So, “3 rabbis went to a Phish concert,” sounds like the setup for a bad joke. And maybe it is, but it happened. Or, maybe it didn’t. And it probably happens all the time. Or, maybe it doesn’t.  Rabbis like Phish. Or not.

Last Saturday night I checked out a local Phish show with a couple of friends, including two fellow rabbis. It was a beautiful fall evening and, in many ways, an enchanted affair from start to finish.

We arrived with plenty of time to survey the parking lot scene. Separating out the various substances in circulation, it was a really lovely vibe. People in good spirits, creative wares of all types for sale, music playing, and so on. Phish consistently provides an occasion for this pop up community to come together. And community is, almost always, a good thing.

The show itself was extraordinary. I didn’t know it at the time, but attending the 2nd night of a run means that you’re more likely to hear the songs that you want to hear (as opposed to the songs that the band wants to play). But this show struck the perfect balance– songs that the crowd wanted to hear and that the band clearly wanted to play. Part of the power of live music is you can tell when its working. There’s consensus among Phish Heads that it was working on Saturday night.

One of my main “grievances” with Phish has to do with their lyrics. I generally find them lacking in emotional and spiritual meaning. The fault may lie with me, but I’m a pretty open minded person and also not foreign to the idea of interpreting texts to find meaning and relevance. With few exceptions, I can’t do that with Phish. Which leaves me with the predicament that their songs often feel absurd without even a narrative to latch on to.  The music and musicianship is out of this world, but when I think of the last set list I want to hear before greeting the Great Unknown, there aren’t many Phish songs included.

Which leaves me with the question of why Phish is the single band that I’ve seen more than any other in my concert going adventures?

Part of it is the folks I run with. Rabbis or not, they like Phish. We like each other. Phish makes for a joyful excursion. Next, the improvisational spirit that’s at the core of Phish is something that keeps me engaged as a listener. When I think of the years of Phish shows that I found less than inspiring, part of that stems from the fact that I felt a kind of laziness in the music. Again, it might’ve just been my lazy ears.

I also like seeing Phish because I enjoy being part of a crowd of people sharing a musical experience. Even if the lyrics are absurd to the point of feeling hollow at times, there’s still something wonderful about hearing 8-10 thousand people singing them all together. So, there’s that.

Will I continue to see Phish? Yes. Will I continue to enjoy the experience? Yes. So I guess that’s about it!

Rabbinic Reflections on Phish