Listen to the Baker’s Beat’s latest Phan of the Night interview (spoiler: I spotlight my original Phish friend who I’ve known since middle school!) using the link/audio player above or read below for the full transcript.
We were shirts off, listening to a Yankees day game on the radio, and sipping on Coronas with lime in the heat of a dog day New York City afternoon for this conversation that touches on both Johnny’s personal experiences with Phish as well as the middle weekend and Tuesday Maple show of the Baker’s Dozen. Hope you enjoy it!
Hello Baker’s Beat listeners, readers, and Phish fans everywhere. We are reporting live today from upstate Manhattan, in Inwood – the New York City home base of the Baker’s Beat. It is Wednesday, August 2nd and it’s a hot one, folks! Stay out of the sun and in the shade in New York City for the next couple days when it’s this hot.
I am joined today, gracing us with his presence: my original Phish friend Mr. Johnny Coffin. He and I – if you could just imagine this – this is a shirtless interview, we’re in the living room sipping Corona Extras with lime in the afternoon along with the tones of John Sterling of the New York Yankees –
(turns up 660 WFAN on the stereo. John Sterling’s voice and crowd noise comes on: “…and that pitch is hit foul, third base side…)
Hear that? Oh yeah. A real New York afternoon up here!
But anyway, like I said, I’m thrilled to be joined for our phan spotlight by my original friend – Phish fan friend – Johnny Coffin. Johnny, hola! Welcome.
Johnny: Thank you Shawn. Thank you for that lovely introduction. Cheers!
Cheers to that!
I’m rambling a little bit here, I may need to take a nap here. We just came from some incredible Venezuelan food. Johnny had a patacon, I had a yoyo. Look it up: Patacon Pisao in Washington Heights. It’s quite the spot.
It’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty excellent. Good choice!
So we’re full and we’re warm but we’re happy to be with you all anyhow. Johnny, why don’t you introduce yourself to our listeners and friends? Tell them where you’re from and a little bit about your Phishing background, so to speak.
Sure! I’m just a humble Midwestern boy from Wisconsin. I grew up outside of Madison in southwestern Wisconsin in the rolling hills of the driftless area.
Phish? I think you, Shawn, you were the reason that I first became aware of Phish. I can remember in middle school, we were in band together. I think Patty Schlaefer, the band director, she gave us free reign in the morning. She’d come in at 7:30 and she’d let us put whatever on the big stereo system in the band room before school. I think one day you brought in a recording of “Llama” with some enthusiasm. You were like, “you’re going to have to hear this!” It took me a little while to warm up to it. I thought “Llama” was a weird song at first, but I don’t know what happened.
I do know that our first show, both of our first shows – we share a first show – was 7.19.03 at Alpine Valley. They swung from the heels and knocked it out of the park that night. Since we’re listening to the Yanks, I’ll use the baseball commentary.
Haha! I love it.
More recently, I’ve been coming back to the band. We did MagnaBall and Halloween. It’s a good time to be a Phish fan and I’m glad to be on the Baker’s Beat.
Amen brother, amen! Just a quick tidbit: I’m honored and I thought I was the person that you heard Phish from first but I need to my younger brother…
…Riley, who – I’m sure I was borrowing his CD that day because he had bought several of the LivePhish releases right when they started doing the LivePhish releases. Two years younger than me, but that kid was into Phish by fourth or fifth grade and then moved on to kind of other music but has always had Phish at the core. It’s one of these grand ironies that it was my younger brother and he’s not – he loves Phish, he went to the Wrigley shows last year – but he’s not as die hard like I am or some other folks are.
Right. I remember Riley rocking stuff like “Big Pimpin'” or something…
Yeah, he’s a hip hop fan for sure.
But yeah, I remember that. You told me that Riley got you that “Llama” track.
Yeah! Shout out to Riley.
(Laughing) Cool! So Johnny, in thinking of your favorite Phish moments or your Phish show, what comes to mind? What have been your pinnacle experiences with Phish?
I had a minute to think about this – I saw some of the other interviews you did and I figured you might ask me that.
It’s tricky because there have been a lot of moments that have been meaningful that, in their own kind of way, are a kind of pinnacle. But if I had to choose a pinnacle where it seemed like everything was tied up even better than I might have imagined it was being in Vegas for some of that Halloween Vegas run. I pulled the trigger the Wednesday before the shows. You sent me a text: “Please come and stay at my hotel room!” And I thought you were just playing around. But I had just gotten back from Denver and I had a voucher. I got a great voucher and said, “Why wouldn’t I use this to go to Vegas?” and it all worked out perfectly.
For me, that’s huge because my first LivePhish album I ever got was that 1998 Halloween show and I loved listening to that for a long time, all the time. That was one of my go-tos. So being at Halloween and seeing that, naturally, that was on my radar and it was a dream that one day I’d do that. So made that happen and got to turn that into reality! Pretty sick.
Absolutely. It really is interesting that – I’m very much a planner normally – but there have been a few times that I’ve done Phish spontaneously or I’ve made a decision to go to a show a week before. Often, those experiences are the most memorable. It feels so serendipitous. You’re going to the show and flying high on making it to the show at all. I like to anticipate months and months ahead but its totally different type – a compressed, accelerated type – of anticipation when you commit to going to the show at the last minute.
I know that not everyone has the privilege or ability to do that, but I really suggest to those folks who have never done it – I encourage you to have a Phish experience on a whim when you know you’re going to have the right friends receiving you and everything like that on the other end. A lot of my favorite moments are those magical, spur-of-the-moment, commit, everything falls into place magically, you know?
Yeah! I just started thinking about – well, why don’t I go stay in Shawn’s hotel room? Why don’t we go to check out the Vegas run? And they played Ziggy Stardust! Totally heater like all of the shows – they were amazing. I don’t know what else to say. Perfect.
Put it on the board, yes! That’s a White Sox reference you guys. (Laughs)
Alright! So, the task at hand: it is Wednesday, August 2nd. Johnny, you have been here since Friday. You’ve seen four shows, you’re going to your fifth tonight. You were there for double chocolate on Friday…what did we have Saturday?
Correct! Sunday we had jimmies show! And just last night we had maple. So, Johnny: tell me what you thought, musically, of this four show stretch that you’ve seen and what stood out to you either while you were there or listening back?
There were highlights from each night. For me, it was really cool to be able to make some of this Baker’s Dozen run because it’s such a unique situation with the thirteen show residency and being that these are the second weekend shows and the backstretch, or turning the final corner, it’s kind of cool to be seeing shows in the belly of the beast and so how that working out with all the things that are going on with this run that are unique and different from just a regular Phish show – whether it’s the no repeats or the different themes and all of that with the donuts. I’ve been loving the donut theme and the covers they’ve been busting out.
As far as musical highlights: “Chalk Dust Torture” the other night was amazing. They rocked that super great. “2001” the other night. “Meatstick”…
Lot of second set moments you’re mentioning there. It was fun on Saturday – you mentioned “Llama” as our first song that you heard – and they played a fast “Llama” to open the show. That was a great surprise and I really enjoyed that – getting it kickstarted and you mentioned our affinity and history with that song.
Yeah, I loved Friday night, too. The back-to-back with “Ass Handed” to “Free”, I thought that was pretty funny. The “Divided Sky” that night at the end of the first set…
Yeah! Very good peak Trey…
Yeah. “Sexy Thing”, that was fun – a great cover.
Double Hot Chocolate there…
Let me think of a favorite…I don’t have a favorite, really.
I wouldn’t put you through that…
A lot of great moments…
In your book, I can see changes in the…handwriting and the organization here. Must have been enjoying the show.
Once I can’t see as well, in terms of the lights or whatever, my writing gets a lot larger and less organized as the show goes on…
Yeah! You’re running out of space here towards the end…
I’m really disciplined in the first set! Then I’m just so excited: “Oh my gosh, they’re playing ‘1999’!” “1999” probably took up three full pages of my moleskine…
Right. You’re going to have to pack in the last couple shows here, the last 2 or 3 pages.
Yeah! Well, you’re going tonight. They have four shows left, you’re going tonight, and then they have three shows this weekend. Moving forward, what do you expect for the rest of the residency?
I expect that there’s going to be some really awesome music. I’m excited for everyone who’s coming in – or who’s here and is sticking around for those shows. I think they’re going to be awesome. I wish I could stay. Looking forward to tonight, I would love to see “Punch You in the Eye”. That’s the opener from that ’98 Halloween show and I love “Punch”…
First set opener?
Wow. First set or second set opener, you can’t go wrong with “Punch You in the Eye”.
Yeah! I don’t know what else. Are you looking for anything tonight, Shawn?
I’m not looking for songs. I’m really interested in terms of what they’re building towards in terms of the concept. To me, donut “holes” – they’re sort of getting a little bit…the “jimmies”, the “holes”, the jam-filled”, there’s been a couple of more quirky themes along the way and those have been really fun. I think “holes” is one of the more quirky flavors that they’re doing. So tonight, I see “holes” as…
What could “holes” be?
Well, I’ve written a piece about the allegorical ingredients – the symbology – of the Baker’s Dozen. It’s on the website, y’all should check it out. And holes was on of the symbols that I looked at. It’s about entering a threshold into the unknown, it’s about…please read the piece because there’s three of four sentences in there. It’s a symbol of all potentialities. There’s astrological connections – black holes, things like that…
Yeah, that’s fun to play around with!
So I could see it being connected to the “Harpua” – the intellectual, astrological conversation they had…
Right! That was a great moment!
I, personally, think that that was a sort-of set up piece and that there’s a few other shoes that are going to drop here. What I felt is the really planned out how they were going to start the run and how they’re going to end the run – I’m guessing they’ve an endgame in mind for awhile. But my observation was maybe they didn’t have everything in the middle scripted quite as well. Most everything was scripted and most everything followed the theme night to night, but I do think they have more in mind in terms of the endgame this weekend.
So, long story short: I think that something could be connected to the “universe is a donut” or there could be more either storytelling or … They’re not going to have the last four shows be the same expected things. So, I’m looking for a curveball for sure.
Looking forward to a curveball! I like that.
A curveball? A change up maybe?
I was going to say creative hijinks, but let’s stick with the baseball. A knuckler!
A slider! I think there’s a few pitches left that they haven’t shown us. Fastballs the first weekend…
They’ve been hitting all their spots too.The pitches are coming off!
Yep. Smooth crack of the bat.
Cool! A random hypothetical for you as we start to close: If you could ask the band either: A). a question, or B). make a song request, and you knew, it was guaranteed, they would either answer the question truthfully or fulfill your song request at the show that night, which one of those would you choose and what would you either ask as a question to the band or choose as a song?
I might ask if they’ve ever had a patacon, because those were pretty amazing, and see if they want to have a patacon and come chill by the Harlem River. Maybe that’s a cop out.
I don’t know. I can’t think of a real question. I find a lot of meaning at different times and in different ways in terms of their music and lyrics and just the songs. But I always love a good “Roggae”, so I might like to see a good some of those coming coming up.
Already played it in the Dozen…
Oh I know! I know.
It’s a wonderful song. It’s so beautiful and it always brings out that really gentle, delicate building side of Phish. They’re all really contributing, and the vocals they all contribute…
Maybe they could crack that open like they did with “Lawn Boy”.
I wonder what’s the longest “Roggae” they’ve played. I’m almost positive it’s gone over ten minutes, but I don’t think it’s gone much beyond that. I’ll have to look into it…
Well, anyway my friend: Any other messages, comments, or observations you’d like to share with the audience, listeners, or community before we sign off here?
No, just thank you for letting me ride shotgun on the tour through the cosmos…
Shirtless in the summer heat of New York! Have a good day, everybody!
Indeed! Well put, Johnny. Alright everybody, you heard him: stay cool out there. We’ll send you out to the dulcet tones of John Sterling unless it’s a commercial…
(660 WFAN fades in just as broadcast transitions from the Yankees game to a commercial.)