Friday 05/31/2024 by phishnet


[The following is courtesy of Jake Cohen, user @smoothatonalsnd. Thank you, Jake! -Ed.]

“The reverse culture shock is real…”

“Having a tough time with re-entry.”

As Phish fans, most of us are used to feeling some version of this after a run of shows or a festival. Phish transports us into another world, one bound by community and a shared, intense experience, and it can be hard to readjust to “normal” life afterwards. Yet these are two texts that I got this past Monday, not after seeing Phish, but after attending an academic conference.

That sentiment is more or less unheard of after a typically staid affair, but this is exactly how I feel this week after the conclusion of Phish Studies 2.0. Co-hosted by The Mockingbird Foundation and Oregon State University in Corvallis, the conference left me spiritually charged up in the way only a Phish show can, and professionally stoked for the future of Phish Studies as a field.

© 2024 Lizzy Lane (Phish Studies Conference Poster)
© 2024 Lizzy Lane (Phish Studies Conference Poster)

Over 70 scholars (both amateur and professional), artists, community organizers, and musicians came together to share in their love, joy, and critique of all things Phish and our scene. What was truly unique and special about this event was the way that it went far beyond the normal confines of a conference, turning what can otherwise be a dry series of papers and roundtables into a colorful and lively cornucopia of Phishy activities. As Jnan Blau put it in his closing remarks Sunday evening, “we’re type 2-ing the idea of an academic conference.”

© 2024 Derek Finholt (Benjy Eisen keynote address)
© 2024 Derek Finholt (Benjy Eisen keynote address)
Highlights included the incredible “Our Intent is All For Your Delight” curated and built by Alex Grosby and his wife Meredith, a full museum-quality exhibit of photos, maps, artwork, video, and other relics and ephemera from each of the Phish festivals that also foregrounded the pre-history of these events with nods to 1992’s Roskilde Festival or 1995’s Sugarbush shows that featured camping. John Michael DiResta performed a staged reading of his short play “Nothing I See Can Be Taken From Me,” moving many in the audience to tears with his masterful weaving of Phish history with a story of queer self-discovery and joy. Visual artwork abounded, from a retrospective exhibition of posters by Lizzy Layne to phan portraits by Michael Sell and many more. Four music scholars led the conference through a guided listening session to three different eras of “Birds of a Feather,” or “stopping the jam to talk” as I called it. Given everyone’s positive feedback, I think our chomping was excused.

© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf centerpiece of art museum opening)
© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf centerpiece of art museum opening)

Another major touchstone was the affinity groups panel on Friday afternoon, bringing together representative from PHRE, Mike Side Dyke Side, the Phellowship, GrooveSafe, and Access Me. These groups who do important community activism work don’t often get a chance to all sit down together and talk about their common goals, struggles, and issues that we all face in the Phish community, and it was refreshing and urgent to hear their common concerns and hopes for the future of our scene.

In a delightful and exhausting move, we also got to rock out to three full two-set concerts at local venue Bombs Away Cafe as part of the conference (you try seeing three straight nights of shows followed by 9am weekend programming for 3 days!). Friday night’s festivities began with B. Elizabeth Beck reading from her new book of Phish-inspired poetry, then featured a mock panel of Phish Haters, poking lightheared fun at those who are less enthusiastic about Phish, followed by Portland’s The Walkaways, a Phish covers cover band (yes you read that correctly) that blazed through favorite covers that Phish plays like “Crosseyed and Painless” and a perfect “Skin It Back” with “Martian Monster” interpolations. Saturday welcomed back local Eugene jamband Left on Wilson who played a packed house with their inventive originals and some choice covers, including a fiery “Fuego,” a big sing-along “Possum,” and a rollicking “Punch You In the Eye” set 2 opener. Sunday’s band Special Purpose matched the more laid back vibe with jazzy and downtempo originals, while still working in a few excellent Phish covers like “Horn” and Phish-adjacent ones like the Scofield/MMW favorite “A Go Go.”

© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf - Phishonian Pop-up Exh)
© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf - Phishonian Pop-up Exh)
Despite all these type 2 conference excursions, the meat of the weekend was scholarly presentations. Concurring panels meant I only caught half the program, but I’m thrilled and excited to check out everything I missed on video, which will soon be hosted on The Mockingbird Foundation’s YouTube page. Of those I saw, a few highlights included Rob Collier’s amazing analysis of how Mike Gordon’s bass playing interacts with his bandmates during the 8/1/23 “Sample in a Jar” jam; Radha Lewis’s beautiful and masterful presentation on the benefits of online Phish communities for those in treatment or recovery from cancer; the quantitative analysis panel looking at show ratings, song selection, and song length presented by Paul Jakus, Jason Zietz, and Matthew Sottile; and Daniel Dylan’s thorough legal analysis of how space is claimed at shows, which led to a lively debate and discussion looking at how gender, entitlement, substance use, the law, and community norms can affect how we experience a show and the ways lived experience interact with abstract legal theories. Benjy Eisen gave the keynote speech to open the festivities, invoking the spirit with a rousing recitation of “Kung,” and making the argument that Phish is at their best when taking their 40-year tradition and relentlessly innovating, exemplified by the full theatrical Gamehendge and their groundbreaking Sphere performance.

© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf - State of Equity in the Phish Scene panel)
© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf - State of Equity in the Phish Scene panel)

Over and over again throughout the weekend, threads kept weaving their way through so many presentations and events like a worn-out San-Ho-Zay tease from Trey. Perhaps the most common of these teases was the idea that Phish is what it is because we experience these intensive, some might argue spiritual, embodied and emplaced experiences with music in a community that includes the band. This was apparent in RJ Wuagneux’s paper on affordances of groove and affect on display during the 8/6/10 “Cities,” or Leah Taylor’s examination of the therapeutic effects of communally dancing to Phish, or the interactive onsite sculpture by Brooke Nuckles that we all built throughout the weekend and then cut apart, much in the spirit of the Great Went’s sculpture burn.

Above all, it was the people who made Phish Studies 2.0 so special, starting with the incredible team that put together the conference including our local arrangements point person, Stephanie Jenkins. It was the conversations and discoveries among musicians, professors, artists, curators, activists, and everday fans curious to experience the Phish phenomenon on another level that revealed so many intricacies and connections in the ways we all experience and examine Phish. As a musicologist, it’s rare that I get to approach a single topic joined by equally passionate scholars in disciplines as far afield as sociology, theater studies, literature, public health, and law, but the understanding that comes from such a truly interdisciplinary endeavor is unmatched in any part of academia. Walking away from the 2024 Phish Studies conference and looking forward to what comes next for our incredible subfield, I’m simply left in the now with a wondrous glow.

© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf - Walkaways Concert May 17 2024)
© 2024 Derek Finholt (Phish Studies Conf - Walkaways Concert May 17 2024)

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, comment by lysergic
lysergic Awesome pics and recap. It's really great that this exists!
, comment by Ignace
Ignace Sounds absolutely fascinating! I hope the Oregon State Uty & Mockingbird Fdn will continue to organize events like this one, and that one day i'll be in the possibility to attend it. My intention is to examine Phish's trajectory in Europe in the 1990s (as I'm a Belgian living in Belgium), and what remains of it in the memories of those who were involved. It will take a few years of research (I'm retiring soon, so will have time), but I hope to present it in book form one day.
, comment by kevinAreHollo
kevinAreHollo Excellent job capturing the vibe, uplift and discourse of an incredible weekend, Jake. Was a joy to meet you and the other scholars, activists and enthusiasts, and even cooler to share a panel with you! Can't wait to to do it all over again next year.
, comment by Thephats
Thephats Bore me to death with such talk. You all sure could use a week on the road seeing Phish solo, then you might have some credibility. Being, that Phish is about experiencing and planning for exploration. It’s a basic human quality to extend such grace. May be instead of examining Phish and the people of Phish events, Oregon State University should bring together Public Health for their own state of Oregons dissemination. I’m sure it exists there like most everywhere is this God forsaken nation. The only problem I see with Phish is not a thing. Buy the ticket; take the ride !
, comment by studiozero
studiozero Friday night's opening party at Bombs Away also featured a poetry reading by Elizabeth Beck from "Dancing on the Page" -- not just Phish but Yes, Springsteen and Velvet Underground inspired poems, the raw essence of lyrics stripped from the music and left for us (guided by Elizabeth's reading) to interpret and add rhythm. (minor plug: read her "Summer Tour" trilogy if you haven't, it captures the essence of both a new phan and an inter-generational sharing of tour).

Those of us who had posters enjoyed the 1-1 interactions; i must have spoken to 50 people about using jam structure to reshape corporate management. Posters are a critical part of a conference that has a fast-changing and wide-ranging domain, as they bring in new ideas from the edges in hopes they make the plenary sessions in future years.
, comment by BElizabethBeck
BElizabethBeck Thank you! I was honored to share my poems to open The Walkaways! What an amazing conference!
, comment by focusedvisions
focusedvisions Hello... I am the photographer, Derek. There is a currently a teaser gallery of conference images at , and the full gallery will go live on Monday, June 10. I also did the photography for the 2019 conference, which is already live on my website. It was such a pleasure to meet everyone (and see a few familiar faces), and to hear all the wonderful scholarship around ideas that are central to our identity as Phish fans, music lovers, and all-around kind and generous people. “We’re type 2-ing the idea of an academic conference” is such a fantastic description of what has been going down in Corvallis, and I don't think most people understand the breadth and depth of subject matter that was presented at Phish Studies 2.0, as well as the inaugural event in 2019. If you have a chance to attend or support future iterations of the Phish Studies Conference, please don't hesitate to do so. Stephanie Jenkins and all of the other organizers are doing something cool and amazing, and helping to connect people who are effectively changing the world in real and meaningful ways. I feel so fortunate to have been able to document everything for posterity, and can't wait until next time!
, comment by thephunkydrb
thephunkydrb Derek, pleasure again to see your warm, smiling face all weekend long. The images I'm already seeing are as yummy as a sunset Tela...
, comment by thephunkydrb
thephunkydrb @smoothatonalsnd, a pitch perfect review, my friend my phriend. I can only resoundingly echo all that you have touched upon and expressed. Still basking in the afterglow of Phish Studies 2.0--the coolest, sweetest, smartest, loveliest Type II academic conference in the land! : )
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