WHY PHISH: What's the appeal of this Vermont-based quartet?
Why Phish?
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It is difficult to explain to the average person why Phish is so popular. Commercial success has never been the issue with this band. You will not find them on MTV, and the band is barely heard on radio stations. Without any mainstream notoriety it has an enormous fan base that follows the band across the country on national tours and even across continents on international tours. The band has played to sold-out crowds at large premier arenas such as Madison Square Garden. Phish has also organized its own shows on Air Force bases in New York and Maine that attract in the range of 70,000 fans.

The musical appeal comes from being able to expect the unexpected. The band has over 200 original compositions and over their 17-year career has played an estimated 300 cover songs. The band changes its set lists night after night. Fans excitingly guess and even make bets on what the opening song will be. Every show the band has ever played is documented, including the setlist and random facts about each show. Fans figure out show statistics, including how many times a song has been played or the percentage chance a song has of being the encore on any particular evening. This quartet is not treated by its admirers like any other rock band. Phish fans (or Phish heads as they call themselves) are obsessed. For many, seeing Phish is not a night of entertainment, but it is a hobby of passion. People who love the band haven't seen them three times. They've seen them 73 times. Fans create parody shirts and stickers of the band's songs and the individual band members' names. These items are sold in the parking lots of concerts. The majority of this is not done to make a profit but to enable vendors to make enough money to get into the next show.

The band's shows are also recorded by fans. Special taper's tickets are sold in a special section, so fans that have spent as much as $1,500 on Digital Audio Taping (DAT) recorders can record every moment of a show. These shows are then put onto compact discs or analog cassettes and traded among fans at home and on the internet.

These actions of Phish fans reflect the fact that the four band members are actually amazing musicians. The music itself is very eclectic and has a large focus on improvisation. It cannot be categorized in one particular genre. The band covers all the bases. At a Phish show one could hear a jazz standard, a traditional bluegrass song or even a heavy metal number. The band even shows off its vocal chops at times as an acapella quartet. Any fan, though, will say that the best part of the music is the "jam."

The "jam" is basically an extended piece of instrumental music that segues out of a composed song. For instance at a show the popular song "Tweezer," originally recorded on "Picture of Nectar," might be twelve minutes one night and forty-five minutes at a show a week later. The verses, chorus and musical composition of the actual song is approximately five minutes, but it is where the band goes with it on the way out that gets really exciting. There is no limitation to the"jam." It may return to the song it started with, and it might segue into another song. Nobody knows where Phish will go with a "jam." The members of the band claim to not even know themselves. This is the element of improvisation within the "jam."

Phish is not treated like the average band by its fans, because it does not play like the average band. The exciting music that this band produces has created a devotion of followers. By definition, Phish has created a cult and a new American culture.