On May 17th–19th, Oregon State University will host an academic conference dedicated to the music, culture, and philosophy of Phish.
The conference is being organized by Stephanie Jenkins, an assistant professor of philosophy at the university. She has been a Phish fan since 1995, saw her first show in 2003, and has attended roughly 150 shows in the years since. Jenkins has taught a variety of classes about the philosophy of Phish since joining the Oregon State faculty in 2012. She’s also taken students to Phish shows at The Gorge as part of her classes and held public philosophy events at concerts.
“I was always interested in the connection between Phish and philosophy,” Jenkins explains in a press release. “I just didn’t think it was something I was allowed to do. But I have really supportive colleagues here at Oregon State. They encouraged me to develop the class and that has now led to the conference.”
The conference will include more than 50 presentations from researchers hailing from more than 20 states in addition to Canada. Presentation titles include: “Phish’s Improvisation in Light of Talmudic Scholastic Practice,” “‘This Your First Show?’: White Racism and Subcultural Capital in the Phish Community” and “The Neuroscience of the Jam: A research paradigm to study brain inactivity underlying improvisation in Phish.”
Jenkins herself will also give a presentation at the Phish Studies Conference, as will co-organizer Natalie Dollar, an associate professor of speech communication at Oregon State University, Cascades. Dollar is also a longtime Phish fan and has conducted academic research on the Grateful Dead.
In addition to the research presentations, the conference will feature a number of discussion panels. Two students who took Jenkins’ Phish class last summer—Lynnea Fredrickson, an OSU-Cascades student, and Michael Moran-Kay, a philosophy major at OSU-Corvallis—will speak as part of a “Student Scholar Panel.”
Two different “Community Panels” will also include various prominent members of the extended Phish community. A question-and-answer panel will feature board members of the Mockingbird Foundation, a nonprofit organization run by Phish fan volunteers that raises funds for music education programs. Speakers on the panel include Scott Marks, David “ZZYZX” Steinberg, Charlie Dirksen, Ellis Godard, and Brian Feller.
Benjy Eisen, a music writer and co-author of Bill Kreutzmann biography Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead, will host both a panel and a book signing session at the conference.
In addition to the various presentations and panels, the Phish Studies Conference will include an exhibition fair featuring opportunities for businesses and artists from the Phish community to display, promote, and sell their work (Shakedown, anyone?). The conference will also include an art show, “Below The Moss Forgotten: Phish in the Pacific Northwest,” featuring promotional materials and fan-made artwork tracing the band’s growth in the region over the past three decades.
The conference will also feature a soft premiere screening of the forthcoming documentary, We’ve Got It Simple, “a film by, for, and about Phish fans.” The screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the film’s director, Michael Ryan Lawrence.
To round things out, Eugene-based band Left on Wilson will perform a live show on Friday, May 17th at the nearby Demaggio New York Pizza in Corvallis. The concert is free for registered conference attendees.
Registration is now open for the conference. The early registration rate is $125 for the weekend and includes admissions to all conference events. Day passes will be available for $75.
Find out more about the Phish Studies Conference on the event website here. You can also check out the Ryan Kerrigan-designed artwork for the conference below.