Phish rang in the 2016 New Year with 20,000 of their greatest fans with a four-night run at Madison Square Garden. A legend emerged on night two when the webcast streamed one fan’s reaction to what will be remembered as an extraordinary “Harry Hood” to close out the second set. From this, the Internet exploded with memes.
While the meme extravaganza was in all good Phish fun, the web’s reaction to #RedShirtHoodGuy could not be contained and has since continued nearly a week later, making appearances on news sites of all shapes and sizes. From this, Phish fans were generalized into one solid clip of a video – one we can all relate to, happily, but have no real words to describe.
Our mysterious friend has since been identified as Nicholas Peter Orr, and we caught up with him to discuss this whole experience with him. Predictably, Nick is a cool fellow and we are grateful that he took the time to answer some of our questions with such relatable terms.
Read below to hear more about Nick’s relationship with Phish, how his experience has changed, and what he’s excited about in 2017. You may be surprised by some of his answers!
L4LM: Red Shirt Hood Guy, Tell us about your experience with Phish. About how many times have you seen them? At MSG?
Nick Orr: Just guy is fine, and if I may begin by saying that this whole experience has been ridiculous… but hey – the world could always use some more nonsense and levity, right?
My first Phish show was in 2010 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois outside of Chicago. I was in High School and went to the show with my family and my best friend Graham. I got into the band after my Dad showed me the soundboard audio from his first Phish show – which was Cobo Hall in Detroit on the Winter tour in 2009. As I grew up I went to a lot of local shows in Michigan, and my family spent some time following the Dave Matthews Band. We’d try to hit as many DMB shows as we could around the tri-state area, so we were pretty used to traveling for tunes by the time we hopped trains to Phish.
I was initially attracted to the beauty that I found in Phish’s music. When I listen to them I feel inspired, and I feel so optimistic because of the potential to create and spread that kind of beauty. I also found it incredibly inspiring to be a part of the show experience. Since then we’ve piled on more shows every year. I’ve been to MSG four times now, and also did the Miami New Year’s run a few years ago. My Dad and I usually travel to the shows together and will hit what we can all around the country (school schedule permitting), its an awesome bonding experience that I try hard not to take for granted! We’ve done the Halloween run three times now, and have hit the East Coast tour twice. It’s really been piling on the last two or three years. The final show of this MSG run marks my 70th show!
L4LM: There were definitely a few “holy shit” moments in “Harry Hood” that gave The Garden a good shake. What were you specifically reacting to in the video, musically and emotionally?
NO: As I said before, I’m really attracted to the beauty in Phish’s music. For me, Hood is one of their most elegant extended jam tunes. During the last segment I was just captivated by how gorgeously in sync the guys were – I love to be close to the stage so that I can see more of the physical communication in addition to feeling the music. Simply put- I was just very happy and appreciative to be there with my friends, and thought that whatever they were trying to communicate was very pure. I was connecting with it (“Surrender to the Flow” is an incredibly instructive lyric). That Hood was just so patient and uplifting. I’m also big fan of Vic Wooten, and in his audio book “the Music Lesson” he says something that I found incredibly profound: “Don’t try hard, try easy!” I feel like the guys were just playing so effortlessly, and channeling the music with so much purpose. Needless to say I was very happy about it! The whole run was like that. But beyond that and equally if not more important… I was just happy to be there with my family and friends. Sharing something you appreciate so much with other people you love is really all I could hope for, Phish or not.
(And I know you didn’t ask, but in case it’s relevant and you want to include it – I was totally sober for the entire run.)
Here it is… pic.twitter.com/SJEoatoEH8
— ʕ´ᴥ`ʔ (@Inner_Chi) December 30, 2016
L4LM: I didn’t want to ask, but if you want to expand on your sobriety throughout the run, that would be most excellent, considering the assumptions made on the Internet.
NO: I can’t control what assumptions people may make about whatever is going on, and I’m not too worried about it. This whole thing is really out of my hands at this point. Pretty much everybody who knows me knows that I like to be present for the shows. I’m not embarrassed about what was captured on that webcast because it was simply me reacting to the music I love in an environment that I’m very comfortable in. There should be no shame involved in experiencing your favorite things with the people you care about. Like with the music, when I look at the Phish community and overall scene I just see so much potential for good. And that makes me smile. It fuels my optimism and makes me want to go out and try to perpetuate that out the world if possible.
Having fun with substances at a show is fine, but for me – I just don’t like to gamble on an experience that I already find so pure and positive. In fact, the co-mingling of those who are sober with those who are not with lack of judgement is one of the things I really admire about the scene (so long as it’s safe and respectful).
Despite all this… it should be pretty apparent by now that I still like to party…
L4LM: How long did it take for you to realize your face was circulating the Internet?
NO: I guess I didn’t really know that something was going on until the next morning when I was getting messages from friends. However I knew I was on the screens almost immediately… When we left the floor and made it down the stairwell to the main lobby, my Dad and I were sort of putzing about the lobby when a group of people said “Hey! That’s the guy!” and came up to me. It was a group of people around my age that had been up in the 200’s section. I was pretty taken aback by the initial approach because I had no idea what was going on, and I’m really not used to that kind of attention. But they were very nice, and just thanked me for “Doing it for a lot of people up there”, snapped a quick picture and went on their way.
Waking up the next morning was pretty surreal though, I had so many phone notifications that it was overwhelming… the only messages I’m used to getting are from the Facebook staff telling me “Merry Christmas”. Supposedly I was also on a lot of phish blogs and other websites, almost none of which I had heard of or knew anything about. Just a pretty weird experience altogether.
L4LM: What does it feel like to be meme’d?
NO: Being meme’d is a strange experience. I suppose I should count myself lucky that the moment they captured was positive and I was just being myself. My reaction to it has ebbed and flowed since it happened. I find the memes to be funny and all in good fun and have been mostly lighthearted about it. My good friend Nate Tobey is actually the other guy who was ‘meme’d’ this year and we had talked a bit about it both before and after I was caught on the webcast.
I think we both appreciate the fact that the Phish community is a very creative bunch of people – mostly with good intentions – and don’t mind if people want to make ‘a funny’. I mean… I appreciate a good meme as much as the next guy. However having a bunch of people recognize you at a show is also quite alarming; I’m very used to being anonymous. I noticed a lot of people staring from a distance and some people trying to take sneaky photos which isn’t an incredibly comfortable experience. But I have met a LOT of very cool, fun, and nice people because of it also. I really didn’t mind chatting and taking pictures with the people who came up and were friendly and making sure I was cool with it.
L4LM: Do you have a favorite meme of yourself?
NO: I find all of the memes pretty funny. I particularly like the one where somebody put my face over Luke Skywalker’s… I’m a huge fantasy guy! Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, you name it… and growing up I always wanted to BE Luke Skywalker – so I guess I can cross that off my list now. I also saw a pretty hilarious one where somebody pasted my face over Jon Fishman‘s on one of the Hoist photos. As long as people are making them gently and in good taste, I don’t mind it. Not that I have any control over the situation at this point!
L4LM: How did your life change from this experience?
NO: Life at the shows got a bit odd for the last two nights when the band wasn’t playing. Like I mentioned, I ended up taking a LOT of pictures over the weekend and met a LOT of great and interesting people. Most everyone was very respectful and kept it light which I appreciated. Some of my friends at the shows jokingly gave me some crap for it, but hey… how can you resist? All the attention feels weird not having done anything substantial to earn it.
Leaving the show night three there was a small traffic jam that formed by the stairwell to the lobby because so many people were trying to stop me for pictures… The coolest thing about this whole experience though has been all the positive responses. It’s such a small thing, but it seems to have had a big impact for some people, which is all I could ever hope for. I was talking to these two guys I met outside before the NYE show, Jeff and Whit. They had been streaming the webcast and recognized me, so we hung out and chatted for a little bit. Jeff kindly let me know that he and Whit had bailed on their other plans and bought plane tickets to New York to come to the show just because they saw my reaction! So whether or not I think this is ridiculous kind of stopped mattering to me after that – that was cool. The fact that whatever I did or didn’t do was causing people to have a little more joy and even return to the scene had me floored. But all in all, lets just say I’m happy to be home!
L4LM: You met Tom Marshall. How was that? Did you get to meet any other Phish notables because of this?
NO: I did meet Tom! He was a super nice guy, and we had a brief chat and took a picture together. When I met him I was pretty shocked that he already knew a tiny bit about me, and he seemed genuinely happy to meet me which was really nice. We kept it short and sweet, but it was definitely cool to have someone who means so much to the music and the scene try to flag me down. Thanks again Tom! ;D I didn’t meet Fish, Mike, Page, or Trey though. I don’t think what happened really warrants meeting the band, or Tom for that matter. So that was a real treat!
L4LM: We saw that you got an All Access pass for the rest of the run. What was that like?
NO: I actually didn’t get an all access pass. This sort of thing really shouldn’t warrant that kind of special treatment, I’m just one of the many people enjoying themselves at the show. I love to watch my friends dance, and everyone has their own moments of bliss.
L4LM: What do you have to say about all the media attention that has made you the unofficial face of Phans to the outside world?
NO: I don’t really know if I have an informed understanding of the actual scale of it all. I’m not on the internet very often and don’t know most of these websites. I’ve never been on Phantasy Tour, I’ve never read forums on Phish.net, I had never heard of Uproxx or Deadspin until people told me “Hey man, you’re on Uproxx and Deadspin!” and frankly still don’t really know what they’re all about. I know of Esquire, but also have never read it. I used to get Relix when I was younger, and I have read some of your Live For Live Music articles over the years.
It’s hard for me to understand – which I guess may be a good thing. As far as I’m concerned I’m just dealing with it on a person-by-person basis and trying to make sure that I acknowledge and thank everyone who appreciated the moment and contacted me. So I guess the whole ‘unofficial face of phish’ thing is pretty out of sight/out-of-mind. But if that moment has become joyful for people or a possible entry point for a non-phans, I don’t see how it could be a bad thing. If it has become propaganda to convince more good people into giving this amazing music and community a try, at least it is not manipulative or malicious. I’m with my family and my friends, not on any substances, and enjoying a pure and positive musical experience. It just is what it is.
L4LM: Tell us about your band.
NO: I actually play in two bands here in Michigan, both based out of Ann Arbor – Dead Hit and Pajamas!
Pajamas is a trio with my 2 best friends Graham Low and Dan Schuler. I grew up with Graham (drums) and we met Dan (Bass) through college. Because we’re all still in school and Dan has been going to University in Grand Rapids, we can only really get together to play in the Summertime. When we started, we would just show up for gigs at the local Farmer’s Market in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor and play 2-4 hours of cover songs for people – mostly Phish and the Grateful Dead! Now we just get together and try to book local gigs when time allows. We recently finished recording our first album of all original music which we hope to release soon! Beyond that, we’re hoping to be able to book gigs outside of Michigan and try our hand at touring! They’re really great players, and even better people… I feel absolutely privileged to be able to share this experience with them. We do mostly funk, funny rap and R&B songs in a jam context. “Rapper’s Delight” was the first tune we ever played together (there is actually a recording of that 30 minute jam on soundcloud – listen at your own risk!). We play fun booty shaking music and feel good tunes.
Dead Hit is a quartet that I initially joined while Pajamas was on our typical school-year hiatus. I first found them on craigslist when they were looking for a new singer. I showed up to the first jam session, and we all really hit it off! They’re absolutely stellar human beings! It’s Matt Mitchell (drums), Johnny Scott (guitar), and Matt Foltz (bass). They’re all slightly older than I am, but we get along like 4 peas in a mutated pod. That ensemble started with all original music, but we’ve since been picking up cover tunes to be able to play larger and longer shows! We’ll play some Phish, we’ll play some Dead, Wood Brothers, etc… Having rolled the dice on craigslist in the past, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have met such a great group of dudes through it! We play throughout the year, and are working on our second EP! We play rock music that utilizes a lot of moods and incorporates a lot of jamming and improvisation in a live setting.
L4LM: What music are you excited for in 2017?
NO: Well obviously I’ll be hitting as much Phish as I can. Beyond that, I’m a big fan of Victor Wooten and would swoon over some Flecktones or any of his other projects. I’d also love to finally see the String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic live. All of my friends love Umphrey’s McGee, I’d be stoked to go to a show with them sometime. I also hope to see more Moe. and Tedeschi Trucks Band, Trey Anastasio Band, the Main Squeeze, Punch Brothers and Chris Thile’s other projects. Snarky Puppy is coming to Ann Arbor which I’m hoping to hit. My friend John recently showed me Spafford which I was very impressed by. I saw a meme set to Pigeons Playing Ping Pong that sounded amazing, Dopapod as well. Mungion is also on my radar. Locally I’ll be seeing a lot of one of my favorite bands- Dirty Deville. Desmond Jones from Lansing, and Chirp and Stormy Chromer from Ann Arbor which are both killer bands of friends. The list goes on… All in all, I’d say 2017 is looking pretty ripe with possibilities.