In a new interview with Tennessean, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio discusses the band’s history at Bonnaroo, how the band’s own festivals helped inspire the annual event in Manchester, TN, who he’s excited to see (and potentially play with) when Phish returns there this weekend, and more. Here’s a few of the best snippets from Trey’s conversation with Tennessean:
On why Phish (mostly) just plays their own festivals and Bonnaroo
Trey: “We don’t do many other festivals. I play other festivals occasionally as a solo act, and some of them I would happily shout out, like Hangout. … But generally, we have sort of a high standard. We’ve done all of these Phish festivals, and the amount of care that goes into layout and food, really, an enormous amount of thought and care goes into these festivals. We were very sad that our festival [Curveball] got canceled last year, because we had some really cool stuff planned. I don’t know, maybe we were spoiled by something like that. But Bonnaroo, to me, I feel like I’m part of the family there. And I like that feeling. We kind of just keep coming back.”
On Phish’s early festivals flying under the mainstream radar:
Trey: “It was hard for us to even grapple with that, because we [as a band] didn’t get attention. And that was fine, we were used to it. But as I’m sure you know, they kept getting bigger. And it was a special feeling. So Great Went, Lemonwheel, Camp Oswego, and all of sudden it’s ’99 to 2000. The Millennium. And the home run of all festivals was Big Cypress. We went to a sovereign nation, not one cop. No press. No advertising.
“The fact that no one was noticing, everybody just thought it was so cool. It was ours. There was no corporate sponsorship and no advertising. None! Our manager was a nut about that. … It was flying in the face of what was happening on MTV.”
On how the Internet changed the game:
Trey: “There was this new thing that people were using to communicate with each other, that at the time, was almost, like, underground. And that was the internet. I didn’t even know what the internet was when we went to Big Cypress. I had just sort of heard about it. A lot of fans of ours ended up in Silicon Valley. They were like computer geeks. It sounds crazy now, but I remember a woman in our office trying to explain it to me. They were like, ‘Well, we didn’t do any advertising, and it sold 80,000 tickets.’ It was the largest ticketed concert on Earth for the millennium. We thought it was cool [to be under the radar]. We managed to get completely off the grid with 80,000 of our friends.”
On why Phish felt at home at Bonnaroo from the beginning:
Trey: “It felt extra familiar because so many of our staff were there. You’ve got to understand that by the time Bonnaroo happened, Phish had done six major festivals, and with each passing festival, we learned skills. Our manager learned skills and improved our staff. By the time we got to Big Cypress, we had gained a level of expertise that can only come through the process of putting these things on, and learning from your mistakes.”
Bonnaroo, there was a lot of crossover in our community, and they’re friends of ours. … It felt, and it still does, like an honor to be part of something that was the one festival that I felt like they were still trying to keep the same spirit alive that we had. I remember trying to say something about on stage that night (in 2002) [“I plan on doing anything I can to have this experience again in my life. I’ll do anything”]
Trey Anastasio Bonnaroo 2002 Speech
On performing after Childish Gambino:
Trey: “There’s some little tinge of me that feels like going on stage right after Childish Gambino is, like, perfect. It’s like, boom! Thank you! Because he’s got the song of the year [“This Is America”], and it’s a commentary on America today in a way that I haven’t seen from an artist in a long, long time. And that choice to me, felt like the spirit is still alive. It’s a thrill and an honor to go on stage at Bonnaroo right along with the artist, to me, that had the most important American song of the year.
On potential special guests at Bonnaroo:
Trey: “It kind of depends on who’s milling about. I will say this: I wore Christian Louboutin sneakers for Kasvot Växt, and as I was walking on stage, I thought, ‘Boy, Cardi B would really like these sneakers.’ [laughs]. If I happen to bump into her…”
Trey talks sharing the stage with Cardi B
On who he’s excited to see perform at Bonnaroo:
Trey: “Kacey Musgraves is playing, right? I would love to see John Prine. It all depends on where we’re standing. But I would go see Hozier. I love The National, luckily I’ve played with them and seen them. I wanna see the Avett Brothers, which strangely, I’ve never actually [seen]. I’ve maybe played a Christmas Jam with them or something, but I didn’t really get to watch the whole set. I’d go see Solange, because I still can’t forget how well she kicked Jay-Z‘s ass in that video [laughs].”
On crafting setlists for crowds that mostly don’t know Phish:
Trey: “The thing that affects the song list most—because I don’t know yet—is just the generalized energy. What’s interesting about for festivals for us, is that other bands have gone on before us…that’s part of the reason why we never had any other bands at our festival, because it gave up the opportunity to do, like, a Sunday afternoon set, a Saturday night set, and to walk on stage. It was like we were painting our own canvas. So much of what we do is energy based, it really is. I mean, we don’t walk on stage with a song list, still. We talk about it a little, but we juke and jive.
“So (at a non-Phish festival), the energy takes on a life of its own, and all of these other bands just played. When we walk on, we’re surfing the energy of the band that came before us, or all of the bands that came before us that day, and in a strange way, all of the bands that are coming (up later), because people are in a certain mood. If Bassnectar‘s about to play at 1 a.m., that effects peoples’ mindset, and that affects what songs we play. …But having been there six times, I can tell you that Friday night usually has a certain energy, and Sunday has a certain energy. But each year is so different. They’ve all been so different, based on who the other acts are.”
On Lil Nug:
don’t attack me but who tf is phish and why does he have 3 different sets. why is the grand ole opry headlining. i thought that was a building
— lil nug (@GH0STGRLS) January 8, 2019
Trey: “See? Our plan worked! …I think we like being the outsiders. You’re kind of like, not in the game, you follow me? The sprint is going on next to you, and you’re just over on the side. That’s the whole thing. I’m glad we got to this right before (we) hung up, because you’re getting the picture now. The picture was, ‘Oh my God, we’re from Vermont. Who the hell is from Vermont?’ It wasn’t New York. It wasn’t Seattle. It wasn’t cool, and that was the best part about it.”
Tickets for this year’s Bonnaroo, set to take place from June 13th–16th, are available here.