This past weekend, Phish fans made history at the first Phish Studies Conference at Oregon State University. 50 aca-phans (academic scholar-fans) from across the country and Canada including conference organizer, Dr. Stephanie Jenkins, descended upon the college town of Corvallis to partake in an interdisciplinary academic exchange of ideas centered around the music and community of Phish. While the results could not have been foreseen, the implications of this historical event are worth contemplating. What have we learned from the Phish Studies Conference?
1. All lyrical puns aside, an academic approach could help shift public perception of Phish fandom.
With panel titles such as “We Come from the Land of Gamehenge: Community, Identity, & Utopia” and “Just Relax, You’re Doing Fine: The Health Risks and Benefits of Phish”, it is clear that aca-phans are as diverse in their interests as the band is in their musical styles. Musicologists, sociologists, economists, philosophers, artists, and even undergraduate aficionados dug into their respective areas of research in order to connect to a community that finds relationships with each other as on par with the music itself.
Historically, academic conferences bring together scholars from the same fields of study to share innovative research that pertains to the discipline. At the Phish Studies Conference, attendees were able to observe the various fields of study that can connect to the band as well as witness the importance of centering research around a community, rather than a discipline. In this respect, the conference allowed us to see the benefits of sharing research beyond our smaller fields of study in order to make a case for interdisciplinary research.
Jnan Blau’s keynote, “We Are Aphicionados, We Are Vernacular Theorists!: A Critical Reconsideration and Anti-Hegemonic Recasting of Phish, Phandom and Fan Praxis,” set the tone for a weekend of reconsidering the impact this community can have on the future of academia. Blau asserted the importance of reexamining phandom in order to create more acceptance of our pop culture-related identity and shed the negative connotations that surround it along the way. In other words, in order to combat the negative perceptions around phandom, aca-phans need to stake their claims in the world of academia.
2. Communities within communities within communities.
Phish has been around for a long time, creating phans old and young, new and seasoned, with relationships that have blossomed in countless ways. One panel, “People of the (Helping Friendly) Book: Jews, Judaism, and Phish” considered summer camps as a genesis for phandom, encouraging young minds to find future paths that stemmed beyond entertainment. Other attendees met as colleagues or graduate students, all grateful to connect with like-minded people who helped justify their ongoing dedication to the band and community surrounding it—and all in the face of naysayers who failed to see how any of this could aid in their ongoing academic careers.
Dr. Stephanie Jenkins spoke about how she kept her phandom a secret in graduate school and as she began her career at OSU. But as she began to meet other academics who also dreamed of a world where they could combine their careers with their passions, she was encouraged to make this notion reality. Who said academia needs to be stuffy and boring? Jenkins even began her own presentation, “Read The Book: Performing Public Philosophy” clad in an “authenticity costume” of a unicorn hoodie and Baba Cool sunglasses adorned with the words “Funky Bitch”. Within the comparatively small community of Phish fans, even smaller communities of aca-phans create ongoing conversations that connect us in more nuanced and fulfilling ways.
3. This is just the beginning.
With three jam-packed days of academic presentations, art exhibits, music, and even a film-screening, one thing we know is that there is so much more we can do. What can we learn from the sheer energy of this event? While we recognize the impact of music on our individual paths, communities of music fans can serve as case studies for furthering our understanding of how these relationships may aid in bettering our lives.
We are naturally drawn to others who share our musical interests, but panels such as “Companions on this Ride: Phish Fan Community and Culture” conveyed the significant theoretical frameworks that can be used to study the communities that form around music. Phish is a band that has defied the normal trajectory of the music industry. It is our duty as academically-minded fans to follow in their footsteps. Higher education is at a crossroads right now, as scandals and disenchantment about the value of academia are at an all-time high. High-impact educational techniques that serve as means for high-stakes involvement can inspire younger generations to utilize education to better themselves and encourage more innovative avenues for thinkers in our communities. With the upcoming Public Philosophy Journal dedicating an entire issue to #PhishStudies and an edited book of academic essays on the horizon, the potential for duplicating this model is endless. The only rule is it begins!