Miracle Builders: The Unlikely Empire of Phish (Relix Revisited)
For many of us Thanksgiving weekend will always be associated with Phish shows. So in addition to the video clips we’ve presented, here is an archival piece that ran in our November 2004 issue following Phish’s “final” performance at Coventry, which explores the business of Phish.
In the south end of Burlington, Vermont, on the first floor of the former Maltex cereal factory, is the home base of Phish’s business side, Dionysian Productions. Inside, there’s little indication this is a management company that oversaw an estimated net profit of 19 million dollars in 2003. The design is spacious, sleek, and minimal. Bare white walls are occasionally interrupted by select Phish memorabilia: a picture of the band from the 2003 New Year’s Eve show, a poster from the 1999 Big Cypress festival and a promotional poster for 2002’s Round Room. In the lobby, there are hardwood floors, a leather couch, a fish tank, and a wide coffee table with several magazines strewn about, including a Relix that is conspicuously near the top of a small pile.
The office is unusually quiet. The only sounds are the subdued hum from the central air system and the bubbling fish tank. There is no music to be heard, Phish or otherwise, and the phones are nearly silent. (Later, during my tour of the facilities, Trey Anastasio calls and Jason Colton, Phish’s internal publicist and marketing director, excuses himself.) It is a rainy afternoon in early September, nearly three-and-a-half months after Phish announced their retirement, and there is a palpable anxiety that lingers in the office. As of this writing, there has yet to be any official announcement of Dionysian’s fate.
Phish management is hesitant to grant this interview given the nature of their current situation. Colton, who is visibly uncomfortable being interviewed, explains, “We very much like to stay in the
shadows. We tend to be very much not-public, and that’s what you’re seeing. We’re the management company—who gives a shit?”
Horatio Alger Never Envisioned Hemp Bootstraps
After meeting with many Dionysian employees, I sit with founder John Paluska in his long, narrow office. Tall and skinny, dressed in corduroys and a striped shirt, Paluska is calm, confident and grounded as he recounts the long history of his organization. In March of 1988, Paluska, a junior at Amherst College in Massachusetts, took a break from a ski trip to see the young
Phish perform at Burlington’s Nectar’s. At the gig, Paluska spoke to Mike Gordon, who handled Phish’s early business.
“If you wanted to book the band, he was the guy you talked to,” says Paluska. The next day, Paluska followed up and booked them to play The Zoo, a co-op house in Amherst where he was
living. Invigorated, he obtained press kits and demo tapes from the band and began canvassing Amherst and the surrounding area colleges, trying to encourage people to book Phish. “It was very organic and unassuming,” says Paluska of the beginnings.
Shortly thereafter, Paluska began working with friend Ben Hunter as the unofficial co-managers of Phish, landing some Boston gigs over the summer. “I remember not even telling people that I was a manager because I didn’t have any experience whatsoever and didn’t have any clue what I was doing,” says Paluska. “It was a pretty primitive form of management. It was almost like being a door-to-door salesman.” Because of their existing relationship and enthusiasm, in the fall of 1988, Paluska and Hunter—while still students—were asked to manage Phish in a more official capacity.
Upon Paluska’s graduation the following year, he managed the band part-time. Hunter was soon relieved of his professional duties in circumstances that Paluska prefers not to discuss, but mentions student status as having some bearing, and—ultimately—a decision by the band that they wanted Paluska alone.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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