The Beacon Theatre has shared What Calls You Home, a brief documentary about The Beacon Jams, the recent Trey Anastasio virtual residency at the iconic New York City venue. As the documentary’s announcement notes, What Calls You Home features exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage, performance highlights from the eight-week run, and in-depth interviews filmed during the residency.
As Anastasio notes in a voice-over in the film’s opening sequence, “A beacon, if you look it up in the dictionary, is a beam of light that is sent out to a sailor who’s lost at sea, and then my head blew up when I thought, ‘That’s exactly what this is, but sonically. Everybody’s lost at sea, they’re out in the fog … a beacon is what calls you home.'”
The short film continues with a variety of interviews with the people behind the residency, including Darren Pfeffer (EVP Live, MSG Entertainment), Trey Kerr (video director), Marc Janowitz (lighting/production designer), and Jeff Tanski (piano/keyboards/associate music director).
The topics covered range from the decision to flip the stage plot around (“It feels like being in a garage band or something … The best decision we made was turning around. That was when The Beacon Jams came together,” says Trey) to the creative new renderings of old favorite tunes.
As Tanski explains, “There’s few people that are at his level that are just so willing to let go of something he’s created. Nothing is precious for him. He writes something and he puts it out into the world, and it’s no longer his. He’s given himself the permission to do whatever he wants to it. I think that’s why, in a lot of ways, these concerts are kind of a culmination of that. Everyone’s getting to see what’s possible when you can just let go of one idea and let it turn into another, and let it turn into another. Quite honestly, I think that’s what people have been responding to the last 35-plus years with his bands.”
The film also takes fans behind the scenes of the rehearsal process, where we see Trey prompting the band to add Sun Ra-style vocal ad-libs to “Soul Planet”. As Tanski continues, “He cares so much about getting the most out of those around him. He knows that getting his fellow musicians and bandmates to be their best selves, and not some idea that he has of them, is the answer to making great music, to making great art. It’s what he wants.”
We also hear Trey talk about the joy of connecting with viewers in real-time via the Twitch chat section. “When somebody said ‘Twitch’ to me, I’d never heard of it. This is how you communicate with people today. So it’s kinda like, wow, I’m in this old band that’s been playing forever, and all of a sudden we try this… and then it starts to work!” As the film goes on, Trey talks about finding leadership qualities in his fellow musicians, particularly with Rescue Squad violinist Katie Kresek.
Appropriately, he also speaks about the residency’s beneficiary, the Divided Sky Fund. “The Divided Sky Fund wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for The Beacon Jams. I think that the fund will become a foundation, and the foundation will exist after this project, but its initial project is to open a treatment center in southern Vermont … The truth of the matter is that alcoholism and addiction in Covid has gotten much worse. I’m sure everybody has read articles. Isolation is not a good thing for substance issues, so the fact that together, as a group, we’re paddling in a different direction, makes me feel really good. Unexpected pandemic gift, I never would have thought this was going to happen.”
While Trey’s Phish bandmate, drummer Jon Fishman, was only a part of one of the eight shows—Ghosts of the Forest night in week 5—Anastasio doesn’t miss the opportunity to express his love for his longtime friend and collaborator.
“We did the Ghosts of the Forest week, and my buddy Fish was there playing the drums,” Trey reflects. “Without question, I have a lot of musical collaborators that I’m close with—none like him. I mean, it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to communicate and play with him, always has been. We just, like, breathe together musically. And whenever we don’t see each other for a few months and get back together, I always remember: When one of us is gone, that will never exist ever again. At this point in my life, there’s no question about it. So, I count every minute playing with him as a blessing. I hope it’s me, if one of us has to go first, cause I don’t even wanna be on Earth without having him to play music with.”
“The amount of gratitude that I’m feeling, that this could have happened, is off the charts,” Trey adds. “And the group of people that I’m working with … everybody feels the same way.”
“The Beacon Jams are more than just a great concert every Friday night,” Tanski adds. “This has, I think, become a lifeline for a lot of people that have been missing this art, that have been missing music, that have been missing this group collective experience that they’ve been so used to having.”
“This was really fun,” Anastasio notes earnestly. “None of us could have known where this was gonna go.” Later, he continues, “I’ll tell you one thing, I’m speaking for everyone in my line of sight right now, it’s good to be working at all. You know what I’m saying?”
Watch the full, 16-minute The Beacon Jams documentary, What Calls You Home, below:
What Calls You Home – Trey Anastasio The Beacon Jams Documentary
Over the course of eight weekly shows at the Beacon Theatre throughout the months of October and November, Trey Anastasio and company raised more than $1 million for the Divided Sky Fund, a new arm of Phish’s WaterWheel Foundation aimed at delivering help to those affected by addiction and furthering plans to open a treatment center in Vermont.
Revisit Live For Live Music’s complete coverage of all eight The Beacon Jams shows and check out pro-shot videos from each of the eight performances here.