On Tuesday, Trey Anastasio announced a new tour with a new project, Ghosts of the Forest. But while the name and the concept are new for Trey, most of the players in the band are anything but.
At drums, we have Jon Fishman, a man that Trey has played with one or two or thousands of times over 35 years with Phish. Then there’s Ray Paczkowski on keys and Tony Markellis on bass—two of Trey’s oldest solo band collaborators. Vocalist/trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick is also in the band and has plenty of experience playing with Trey, from her work with TAB to her various onstage collaborations with Phish over the last few years. Trey even joined her for an extended sit-in at her own intimate NYC performance earlier this year.
The most “new” aspect of the Ghosts of the Forest lineup is the addition of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Celisse Henderson. Okay, she’s not completely new to the Trey ecosystem, having joined Hartswick as one of the backup singers for Phish’s Ziggy Stardust Halloween set in 2016. But compared to the rest of the band’s members, Celisse Henderson is a relative wild card. With the inaugural Ghosts of the Forest tour in sight, we’ve started to familiarize ourselves with Celisse and her work—and it’s only bolstered our excitement for the new project.
Like so many stellar, soulful musicians, Celisse got her start in music at church at an early age. According to the bio on her website, “Celisse Henderson was born into a bed of music, reared by professional musicians and music teachers. As a child, Henderson would defy her mother, the choir director at their church in Oakland, and toddle up to the front of the congregation right up to the microphone. Despite the elder Henderson’s efforts, baby Celisse held on tight. And the pastor simply said, ‘let the baby sing.'”
Celisse’s talents go far beyond guerilla vocal solos at Sunday services. Her bio continues, “Trained on violin at the age of two, she also plays piano, ukulele, bass, drums, and varieties of percussion and brass.” She’s also a spoken word poet and an accomplished musical theater performer. In 2005, she traveled the country as a member of the cast of the first touring production of Broadway smash hit Wicked. In 2011, she served as a member of the ensemble cast for the Broadway revival of Stephen Schwartz‘s Godspell. She’s also made a handful of TV appearances—including a small role as a court officer in a 2009 episode of 30 Rock—and worked with high-profile musicians like Melissa Etheridge, Joss Stone, Macy Gray, and Mariah Carey.
Godspell (2011 Broadway Revival) – Montage
While her artistic talents are undoubtedly wide-ranging, her work as a singer-songwriter and musician has done the most to define Celisse as an artist in recent years. Perhaps the best examples of her live music performance available online are The Public Sessions, a series of live videos she shot in different spaces around NYC’s legendary Public Theater in 2017. The clips showcase Celisse’s magnetic ability as both a guitarist and a vocalist, and watching just one or two will have you hooked on her sound. You can get a taste of The Public Sessions via her YouTube channel below, or watch the whole series here.
Celisse Henderson – The Public Sessions – “Fool’s Gold”
Celisse Henderson – The Public Sessions – “Stuck On You Blues”
Celisse Henderson – The Public Sessions – “Stay”
Celisse Henderson – The Public Sessions – Can’t Feel My Face [The Weeknd cover]
So how did Celisse get involved with Trey Anastasio and his longtime musical companions for Ghosts of the Forest? We’re not entirely sure. We know Trey is a fan (and composer) of musical theater, so maybe he saw her perform onstage. They’re both members and patrons of the wider New York City music scene, too, so there have surely been many opportunities for their paths to cross over the years. However she got connected with this group of musicians, all signs indicate that she’ll be an exciting addition to the mix. She surely has the right attitude: As she told Bleep Mag earlier this year,
I am so deeply and truly in love with music. Beyond any words I could use to describe what I mean. It is the sort of thing where if I go a couple of days without playing something or writing something, I legitimately feel off. So with that said, I am, on a daily basis, trying to learn something new. A new chord progression, a new technique, a new way to communicate a lyric in a more succinct manner. If you came to a live show of mine a year ago as opposed to now, it would feel different. I hope to be the sort of artist that is still learning and growing until my last dying breath.
We’ve just scratched the surface of the ever-growing abilities of Celisse Henderson. A versatile musician in every regard. A powerhouse vocalist to match Hartswick. An engaging stage performer to wow us in the audience. A talented guitarist to mesh with Trey (is that her we hear playing harmonized licks with Trey on the clip the band released with their tour announcement?). The list goes on…
We can’t wait to see how her story advances as a member of Ghosts of the Forest going forward. See you on tour, Celisse!