Phish fans got their wish, or at least a portion of it, yesterday (July 6) at the Rothbury Festival in Michigan, as three members of the band performed live together in two separate incarnations.
First, bassist Mike Gordon joined guitarist Trey Anastasio during the latter’s solo acoustic set, which had already enthralled a substantial crowded gathered in front of the festival’s main stage, the Odeum.
Noting that “Mike and I being two people who don’t shy away from trying new things, Anastasio introduced a pair of fresh tunes — “Backwards Down the Number Line” and “Alaska” — and further teased prospects of a reunion by saying, “If we could just find a drummer and a keyboard player somewhere…” But, he added, “you gotta start with the songs, and you guys can be our test audience.”
The new material went down a storm, but the biggest ovation came when Anastasio and Gordon finished the set with Phish’s “Chalkdust Torture.”
Anastasio, who plays on Gordon’s upcoming album, “The Green Arrow,” (due Aug. 5), then returned the favor during the bassist’s set with his own band on the neighboring Sherwood Court stage. Though his guest appearance was delayed a bit when all concerned realized there wasn’t an extra guitar for him to use, Anastasio eventually made it back for a rendition of “Cruel World,” written and sung by Gordon’s guitarist Scott Murawski, followed by the Phish favorite “Meat.”
The real treat closed Gordon’s set, however, when Phish drummer Jon Fishman joined the ensemble for the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said,” sending the field into a state of dancing delirium.
All four Phish members, including keyboardist Page McConnell, have hinted at the possibility of a reunion in recent comments, but no firm details have been revealed. The Phish follies were the unquestioned highlight on Rothbury’s closing day, as the inaugural festival came to a satisfying close at the Double JJ Ranch.
Singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson strolled onto the stage for the day’s first set while asking her band members where she was, but quickly developed a warm rapport with the audience, saying that “I feel like this is sort of a magical little place I’m at, right?” and making inquiries about whether everyone was wearing sunscreen. She also caught an orange balloon that was tossed on stage and demonstrated her “seventh grade volleyball serve.” She played music, too — mostly songs from her latest album, “Boys and Girls,” including “Die Alone,” “Breakable,” “The Way I Am” and “Masochist.”
Steel Pulse’s strong, highly conscious reggae pulsed through the crowd in front of the Odeum stage, while Taj Mahal blasted the blues and a personality as big as the brim on his straw hat to a surprisingly youthful group of fans gathered at Sherwood Court. Mahal was also one of the few performers to embrace Rothbury’s focus on environmental issues from the stage, declaring that “The world is green, right?” and telling fans that “if you want good tomatoes, plant ’em in your own backyard.” Back at the Odeum, meanwhile, Rodrigo y Gabriela engaged the big stage crowd with their dual acoustic guitar attack, accenting their Latin-flavored originals with snippets of Jimi Hendrix, White Stripes and Metallica licks.
John Mayer — yes, with girlfriend Jennifer Aniston watching from side stage — gave Rothbury a bit more of a pop fix Sunday afternoon at the Ranch Arena. He and his seven-piece band turned in an 85-minute set featuring hits such as “Bigger Than My Body,” “Waiting for the World to Change,” “Gravity” and “No Such Thing,” as well as covers of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.”
The job of closing Rothbury was left to Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and his Friends ensemble, which on Sunday featured guitarist Warren Haynes — who had performed the prior concert on the Odeum stage with his band Gov’t Mule — for the first four songs. Lesh and company’s two-set show was heavy on Dead material, including “Althea,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “Dire Wolf,” “Sugaree” and “Uncle John’s Band,” while fireworks set off in the field by attendees gave the performance a festival if slightly dangerous flavor.
Rothbury organizers plan to release final attendance figures later this week, but Michigan State Police listed the crowd, mostly comprised of campers, at about 35,000, with 18 reported arrests as of Sunday evening. Festival producer Jeremy Stein told Billboard.com that while Rothbury allowed open taping, all of the performances were officially recorded and will “definitely come out, in what product remains to be seen.”