“You’re Part of the 1% – The Good 1%”: An Angelino Discovers Phish, Reacts to Bittersweet Motel

Listen to the Baker’s Beat’s third in a series of interviews with Phish non-initiates (spoiler: it was filmed after a viewing of Bittersweet Motel, the guest’s first Phish experience!) using the link below – or read on for the full transcript.

Hello Baker’s Beat listeners & Phish phans everywhere!

We are still reporting from Oakland, the permanent home of the Baker’s Beat. It’s the eve of Phish’s 2017 summer tour – they’re going to be playing Northerly Island tomorrow to kick it off in Chicago – and just seven days away from the start of the Baker’s Dozen, Phish’s 13 night residency at Madison Square Garden.

I am pleased to introduce another very special guest who just watched Bittersweet Motel, the Phish documentary, with me for the first time. He is a Phish novice, a non-initiate, and we are continuing our profile of non phish phans with my dear friend Robert Vidana. Hello Robert!

R: Hey Shawny.

BB: Thank you! So Robert, introduce yourself to our friends. Tell the good people a little bit about yourself: what you do, where you’re from, any background information you’d like to share.

R: I would actually say that I’m not even a Phish novice. I’m an amateur in the strictest, strictest sense of that word. I literally googled, or IMDB-ed, the documentary we just saw an hour before and I knew nothing of the band beforehand.

I was never against it. It’s just that I’m from LA and, as many Phish-heads know who may or may not be from LA, LA does not support bands like Phish or bands like the Grateful Dead. So I only knew what I listened to growing up in that region. A lot of pop music comes out of there. A lot of hip hop comes out of there. Obviously, as because it’s becoming very popular now, a lot of West Coast hip hop comes from there. A lot of indie music, a lot of college rock. However, bands that are psychedelic in many ways never had a chance out there.

So, in many ways, I knew nothing about Phish coming in. But I do have a great respect for the band and for music in general. When I go to a record store, especially Amoeba in Hollywood or here in the Bay Area, I’m not just in one section. I’m in jazz, I’m in rock, I’m everywhere. The fact that Phish and the Grateful Dead have come into my horizon in the last few months…part of that was on purpose. I was waiting for a shaman of sorts to come in and guide me. For music and bands that have such a rich history, I feel like you need that person guiding you along the way. So, I’m glad that here I am and I’ve finally been given that tour.
BB: Absolutely. Well, welcome to the club. Say more about your musical background and what type of shows you like to see or tend to see in a live setting. Speak more about your favorite artists and musical influences.

R: Unfortunately, most of my favorite artists I cannot see live, or refuse to come out of retirement or pseudo-retirement. Tom Waits, for instance…

BB: We’ve really bonded around Tom Waits. You’ve taught me a lot about him.

R: He is number one on my bucket list. A lot of the musicians I really appreciate and love aren’t around anymore. But when I do see live music, it’s usually not the bands that have fully established themselves that are $60-$100 a show, and not that indie stuff the 20 year olds are listening to. More the middle-of-the-road stuff, the stuff you would listen to that…the up and coming band that hasn’t really made it yet but have their record deal together. That’s what I listen to, indie music specifically.

However, as I’ve gotten older those bands that I’ve come up with – Modest Mouse, the Shins, things like that – have blown up really big as well. Now they’re commanding those $100 prices and more, so I’ve slowly found myself in those camps: watching shows of bands that I would love in LA going to small venues and now watching them at the Forum or the Staples Center or up here at larger venues as well…

BB: Sure, now..

R:..and jazz, of course. We’ve got jazz.

BB: Yep. For the listener’s out there, I’m a big jazz fan. Robert and I are SFJazz Center soul-brothers. We just bought a massive amount of tickets for the new season which should be really great. It’s a really strong season.

I want to get your reactions and first impressions after seeing Bittersweet Motel. I chose that as sort of an introduction for you to Phish because it gives a good balance of the music and the culture around the band. It’s just a good…I think it’s a good conversation piece to introduce people to the band. So, I’m interested: what are your impressions, what are some of your curiosities, your questions, any reactions after seeing the film?

R: I’ll divide it into two. The music I’ll tackle second, but first is the culture and the fans. When Shawn took me to my first Dead & Company show a couple months ago, all of my questions were around the people that were there and the type of people that listen to that type of music. Right now, as I’m processing literally 15 minutes ago, I’m also thinking there’s a lot of similarities. The people that go to those shows, that travel from show to show to show – I did not know until I met people up in the Bay Area that you could see a band more than once every half decade. That’s just not something I grew up with. The fact that you’ve even gone to more than 5 shows of a particular band or artist is mind-boggling to me. So, the fact that there’s a culture out there around these bands where they go to every single show, or see over 100 shows in their lifetime – which you’ll easily do after a couple weeks….first of, that’s mind-boggling. That’s just not what I knew was possible.

But one of the reasons why I wanted you to guide me through Phish and the Grateful Dead and Dead & Company was because there’s such a rich history that you need… I wouldn’t even know where to start. You need someone giving you that first record, that first documentary, that first show, and you need them guiding you and answering your questions. That’s also just a learning moment for those of you who may have friends or family members who you know would love Phish but don’t know where to start. It’s a learning process. It’s daunting. I was afraid, really afraid, of just jumping in because what if I listen to the wrong stuff? What if I start in the years that were bad? What if I hate them because of that? I want to be able to give them a fair shake and you need to seek out that person. You are those people and you can definitely guide others around you and I think you should encourage that.

Watching that documentary, as I was mentioning to Shawn right after it was done: perfect place to start. I have a couple of albums I think I might stream this weekend and kind of go from there. That’s how it started with the Dead: went to a show, listened to a couple albums, asked questions, listened to a couple more, watch the documentary, listen to a couple more, I’m going to get a book. That’s just how it builds.

BB: That’s sort of your learning process for getting familiar with a group.

R: Absolutely. With Phish, I can’t see myself committing to a Baker’s Dozen but if they ever played 1 show here or there I could see myself attending a show for sure without any hesitation. But again, where I’m from, they just never really…I mean, they were there but they never really came around. Culturally, from that documentary: it’s rich.

And the music: I loved how…I’m blanking on the lead singer’s name…

BB:…and guitarist? Trey?

R: Trey! That’s who I was thinking of, I didn’t want to get it wrong. Trey was like, automatically, after reading that review not comparing himself, themselves, to the Grateful Dead. But, in lots of ways, there music was a 90s re-interpretation of a lot of that stuff. He mentioned, ‘I’m a kid of the 70s and a white kid from suburban New Jersey, from the seventies, going to malls, and the music I listened to influenced the music I wrote,’ and you can tell. That’s great, it speaks to a lot of people. But maybe that’s one of the reasons why it never really took off in places like LA.

But, when I listen to Phish…it’s like Cuban music, right? You might not know going in…you might not relate to the Cuban experience. Similarly, how I don’t relate to the white kid in New Jersey experience. But musically, it’s rich and you can’t turn it off when you listen to it, and there’s similarities to how he grew up in that.

BB: Right. I’m glad that you’re so complimentary, so open to new things and to becoming a Phish fan and to dip your toes in the pool so to speak. But I’m going to push you to be critical, or at least ask questions. Was there anything you saw that confused you or that you actively disliked? I’m glad that you’re open and want to go down that road but want you to push back on anything you saw or share any negative reactions or questions you may have.

R: I wouldn’t say that I had a single negative reaction, but there were quite a few things that didn’t connect with me. I was processing and trying to understand, ‘where is that coming from?’ I still don’t know if I have the answers. On a broad brush stroke, I would say the music I listened to growing up and the music I listen to now stems from where it is I’m from. Phish never took off, Grateful Dead never really took off where I’m from, and there are reasons why. I’m still, no matter how much I broaden my music knowledge and vocabulary and interests, a lot of that still is inside of me. There’s some songs where I’m like, “Yes! I want to listen to that live right now, and really loud!” and songs that literally did nothing for me that  weren’t bad musically – they were technically good – but they just didn’t connect with me. I would think it’s more because of my background more than any other reason because they were great songs. Overall, the band was really great.

BB: Cool. Thank you. I think that Phish has a lot of different styles. They take a lot of shots, so I can understand how some of there more quirky or weird or loud songs don’t resonate with you. But a slower song, like “Waste” or “When the Circus Comes to Town” – although that’s a cover – are a little bit easier on the ear. I could see that, listening to the band for the first time that some things would resonate, some things wouldn’t. Even for longtime fans, there are songs that they would prefer not to hear. I would like to think that most of us appreciate the repertoire as a whole, but point being: I could see people saying it’s a little too jukebox-y. You go from “Lawn Boy” to “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” to “Tweezer” to “Divided Sky” to “Waste” and it’s a very different sound from song to song. I really like that variety and I can see the similarities but I think that if you’re just listening for the first time it can be sort of jarring from song to song. I could see that.

As you know, they are doing 13 nights in Madison Square Garden this summer. For those of us that are going all 13 nights or are planning on going on tour and having this big, epic experience this summer, and for the band that’s going to embark on this adventure with us: What message do you have to the fans or the band as the Phish fan community embarks on this epic adventure and yet another summer tour?

R: As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t even know you could do that. I didn’t know that was possible. I think that speaks a lot to Phish changing up their music every single day. As they mentioned in the documentary, they started off doing different songs every night. The fact that they have a catalogue where 90% of the songs might be different is fascinating.

So I would say, as I’m still trying to wrap my head around that even being a possibility: enjoy the uniqueness of it because there’s probably only a handful of bands that could pull that off. If you’re in the culture of Phish and love Phish’s music, I would say you’re part of the 1% – the good 1%! So enjoy those around you because that doesn’t happen that often. That’s a once in a generation type of thing.

BB: Thank you Robert. Hopefully they return to the Bill Graham in San Francisco soon and I can take you and a few other of our coworkers….

R:..or we could just drive down to LA and go to the Forum…

BB: Yeah! That’s such a fun venue. That’s one of my favorite indoor venues that they play. The Forum is great.

Well, thank you listeners! Keep on enjoying the shows and we’ll check back with you soon.