Phish get a bad rap in the music world, particularly amongst snooty rock and indie fans, much like myself. But I'll be the first to admit: I had a grand ol' time at the quartet's Bonnaroo-closing set Sunday night—I throughly enjoyed all four hours of it.
I'm definitely not a typical Phish fan (Phan, if you will). I don't own any Phish albums. I've seen the band live only a handful of times, while many of their followers pride themselves on the number of gigs they've racked up. I once watched Phish perform a seven-hour set (including a full album cover of Little Feat) on Halloween in Atlantic City, and that was borderline torture. But this Bonnaroo set was a total hoot and here are the five reasons why, in no particular order...
1. Phish fans are the happiest, nicest people in the world. It sounds cliche, but the Bonnaroo vibes were in plentiful supply at the What Stage Sunday night. The dancing. The screaming. The fist-pumping. The hugging. The twirling. It was all just so... happy. I couldn't help but look over my shoulder, repeatedly, at the mass of smiling people and the constant froth of glow sticks, smoke, beach balls and other party ephemera floating over the crowd.
2. Kenny Rogers. On the heels of his own spectacular Bonnaroo set, which featured a guest appearance from Lionel Richie, Rogers joined Phish for a cover of his hit “The Gambler.” Afterward, Phish replayed the tune, Phish-style, to the audience's approval.
3. Phish play awesome covers. The Vermont-based band, known for their covers of virtually everybody, played tracks from two New York City bands -- TV on the Radio and Velvet Underground. They played a blaring rendition of the former's "Golden Age," and led a rockin' sing-along with the latter's underground classic "Rock and Roll."
4. Their songs go on for over 15 minutes -- and that's a good thing sometimes. I'm a self-confessed pop fanatic -- if you can't fit it in in under three-and-a-half-minutes, then back to the drawing board. HOWEVER, I make an exception for Phish, especially at Bonnaroo, their stomping grounds. I've learned to embrace the noodling, saloon piano solos and extended breakdowns. The girls are dancing -- isn't that enough? And, remember, while you may have just been watching Ben Folds or the Shins, this is Bonnaroo, which was founded on this sort of music. Would you visit Tennessee and not eat BBQ?
5. Tonight, Phish sounded more like the Grateful Dead. I knew there was a reason I didn't hate their set. As the New York Times' Jon Pareles points out, and I couldn't help but notice, Phish focused on their country, bluegrass and funk material. This wasn't "jazzy Phish or progressive-rock Phish but happy Phish—and downright euphoric at that," Pareles wrote. Amen to that. Among those tracks were the country-fried “Possum” and the bluegrass standard “Rocky Top,” which features a lyrics about a town in Tennessee. The crowd sang along with gusto.