times. Probation officers and stuff, wondering, ‘when am I gonna get out of here?’  I don’t know, maybe that’s giving away too much information, but I just remembered when we started. Somebody’s hopefully gonna go up there and get some help in the same area of the country that I did thanks to all of your generosity, massive generosity. Thank you, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without help. Ask for help. Don’t give up.”

With that background, the ensuing, complete version of “Liquid Time” took on an added personal weight. That path, from lost to found, from sick to healthy, from the shackles of addiction to the freedom of sobriety, has been the pilot light for this entire residency. It’s the same flame that burns inside Trey Anastasio today, the fuel that has powered the massively successful undertaking of The Beacon Jams and the Divided Sky Fund. With the right perspective and the proper support, there is always a path out of the darkness.

More acknowledgements of loved ones affected by addiction followed, though not without some levity—in case you were wondering, Trey’s last meal would be a hotdog. Continuing with the “passing of time” theme, the band moved into the first-ever Trey Anastasio Band rendition of Phish ballad “Fast Enough For You”, the backing singers adding a new layer of texture to the fan-favorite tune.

A soaring “Shine” then gave way to more heartfelt testimonials from the chat thread. While Trey continued to humbly apologize for steering the proceedings toward the topic of addiction and recovery, the viewers were clearly touched by the subject matter, opening up more and more about the ways in which addiction has affected the lives of those around them.

“Show of Life” (“Its no easy road, this struggle and strife”) seemed to capture that thematic ambiance in one fell swoop—with a stunning Trey solo, taboot—and the swaggering “Ether Sunday” that followed gave Hartswick the chance to flex her horn chops with an impressive solo. Without a pause, the band dove into another upbeat rocker, “Simple Twist-Up Dave”, which saw Cressman take her time in the spotlight on trombone.

While the remaining time was running short, the biggest musical highlight of the night—and, perhaps, of The Beacon Jams as a whole—was still to come in the form of a Jeff Tanski/Rescue Squad-assisted “Slave To The Traffic Light”. Throughout the last eight weeks, we’ve seen some of the most beloved Phish songs get the string quartet treatment to astounding effect, but this one blew them all away. Already known for its delicate ebb and flow, this song took flight with the help of the strings, leaving tears streaming down cheeks in living rooms around the world—a truly perfect final jewel in the Beacon Jams crown.

Trey Anastasio – “Slave To The Traffic Light” – The Beacon Jams Night 8 – 11/27/20

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

With that, the band launched into the show-closing “First Tube” we all saw coming—but the surprises were not finished. As the musicians donned “love” face masks, Cyro kicked off a second line-style drum jam as the camera followed Trey not backstage, but out into the rows of empty seats toward the theater’s ornate foyer. With a little movie magic, the stream mixed real-time and pre-recorded footage as the many, “love”-masked “stagehands” in the theater lobby coalesced into a full-blown flash mob dance crew.

[Screengrab via The Beacon Jams Night 8]

Trey took a moment to dance along and shake some maracas before pushing through the choreographed fracas and out the front door, where a nurse was waiting to receive her own “love” mask from the guitarist. As he walked downtown on Broadway, face and chest emblazoned with “love,” the Beacon marquee gave one last nod to the surprise darling of The Beacon Jams, Maine nurse Heather McDougal, thanking her and all the other frontline workers for their tireless efforts in getting us through the choppy waters of 2020.

 

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Throughout this run, it’s been difficult to critique the music itself. I’m sure when we go back and revisit these shows, there will be some more clear winners, but it would be difficult—and a disservice to this unique engagement—to separate the music from the situation in which it was played: the warm embrace of something familiar during a time of distance and longing, a lifeboat for those on the verge of losing hope.

Over the course of eight Fridays, Trey Anastasio and company played more than 150 different songs without a single repeat, raised a seven-figure sum to help the most downtrodden members of our community, and provided a beacon of hope and togetherness for all the rest. On the final night of the run, Trey started the show behind the curtain, left it all on the stage, and rode off into the night through the front door with love to share.

We don’t know what’s next for Trey as the pandemic continues and he heads back into quarantine just a few blocks from the Beacon. For now, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this moment, right now, these last few weeks, the way we’re all feeling after experiencing all of this together. The Beacon Jams defied a time of darkness with unabashed light. Thank you, Trey, and everyone involved, for your service. Our gratitude cannot be measured.

Setlist: Trey Anastasio | The Beacon Jams Night 8 | Beacon Theatre | New York, NY | 11/27/20

SET 1: Just A Touch [1], Carini [2], Mozambique, Burn That Bridge, Cayman Review, Speak to Me, Love Is What We Are, Pebbles and Marbles [3], Drifting > Night Speaks to a Woman, Liquid Time [4], Fast Enough for You[2], Shine, Show of Life > Ether Sunday > Simple Twist Up Dave, Slave to the Traffic Light [5], First Tube [6], Jam [7]

[1] Debut; began with Trey on acoustic guitar accompanied by James, Jennifer, and Natalie on vocals in a stairwell in the Beacon and finished with them on stage.
[2] Full TAB debut.
[3] Began with just Trey on acoustic guitar with The Rescue Squad Strings and the TAB horns before switching to electric guitar and the rest of the band joining in.
[4] Stopped for Trey to talk and restarted.
[5] Full TAB debut; began with just Trey on acoustic guitar with The Rescue Squad Strings and the TAB horns before switching to electric guitar and the rest of the band joining in.
[6] With The Rescue Squad Strings.
[7] Percussion jam with Trey exiting the Beacon.

 

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