In recent years Trey Anastasio has performed a large number of songs from Phish’s catalog solo acoustic. It begs the question, why does Phish not play acoustic? Phish is good at playing acoustic, as we can see in the few sets they have done.
In 1993 Trey began to use an acoustic guitar for songs like Ginseng Sullivan and some versions of My Friend, The Horse, the ending of Fluffhead, and Tela (once). The rest of the band stayed plugged in, but it was step one toward Wooden Phish.
Fall 1994 saw Phish incorporate complete band acoustic and bluegrass songs in their sets, most famously taking Boston’s Foreplay/Longtime and transforming it into a bluegrass romp. This configuration was called the ‘bluegrass setup’ and included Mike on Banjo and Page on Upright Bass.
The bluegrass setup culminated at Indiana University in an impromptu parking lot set of bluegrass favorites on November 19, 1994. In addition to the Bluegrass setup mentioned above, Trey played Fiddle, Fish played Mandolin and their mentor “The Reverend” Jeff Mosier joined in on banjo. The jam session was rounded out by Eric Merrill on fiddle, Abe Stevens on mouth harp, and "Jeremy" on banjo.
1995 was quite on the acoustic front, but summer 1996 saw several acoustic performances. They were performed on a mini stage with a scaled-down drum kit and baby grand piano. This also reappeared for NYE run 1998 after they played a pair of single set shows at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit.
Summer '96 saw Phish dealing with the effects of Jerry Garcia’s passing and their growing fanbase. Perhaps in an attempt to reclaim some of the intimacy they were losing, the band decided to play an acoustic mini-set at Red Rocks during their 4-night run.
While the crew rolled out the mini stage, which consisted of a scaled-down drum kit, a baby grand and two stools for Mike and Trey, Page serenaded the crowd on theremin with Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Phish then proceeded to play four tunes off their latest release, including the debut of Talk after the set opening Waste. Train Song and Strange Design followed before we got an acapella tune, Amazing Grace, to close out the set and give the crew time to remove the mini stage.
A few nights later, at Deer Creek during the second set as Weekapaug resolves into Somewhere Over The Rainbow, we get our second look at the acoustic mini stage.
We then get three acoustic tunes, Waste, Train Song, and Strange Design. The performances are almost identical to the first mini stage night as the band is trying to find its way. An acapella Sweet Adeline is sung as the stage is removed.
The Clifford Ball, Phish’s first major festival, saw the 3rd mini stage set. This time the piano outro to Squirming Coil provided the time needed to wheel the stage out. We then get the four-song treatment with Talk again appearing in addition to Train Song, Waste, and Strange Design. Hello, My Baby is the a cappella choice tonight.
The three attempts at incorporating acoustic music into their sets yielded little. They were largely forgotten as we entered a new phase of Phish’s development that eventually helped Phish Destroy America in the Fall of 1997. By 1998 Phish was firing on all cylinders. They were asked to play both nights of Neil Young’s 12th Annual Bridge School Benefit. REM, Barenaked Ladies and Young also played. These were the first entirely acoustic sets the band ever played.
The band opened their single set by serenading the students who were sitting on stage with Carolina. The band then debuted Sleep and Never before running through some choice covers and originals. Possum and Harry Hood saw the group taking chances while the rest of the set was composed of songs that lend themselves to an acoustic interpretation. Neil Young joins the band during Hood and stays to perform his Helpless.
The second night had a similar set up with Hello My Baby being sung to the folks on stage. The Old Home Place was notable for having Mike on Banjo and Page on Upright Bass, similar to I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome from the previous night. This show also saw several guests sit in. Cat Stevens' Sad Lisa was given a fascinating reading with Sarah McLachlin on vocals. Neil Young then joined her and Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies, on accordion, for Ian and Sylvia’s Four Strong Winds and Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released.
It had been two years since we saw the acoustic mini stage. This time in the 1st set of the opening night of their New Years Run. We got different songs tonight, including originals Driver and Sleep, in addition to a cover of Neil Young’s Albuquerque.
Their longest acoustic set took place ‘at the crack of noon’ after the Exile On Mainstreet musical costume the night before. They played a 15 song main set and gave us a three-song encore. Highlights included a Wilson>McGrupp and several rarities from the Phish catalog like Invisible, Army Of One, Let Me Lie, and Secret Smile. If you got up and made it to the set, coffee and donuts were waiting for you.
With over 40 different songs having an acoustic treatment, is it a far stretch to see a run with three sets, an acoustic and two electric sets?