Passing the torch: it’s a phrase that circulates around the jam music scene when a member of an older, reputable band joins a younger, reputable band on stage. Naturally, the phrase made its way around on this day 23 years ago, when Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh sat in with Phish for the first and only time in their long careers.
The notable sit-in took place at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA. Phish had already jammed with guitarist Warren Haynes during the first night of the run, but the 9/17 performance would prove to be extra special, as it marked the first time that a member of the Grateful Dead ever sat in with Phish.
The connections between the respective worlds of Phish and the Grateful Dead were apparent. So much so, in fact, that Phish had all but stopped covering Dead songs as a means to distinguish themselves. The sole exception to that rule was the “Terrapin Station” played three years after Jerry Garcia’s death in 1998, which was still fresh at the Shoreline performance just one year later. After that, Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell joined Lesh for a very special Phil & Friends run at The Warfield in April of 1999. The members of Phish certainly have a healthy respect and admiration for the Grateful Dead, and any meeting between these two entities is always cherished.
While the first set of the 9/17/99 show certainly had its moments, this article’s headline mentions Phil Lesh and not “David Bowie” for a reason. Lesh joined Phish for “You Enjoy Myself” midway through the second set, and they even got him his own trampoline! “YEM” did not contain a vocal jam, but instead closed out with a bass jam between Mike Gordon and Lesh. The two have played together many times since, but this must have been a real treat for Gordo to play bass with one of his idols.
Lesh stayed on for “Wolfman’s Brother”, and the funky tune really benefited with the use of two bassists. What followed were the closest things to Grateful Dead covers that Phish would allow, as the band broke out into “Cold Rain and Snow” to end the set, and returned for “Viola Lee Blues” during the encore. While neither were Grateful Dead originals, the two songs were tried and true facets of Grateful Dead setlists over the years. The encore, in particular, was a special moment, as Warren Haynes came out to add his soulful guitar tones to the mix with Lesh and the Phish members.
Little did fans know that Trey Anastasio and Warren Haynes would both later fill that lead guitar role for the Grateful Dead in subsequent reunions.
Revisit the night the Grateful Dead and Phish world collided for the first-time ever via the videos below.
Phish with Phil Lesh – “You Enjoy Myself” (partial) > “Bass Jam” – 9/17/99
[Video: b t]
Phish with Phil Lesh – “Wolfman’s Brother” – 9/17/99
Phish with Phil Lesh – “Cold Rain and Snow” – 9/17/99
Phish – Shoreline Amphitheatre – 9/17/99 [Full-Show Audio]
Setlist: Phish | Shoreline Amphitheatre | Mountain View, CA | 9/17/1999
Set 1: Mozambique, Guyute, Ghost > Lawn Boy > Peaches en Regalia > The Moma Dance, Water in the Sky, When the Circus Comes, Back on the Train > David Bowie, The Squirming Coil
Set 2: Runaway Jim > Sand, Piper > Roggae, You Enjoy Myself -> Jam, Wolfman’s Brother > Cold Rain and Snow
Encore: Viola Lee Blues
 No vocal jam; Phil Lesh on a second bass guitar.
 Bass jam; Phil Lesh on a second bass guitar.
 Phil Lesh on a second bass guitar.
 Phish debut; Phil Lesh on a second bass guitar.
 Phish debut; Phil Lesh on a second bass guitar and Warren Haynes on guitar.
Phil Lesh joined the band on a second bass guitar from YEM through the end of the show. The encore also featured Warren Haynes on guitar. Cold Rain and Snow and Viola Lee Blues were both Phish debuts. YEM did not contain a vocal jam and included Phil joining Trey and Mike on trampolines. The subsequent jam out of YEM comprised of solely Mike and Phil.