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Rothbury Day 4: Nothing Phishy About This Reunion

Of the Oakland Press

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Phish fans fished their wish Sunday (July 6) at the Rothbury Festival -- and got part of it at least. Phinally.

The Phishheads did not get what they most wanted, a full reunion of the quartet since 2004. But they did get partial band get-togethers during two fo the festival's afternoon sets.

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 try 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 out 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 "Fish" Fishman -- who played Friday (July 4) with the Yonder Mountain String Band -- joined the ensemble for the Beatles' "She Said, She Said" sending the field into a state of dancing delirium.

or is it easier to just have you eliminate the story and have me re-file it?

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, and with Anastasio also planning to release a new album soon, the Rothbury appearances are likely to be as close as the group gets to working together in some time.

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." During the encore he gave one of his guitar picks to a specific woman in the crowd who's been holding up a sign, noting that "she came bearing arts and crafts. If you make arts and crafts, you deserve a guitar pick."

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. 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."

As previously reported, Stein has confirmed that a second Rothbury Festival will take place at the same site in 2009, most likely on Independence Day Weekend again.


Rothbury attendees had a chance to monkey around at the festival -- and they liked it.

One of the event's biggest non-musical hits was an interactive sculpture simply known as The Monkeys. Located near the festival's main entrance, the carousel-like structure featured a series of monkeys in gradual vine-swinging poses with percussion pads at the base. At night, with a strobe light flashing on the sculpture, Rothburians could beat on the pads until the monkeys began to move and appeared to be swinging while snakes that were also part of the design appeared to crawl down their arms.

It was a bit of a "you had to be there" experience, but those who were listed it as one of Rothbury's highlights.


Jack Black was at home, but Kyle Gass, his partner in the irreverently comic band Tenacious D, was being tenacious at Rothbury -- on behalf of General Motors.

This summer Gas is serving as a "reporter" for the GMnext Plug In campaign, a celebration of the century-plus relationship between cars and music. He's been traveling to music festivals around the country, interviewing and jamming with bands and posting the adventures at www.gmnext.com.

"They're trying to tap into this audience," says Gass, who's feels that GM "(messed) up. They didn't make cars that are fuel efficient or environmentally friendly. Now they're trying to change that."

Gass has already visited festivals in the Netherlands, Germany and Columbus, Ohio. At Rothbury he hosted several groups, including 311, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, the Disco Biscuits, the Wailers and Tea Leaf Green.

Gass, by the way, drives a Lexus. But he says he's amenable to a GM vehicle "if they want to give me one."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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