‘It’s just like ad tech’: Why some people in media can’t get enough Phish

For the past two weeks, media Twitter has filled the breaks between snarky Donald Trump rants with references to the band Phish, which just finished a 13-night run at Madison Square Garden.

Phishheads have created their own subculture out of their shared loyalty to the band, which has prompted some onlookers to call the band’s fans a cult, insult their intelligence and turn the simple act of musical fandom into the subject of stunt journalism and introspective memoirs. Although self-righteous people enjoy ridiculing the band and its followers, many people find solace in Phish, and endearing references to the band pop up all over the media industry — from MSNBC newscasts to Washington Post news releases.

Digiday spoke to six people in media and marketing who shared what they love about the band.

Andy Monfried, CEO of ad tech firm Lotame
After experiencing a “creative awakening” at a Phish show in Miami on New Year’s Eve in 2009, Monfried became enamored with the band. What appealed to Monfried, who has seen about 70 Phish shows, was that the band didn’t confine its music to a particular genre or its songs to a particular length or structure. The improvisational nature of Phish is in some ways like ad tech, he said.

“Going into ad tech is a gamble, just like a Phish show is a gamble where you don’t know what they are going to do with the next song,” he said.

Lockhart Steele, editorial director of Vox Media and founder of Curbed Network
As a college senior, Steele co-wrote and self-published a book about Phish that sold 50,000 copies. Now that he’s seen 143 Phish shows, he likens the nerdy obsessiveness of Phish fans to pro wrestling fans.

“Fans who obsess over the WWE know the history of the characters, and they get excited when the story shifts,” said Steele, who, like many other fans of the band, uses a website to track how many times he’s seen particular Phish songs live. “With Phish fans, it is insanely fun to see them break out what is normally a four-minute song into a 10-minute song for the first time.”

Michael Lazerow, co-founder of Buddy Media and investor in tech and media companies
Aside from the genre-crossing music, Lazerow appreciates how Phish has adapted to emerging media. The band has its own app, streams all of its shows and uses a customer database to offer its long-standing fans a chance at tickets before they go on the open market.

Over the past 25 years, Lazerow has attended more than 150 Phish shows.

“I have been together with Phish longer than I’ve been together with my wife,” he said.

Shira Kaiserman Verteramo, senior director of program marketing at nonprofit JCC Manhattan
Nonprofit marketers don’t have access to big brand budgets. So Verteramo, who has attended about 60 Phish shows, uses an Instagram account called Things You See At Phish to raise money for her organization. For $25, people can participate in a “Phish ride” where they ride stationary bikes and watch Phish concerts on a projector.


“I wanted to find a way to bring fans together when the band isn’t touring,” she said.

Steve Silberman, science writer and author of “NeuroTribes”
After following the Grateful Dead for a few decades, Silberman got into Phish because, unlike most jam bands who simply riff on chord changes, Phish’s jams involved key changes and meshing different songs together. In 1994, Silberman interviewed Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, and they discussed the band’s influences.

“Everyone said to not bring up the Grateful Dead because [Anastasio] was tired of being compared to them,” said Silberman, who has attended 75 Phish concerts. “But I brought it up anyway, and [Anastasio] loved talking about the Dead and was not shy about acknowledging their influence.”

Jared Hecht, co-founder of messaging app GroupMe and CEO of online credit marketplace Fundera
Hecht has been to about 50 Phish shows, and he initially got into the band as a high school freshman after a friend at summer camp introduced him to Phish’s “Billy Breathes” album. That same friend later introduced Hecht to his wife at a jam band show by the Phish-influenced Disco Biscuits.

“It sounds like a silly thing that a band can have an impact on people’s lives, but it is a very real thing,” he said.


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