'Philosophy of Phish': Oregon State Offers Course Tied to Band's Summer Tour

Peter Yang

Phish fans wanting to get a bit deeper during the band's upcoming summer tour will have a new outlet to explore their favorite jams. As long as they're willing to do some homework. Oregon State University is offering a course this summer called "Philosophy School of Phish," taught by Dr. Stephanie Jenkins, an assistant professor in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion and self-professed Phish fan.

"We're more connected through technology than we ever have been, but in terms of the connections people have to their community - they're dwindling," Jenkins tells Billboard from Oregon State's home in Corvallis, Oreg. "But the Phish community is a huge anomaly to that."

The course is open to OSU students and as well as other universities and taught completely online. Dr. Jenkins will follow the band for their entire summer tour, which kicks off July 1 at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Discussions will be held at gigs and online, with required reading including heavy-hitters such as Tolstoy, Nietzsche and Foucault. Students can either take it pass/fail or get an A-F grade and Jenkins will be creating content, holding lectures and discussions and interacting with students while "on tour" with the band.

Of course, college courses that focus on the academic side of pop culture fixtures is nothing new. Recently, Rutgers University announced a course called "Politicizing Beyonce," as well as a course analyzing Bruce Springsteen's lyrics. This summer, Skidmore College in upstate New York is even offering a sociology course on Miley Cyrus.

The interesting thing about the "Philosophy School of Phish" course is the built-in live-experience component, which uses the band's now common practice of webcasting many of their shows, for a price of $14.99. So even if students can't make it out to a concert, they can still experience live events. And it's actually a required "text" to do so - they'll need to "attend" a minimum of three.

"It brings up the question, does it actually count as being at a Phish concert if you're just watching a webcast?" Dr. Jenkins muses. "But that's what I love. It's a great way to enter the conversation of what is the experience of Phish. My students that are attending a concert on a webcast will be asked if it's a deficient version of attending a concert or is it something else?"

Phish's summer tour runs July 1 through August 3, with multiple dates in New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago as well as familiar Phish haunts like Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Virginia Beach Va., and Columbia, Md., outside of Washington D.C. and Baltimore. They'll also play three nights at Dick's Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Col. on Labor Day weekend (Aug 29 - 31). The band are currently prepping the release of their 12th studio album "Fuego," which bassist Mike Gordon described to Billboard this past winter as "pretty fantastic."

Jenkins also launched a Kickstarter this week in hopes of raising funds to film a documentary about the experience, which could provide the course's educational highlights for those to who want to learn down the line.

"As an educator, I think we need to be able to bring out ideas and engage with our students and people outside the classroom about our ideas and values in ways that make sense to people who don't spend their lives in the books we read," she says. "Phish are a source of joy, a source of transcendence, and a source of belonging. That's something incredibly important in today's world."