[Originally published 10/9/20]: On Friday, October 9th, Trey Anastasio will commence The Beacon Jams, a series of live-streamed, no-audience performances at New York’s iconic Beacon Theatre set to take place each Friday at 8:00 p.m. ET for the next eight weeks. Set to be streamed exclusively on Twitch (with an audio simulcast on SiriusXM Phish Radio), The Beacon Jams will mark the first real-time performances by Trey Anastasio since he stepped offstage with Phish in Mexico on February 23rd.
Since that time, the world as we know it has changed in countless ways, and it continues to change by the day. That’s what makes the prospect of The Beacon Jams so exciting—nobody is sure exactly what’s going to happen. Probably, not even Trey. Eight weeks is a lot of time in 2020. To a certain extent, you have to just work with what you’ve got on any given day.
What we do know are the rough parameters for the experiment. Trey Anastasio, a man who has played in five different touring acts since the start of last year (not to mention all the sit-ins and special engagements), hasn’t played a show in seven-and-a-half months due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With no viable touring options on the horizon and an abundance of both caution and shuttered venues in the city, Trey decided to make himself comfortable in the room closest to his home for a little COVID-conscious residency.
The official announcement of the Trey Anastasio Beacon Jams was notably vague with regard to the actual content of the scheduled performances. All it offered was the promise of “acoustic and electric performances as well as home audience interaction, alongside an array of surprises.” Full stop. An insightful conversation between Trey and Ari Fink on SiriusXM Phish Radio on Thursday evening peeled back some cursory layers, but ultimately did more to stoke excitement than fill in blanks.
With that, we’re left to make some educated guesses (and some wishful ones, too) as to what viewers can expect these next eight Friday nights with Trey Anastasio at The Beacon Jams.
Honoring A Significant Room
While it just so happens to be a convenient home base, the Beacon is significant for a number of reasons—from the personal to the historical to the metaphysical.
“When we thought about playing the Beacon, I was reminded of the meaning of the word,” Anastasio explained of the thematic significance of hosting his drought-breaking residency at the Upper West Side theater. “A beacon is a beam of light, often from a lighthouse, which sends it out to sailors who are lost at sea and all alone.”
Trey Anastasio – The Beacon Jams
In that vein, The Beacon Jams will also collect donations to benefit Phish non-profit The WaterWheel Foundation and its new Divided Sky Fund (DSF). The proceeds generated will be used to deliver help to those affected by addiction and help further plans to open a treatment center in Vermont—a topic very close to Trey’s heart.
Trey himself has a long history with the Beacon and the other two MSG Entertainment properties in the city, Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. In total, Anastasio has performed over 100 shows at the three properties.
Of course, for many music fans, the Beacon is synonymous with another thing—residencies. For fans of groups like The Allman Brothers Band and Tedeschi Trucks Band, the Beacon was and is an annual pilgrimage, a home away from home for extended chunks of time. Trey knows this well, of course—he’s showed up to sit in at both of those engagements at some point or other. Now, Trey will join the “Beacon residency” conversation, and you can be sure he’s conscious of that distinction. We’re calling a big “Mountain Jam” with some other secret guest guitarist to honor the ABB history in the room at some point during the run. There’s precedent there, after all.
We know from the announcement that The Beacon Jams will feature “acoustic and electric performances,” and other than a few of Trey’s quarantine videos—played with recorded backing tracks—he’s never really played electric by himself. So, we can assume that he’ll have a band for at least some of these shows. The big question: who’s in the band?
Since no “house band” was announced, it’s fair to assume that the lineup will shift from week to week. We already know that Trey has more than enough go-tos to turn to, what with all the existing bands he tours with. The main factor we have to look at here, however, is logistics.
As Trey explained on SiriusXM on Thursday, all available COVID precautions will be taken for the shows, from minimal crew being allowed in the building to daily testing for everyone on site. Those restrictions played a necessary role in building out the various band lineups. When the idea for The Beacon Jams was still being formed, Anastasio explained, “right away, it was like, let’s get this person, let’s get that person. And the response was, ‘that person is in Tennessee, that person is in California. That person is gonna need to quarantine… fly in. They gotta do this whole COVID dance.'”
Because of that wrinkle, he continued, “everything is loaded” ahead of time with what we can assume is a relatively “local” lineup of musicians. Who does that leave? Well, you’ve got Trey Anastasio Band members Ray Paczkowski (keys), Russ Lawton (drums), and Tony Markellis (bass), and Cyro Baptista (percussion) all living within driving distance. You’ve got The Roots, the last band Trey performed with, who are already quite familiar with the “COVID dance” from their nightly work taping The Tonight Show a few blocks downtown from the Beacon.
Remember that time Trey went on Chris Thile‘s now-defunct Live From Here at NYC’s Town Hall last year? He’s based in Brooklyn. In fact, the concept of The Beacon Jams—a rotating weekly show—is pretty close to Live From Here in general. If it were us, we’d probably give Thile a ring to talk shop anyway. Speaking of Live From Here, Trey’s fellow guests last year were Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and the resulting collaboration was both unique and exciting. We’re guessing Trey is looking to scratch his orchestral itch after his planned orchestra shows were scrapped this year, so maybe he gets Wynton and company to come by one Friday. We wouldn’t be mad if Christian McBride rolls through on jazz night, either.
The “COVID dance” also theoretically eliminates some Trey projects. Oysterhead, the trio comprised of Trey, Les Claypool, and Stewart Copeland, was supposed to make its big comeback this year, but its campaign was cut short after a pair of reunion shows in Colorado in February. Could Oysterhead make its virtual return at The Beacon Jams? With Les and Stew both based in California, our guess is, no.
As far as added guests on any given night go, Trey hinted to Ari Fink that we will see some fun surprises. Considering the many layers of Trey’s musical network—especially in this city—the possibilities are endless.
As excited as fans are about the Trey Anastasio Beacon Jams, the big question, as always, lies with the Phish. 2020 was the first year without a summer Phish tour since the band reunited in 2009. Dinner and a Movie has been a wonderful distraction throughout the year, but fans are eager to see a new Phish show. With Trey now booked up through the end of November and no real prospects for live shows this winter in sight, this may be the one opportunity left this year for Trey, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman, and Page McConnell to get together for a somewhat “real” show.
Our initial reaction to the prospect of a full Phish performance during The Beacon Jams was that it was highly unlikely. In a Relix interview back in late June, Trey essentially dismissed the notion of a no-crowd Phish livestream. In response to a question about Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires‘ live performance from an empty Brooklyn Bowl Nashville, Trey responded,
I’ve been asked numerous times to do similar things to what Jason did. I love Jason and I’m friends with him. It was a great thing. But for me, so far, I’ve said no.
So much of what I do is informed by the close proximity of the people in the front row—in the front 10 rows—and even by the person in the back row. We don’t have a song list because that connection is a big part of who we are as a band and who I am. … I don’t know if I want to play without our community with me. It’s a bridge I haven’t been able to cross.
I have been asked by many people: “Let’s do this Zoom concert” or “Let’s do it Brady Bunch style.” Maybe it’s my spiritual belief system, but I feel like this is where we are today and this is where I am— “I’m home. The concert isn’t happening right now.”
I almost don’t want to go halfway. If it’s possible, I want to celebrate that resurgence of live music with our family, which is our audience. And it doesn’t even feel like an audience—it feels to me, like a community.
I’d like to connect with that community, but I’ve found a way to do it because I’ve put out those 14 songs from my bedroom. I like being in contact but I might just wait [for a show]. I’m trying to follow my heart through this.
I’ll tell you another thing: We had to stop Phish once before. We went many years and then we paused and the pause was from 2004 through 2008, while I was getting my health together. Then, we did end up making an album and maybe that’s something we’ll do. I don’t know. But we didn’t do any shows and we didn’t do any kind of half-shows. We waited.
Then, we came back to Hampton Coliseum in 2009 and our community was there. Not everyone was there but it was a large group of people. I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live, which was the opening song in Hampton when everybody was back. When I think of that moment, it can make me cry.
So that was five years. I really hope we don’t have to wait another five years. But I would prefer to gather with everyone. I want to gather with Page and Mike and Fish and everyone, if it’s possible.
However, as Trey told Ari Fink on Thursday night, his tune has changed as the year has gone on. “Two things happened,” Trey explained. “One, a shift in consciousness. It was such a shock in the beginning and I was in such a patterned way of thinking… but so much has changed. Humans have an incredible capacity to adjust, and we’ve adjusted. We’ve been able to learn what works and doesn’t work, so we’re gonna try some of that in here.”
Furthermore, when Fink mentioned some of the players in driving distance—including Fishman and Gordon—Trey didn’t outright deny the notion. Could Phish play as part of the Trey Anastasio Beacon Jams? At this point, there’s no cause to say that it definitely won’t happen.
As you look down the calendar at the dates for The Beacon Jams, Friday, October 30th sticks out. If we were keeping with the last few years’ “one on, one off” schedule, we were due for a Phish Halloween show in 2020. Sure, its not actual Halloween night, but could Trey use that 10/30 show for a musical costume? That’s the fun thing about this unprecedented format—in the past, it was easier to surmise what would and wouldn’t make sense based on previous years’ patterns. With The Beacon Jams and 2020, it’s anyone’s guess.
As long as we’re guessing, here’s an educated longshot: The Residents. In his interview with Fink, Trey mentioned being blown away by the production at a performance by the avant-garde collective at the Beacon years ago. At that show, he explained, he met the band’s front of house engineer, Chris McGregor, who would go on to play a pivotal role in the art design for various Phish New Year’s gags, Halloween shows, and festivals through the years.
This isn’t the first time The Residents’ Mark of the Mole was thrown around as a potential costume set subject. Ahead of the 2018 Halloween run, a relatively well thought-out theory made the rounds on the Phish message boards. They wound up being wrong, but the Beacon would be the perfect, full-circle place for that idea to become reality. Plus, during a residency? Tell us the “residents” and “residence” together don’t sound like Tom Marshall lyrics. Just like when the concept of The Beacon Jams began to leak on social media a few weeks ahead of the official announcement, there’s something that seems right about it this time.
We’re not totally sold on this one, but the breadcrumbs are certainly there. Watch Trey recount his experience seeing The Residents at The Beacon below:
Trey on Seeing The Residents at The Beacon
[UPDATE 10/22/20]: Phish has announced a Halloween Dinner and a Movie triple feature including the band’s Halloween musical costumes from 1996 (Talking Heads Remain In Light), 2014 (The Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House), and 2018 (Kasvot Växt i rokk). While this is surely exciting from a Phish fan’s perspective, it definitely waters down the theory that any sort of “costume set” might take place at Trey’s October 30th edition of The Beacon Jams. After all, the Halloween itch is already being scratched by Dinner and a Movie. That said, we wouldn’t have called a string quartet playing “Wolfman’s Brother” ahead of the run, so we maintain that anything is possible.
When Trey Takes Up Residence
Trey has been the road virtually nonstop for decades. Other than the odd four-night run, the only extended Trey Anastasio residency that comes to mind is Phish’s Baker’s Dozen in 2017, which saw the band perform 13 shows at Madison Square Garden without repeating a single song. As fans saw in in the 2019 Trey documentary Between Me and My Mind, which premiered at the Beacon as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, Anastasio prepared extensively for the Baker’s Dozen, charting the potential paths the band could take toward this feat on big poster boards. Watch the Baker’s Dozen prep clip below:
Between Me and My Mind – Baker’s Dozen Prep
During the Thursday, October 8th Beacon Jams video interview on Phish Radio, Ari Fink brought up Trey’s Baker’s Dozen prep strategies, and Trey laughed as he quickly revealed his latest poster boards. While the “eight weeks of Lawn Boy” thing is probably a joke, well… who knows? Maybe not? Probably. But maybe not!
Why does it matter? Beyond all the pomp and circumstance, the Baker’s Dozen shows were all excellent, way above normal levels, and that was likely a result of all the added thought and preparation that went into them, or of settling in and getting comfortable in one place. It’s not tough to see a pattern here.
Trey Preps For The Beacon Jams
.@treyanastasio gave us a preview of his setlist plans for The Beacon Jams. Catch the first night of his virtual residency at the legendary @BeaconTheatre live on @PhishRadioSXM tomorrow, 10/9 at 8pm ET: https://t.co/b1mCiNXxux pic.twitter.com/34Q6ZBI70J
— SiriusXM (@SIRIUSXM) October 8, 2020
As much as planning and preparation contributed to the Baker’s Dozen’s high musical quality, the shows likely benefitted just as much from a certain looseness that comes from setting up a home base and some rough goals and seeing how things go. That seems to be Trey’s approach here, as well. He’s also coming off a seven-month “residency” at his actual “residence,” which has offered him ample time to practice and plot for his return.
As Trey told Ari Fink, without a hectic touring schedule to tend to, he’s been spending most of his time playing guitar over his stereo—”playing a lot of African music, Indian classical music. Cranking ’em and walking around with my guitar,” he explained, referring to it as “one of those gifts that comes wrapped in strange packages. Just walking around playing the guitar for fun.”
With solo acoustic performances no doubt on the docket, we’re sure that Anastasio will have thought up some new tales to spin for some “Storytime with Trey” segments during The Beacon Jams. That said, the interview with Fink made it clear that he’s beyond excited to play with more than just himself. Waxing poetic about the thrill of performing live, Trey explained, “What I miss, what I’m excited for, is being in the groove with Russ, with Tony, with Fish, where I’m not thinking at all and I’m just existing.”
In one of the final segments of his SiriusXM interview, Trey alluded to a recent quote by the coach of the NHL‘s Winnipeg Jets about the team’s title hopes in the COVID-altered 2020 season. When coach Paul Maurice was asked if he would feel differently about winning the Stanley Cup in 2020, Maurice quickly shut down the notion. “Actually,” Maurice responded, “I’d rather win this one. You can’t tell me who won three years ago, but only one will win the Stanley Cup during COVID.”
“The main feeling I’m having right now,” Trey surmised, “Is I’ve never done this and nobody knows what they’re doing. I love that feeling, it’s the best feeling. It’s the whole feeling I wanna have.” This is Trey’s big COVID soiree, and he’s making sure he makes it count.
However it unfolds, it appears that Trey is pouring his heart and soul into making this the best possible experience for fans. Our guess, and this is an easy one, is that if Trey is putting this much thought and care into preparing for The Beacon Jams, they are going to be special—no matter who happens to be playing with him on a given Friday.
Tune in to The Beacon Jams with Trey Anastasio each Friday evening from October 9th–November 27th at 8:00 p.m. ET here.
[UPDATE 10/16/20]: The Beacon Jams continue tonight with part two of eight. We still know nothing about who will be playing tonight, but Night 1 last week gave us a pretty good idea of how the reveal will go. Last week, the stream both started and ended with the camera zoomed in on the Beacon’s chandelier. Prior to the camera panning to the stage to start the show, it wasn’t clear who would be there. We’re guessing that this is how it will go for the whole run, which adds an excellent layer of anticipation to these Friday evening events. Who will be up there tonight? Tune in at 8:00 p.m. ET on Twitch to watch and check back after for a full recap of The Beacon Jams Night 2 after the show.
[UPDATE 10/17/20]: Night 2 is in the books. Check out our full recap of the action at The Beacon Jams Night 2 including an incredible “Divided Sky” duet with Jeff Tanski and the debut of the Rescue Squad Strings.
[UPDATE 10/23/20]: Night 3 tonight! So far, we’ve seen two weeks of the no-horns TAB lineup, both featuring Jeff Tanski for stripped-down takes on Phish favorites (“Stash” on Night 1, “Divided Sky” on Night 2. Last week’s show also saw the incorporation of a string quartet, aptly christened the “Rescue Squad Strings.” Given what’s gone down so far, we’re guessing that tonight will bring more TAB and more Tanski collabs in addition to some other “special” added element in the same vein as the strings. Then again, it could be time to switch it up entirely—you know that’s coming at some point. This “special message from the Barn” just before the show at 7:50 certainly has our interest piqued.