Though the Jammy Awards were able to bring together the members of Phish for the first time since they broke up four years ago, the reunion may not have been everything Phish-heads had hoped for.
While all members of the beloved jam-band appeared — and two of them grooved onstage (Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell) — they didn’t perform together Wednesday night. And as they accepted their lifetime achievement award, there was no hint of another reunion, dashing rumbling hopes that Phish might become the latest act to get back together for a blockbuster tour.
But the coming together of Anastasio, McConnell, Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon was still the highlight of an emotional and electric evening, as they thanked fans for their groundbreaking journey as the most popular jam-band since the Grateful Dead and one of the most popular touring bands in rock.
Not only was it the highlight, it was also the peak for the seventh annual Jammys, which celebrates the best in improvisational music. In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, the show’s executive producer and co-founder, Peter Shapiro, announced it would mark the last Jammy Awards as the event morphs into a larger celebration of live music.
"We’ve kind of accomplished what we set out to do. In a good jam you kind of have to take chances and go in new directions," he told the AP. "That’s why we, on this high … are going to take this momentum in a new direction."
It’s hard to deny the Phish reunion as the awards show’s best moment, despite a history of unique performances that included acts ranging from String Cheese Incident and members of The Dead to John Mayer and Buddy Guy. As Anastasio came the podium to speak, the crowd at the Theater at Madison Square Garden went from roaring cheers to silence.
"I always wanted to somehow have a moment when I could convey to some degree what all of this meant to me and I know to the other guys, too," Anastasio said.
"I feel like as a musician we’re servants, and musicians from the beginning of time have been there to express the mood and the musical feelings in the air for whatever’s going on in that particular culture," he said. "It’s the greatest joy as a musician to be able to translate that, be part of something and watch the scenery around you. That’s what it felt like to be in Phish all those years."
The four men haven’t been onstage together since their last performance in Coventry, Vt., in 2004, which wrapped up a farewell tour and a 20-year run for Phish. Since then, each has been working on individual projects.
The foursome embraced each other warmly as they received their trophy, one of two for the evening (they also won best download for a years-old recording released last year for charity). Gordon told the audience he’d been sick earlier in the day and had considered not coming, but said he rallied for "my deepest brothers ever."
The idea of a Phish appearance, and possibly a reunion, added special excitement to the Jammys.
"They helped establish a model for a lot of jam bands that came after them," said Allman Brother and Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes. "They are one of the forerunners of this movement and it’s great for them to be here."
But the appearance of Phish wasn’t the evening’s only stirring moment. Haynes performed with Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook and Tea Leaf Green on the classic "Tempted"; Galactic jammed with Booker T. and Sharon Jones, then backed rap legend Doug E. Fresh as he beatboxed his way through "The Show" and "La Di Da Di."
But the two most exciting sets came, not surprisingly, with an infusion of Phish: Anastasio transfixed the crowd as he performed the Beatles’ "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Everyone Has Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey" with the Fab Faux; and McConnell jammed with jazz musicians Roy Haynes, Christian McBride, James Carter and Nicholas Payton in a special jazz tribute.
"It’s pretty wild. Jam-band crowds seem to be the most enthusiastic music lovers out there," said Payton. "The roots are the same, blues, gospel jazz: it’s all different branches of the same tree."
Shapiro hopes that whatever develops after the Jammys will reflect that. Though the details are still being worked out, he said it will be an event that is broader than the sometimes niche scene of jam-bands.
"The Jammys always celebrated live music and I don’t think that people realize (the variety)" Shapiro said.
He acknowledged that ending the Jammys will be a disappointment to many on the jam-band scene, whose acts don’t always get the acknowledgment that other mainstream awards offer.
"You’re taking a risk a little bit. I am sure people will miss the Jammys but hopefully I think what we are going to bring with the new event will more than make up for it," he said.