Last night Phish welcomed Grateful Dead hero Bob Weir to the stage for a monumental performance that will go down in jam band history. This show was the first of Phish’s two-night run at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, Tennessee, the city where the band recorded much of their recently released album, Big Boat.
This was four-piece Phish’s second time at Ascend Amphitheater, as they played the newly opened venue’s fourth concert in August of last year. The open-air stage is located in the middle of downtown Nashville and as bands perform, their sound resounds throughout nearby streets and businesses. Late Tuesday afternoon, as tailgating and vending began filling up the surrounding parking lots, sound check started with a bit of jamming before new songs “Tide Turns” and “Petrichor.” Fans lined the gates of the venue to dance and watch the band practice before Weir, who had a show scheduled the following night down the street at Ryman Auditorium, stepped on stage to everyone’s great surprise. Internet jam band forums and groups exploded with discussion and live streams as the five played “Walking Blues” a number of times.
Bob Weir and the three remaining members of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Bill Kruetzmann, invited Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio to perform in place of the late lead guitarist Jerry Garcia last year at “Fare Thee Well,” a series of five 50th anniversary shows. The “core four” and Anastasio, along with Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti on keys, worked closely together to learn and execute the Grateful Dead’s repertoire of hundreds of songs. After the collaboration between these artists and Anastasio mastering the Dead catalog, much discussion was sparked amongst fans wondering if, and often hoping that, Phish would incorporate these songs into their setlist rotations. Anastasio had the opportunity to play with Weir’s band, and now Weir was sitting in with Anastasio’s band on sound check, connecting two of the most popular jam bands in music history.
The show began later that evening, with much curiosity and anticipation floating throughout the crowd as to what, when and even if Weir would come play on stage. Phish presented a first set of songs noted for their jams such as “Chalkdust Torture,” “Ghost,” and “Sand,” yet they did not improvise much as none of the songs in this set reached double digits in time. The band also played a few tracks off of Big Boat, opening with “Blaze On” and later “Tide Turns,” and “Breath and Burning.” First set concluded with a “2001” that had the crowd pumped up and energized before set break.
The second set began with “Julius” and “My Friend, My Friend” before Weir walked on stage, welcomed by thunderous applause from the audience. They broke out in a Reverend Gary Davis tune, made popular by the Grateful Dead, “Samson and Delilah” with Weir on lead vocals. Weir stayed on stage as they began Phish’s “Twist,” which featured a transcendent jam, lasting past the 15-minute mark. Next Anastasio handed over vocals to Weir on the new Big Boat track “Miss You.” “Miss You” is a song reminiscing and expressing sorrow for Anastasio’s sister, who passed away several years ago. The track is incredibly emotional, and hearing Weir sing the lyrics brought reminders to many of Garcia, radiating powerful feelings of love and warmth throughout the concert grounds.
The five gradually picked the pace back up with “West L.A. Fadeaway” into “Playing in the Band,” an appropriate song for the occasion. Anastasio took lead vocals on this performance that highlighted a jam whose sound was truly a merger of Phish and the Grateful Dead. The musicians bowed, hugged and walked off stage for a short break before coming back for an encore of “Quinn the Eskimo” with leading vocals from bassist Mike Gordon.
While Weir had once guested with Phish on two songs of an encore in October of 2000, this was Anastasio and Weir’s first time together on the stage since the legendary Fare Thee Well performances. This was truly a significant moment as Phish rarely has sit-ins, the last being in 2014.
Phish continues their tour with a second night in Nashville, before traveling to Alpharetta, Georgia, Dallas, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Written by Olivia Wilkes
Photograph by Jim Kelley
Setlist (via Phish.net)
Encore: Quinn the Eskimo
 Phish debut; Bob Weir on guitar and vocals.
 Bob Weir on guitar.
 Bob Weir on guitar and vocals.
 Phish debut; Bob Weir on guitar.