Pondering the Yonder – 30 Years of PHISHgrass

Recalling the 1994 PHISH Bluegrass Sessions Documentary, Rev. Jeff Mosier wrote in 2005 that “time will only tell what influence Phish’s interest in bluegrass did to forward the progression of bluegrass experimentation that continues in the music until now through so many bands that got their “call of permission” from Phish.” Eight years later the picture is a little more clear. Bands influenced by PHISH build upon their unique brand of bluegrass, musicians well respected and established in the bluegrass scene have been exposed to a new audience due to their association with PHISH, and personally I can state without doubt that this site wouldn’t exist without PHISH introducing me to the world of bluegrass. Undoubtedly, PHISH is the most influential non-bluegrass band to impact the genre in the last 30-years.

Yonder Mountain String Band and Greensky Bluegrass are today’s definitive JamGrass bands. Although both feature traditional acoustic bluegrass instrumentation, the influence of PHISH on their style of bluegrass can be seen in more than just their songwriting or covers. Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band told jambands.com, “I did a whole tour with Phish and stood in the front row right in front of Trey and I had that epiphany moment of this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” On Monday, Greensky Bluegrass posted on Facebook and tweeted “Wishing a happy 30th anniversary to one of our early and continued influences, PHISH. Cheers to 30 more!” Without PHISH, the people filling clubs or Red Rocks to catch these two bands may never have had the pleasure.

Yonder Mountain String Band Talks Phish from Relix on Vimeo.

PHISH’s affection for bluegrass touches not only those that follow them but also those that preceded them. Records from Bill Monroe, The Dillards, Hot Rize, Norman Blake, and countless others have spiked after PHISH covered their tunes. Over the years, bluegrass royalty have shared the stage with the torchbearers of modern jam rock. The Rev. Jeff Mosier, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, and Bela Fleck have all been introduced to new fans through their guest spots with PHISH over the years. Perhaps the most significant benefactor from their association with PHISH is The Del McCoury Band and their namesake. Mr. McCoury shared the stage with Bill Monroe himself as a member of the Bluegrass Boys and left his mark on the bluegrass community through his quintessential voice and jazz influenced picking, but I challenge you to attend a Del McCoury performance today without seeing a shirt from a PHISH tour.

Personally, some of my earliest exposure to bluegrass was through PHISH. While in college, The Gourds cover of “Gin and Juice” was often mistakenly reported as PHISH. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the real thing lending their own voice to the genre with originals like “Poor Heart”, “Scent of a Mule”, and “My Sweet One.” It was my experience with PHISH that led me to other bands that introduced bluegrass into their music,like the String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, and Keller Williams. It was the influence of those artists that drove me to seek acoustic alternatives like Yonder and Greensky, dive into historic/traditional material, and ultimately start this little blog.

The peak years of PHISH’s bluegrass experimentation and most of the moments noted in this post occurred from 1993 through 2000. Mike Gordon doesn’t pick-up the banjo and go high-lonesome nearly enough. Nonetheless, we have recordings of the band and those that they’ve influenced that carry on the spirit. Every night when I go home and pick “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” or “Beauty of My Dreams” I know I’m thankful. Happy 30th birthday to PHISH!

Support this site and shop through the Amazon.com Associate Program! You can order JamGrass.net’s recommended PHISHgrass or check out the band’s complete catalog at Amazon’s Artist Overview. Previews below courtesy of Spotify.

Essential Recordings

  • 2/21/1993 At the Roxy
    with Rev. Jeff Mosier
  • 11/19/1994 Parking Lot Jam
  • 11/29/1995 with Bela Fleck
  • 6/22/2000 with Wynonna Judd, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Jason Carter, Robbie McCoury, and Mike Bub
  • A lot of the work has been done via the Phantasy Tour community, accessible via this thread.

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