There were tell-tale signs of the Phish Head invasion on April 26 at the New Orleans Jazz Fest: the dreadlocked couple pushing a wooden burrito cart through Mid-City, the plethora of tie-dye-clad festival-goers, the scent of something green and smoke-able in the air. But they were difficult to find around the Acura Stage. Usually, when Phish goes on tour, the most die-hard of their legion of fans tour with them – traveling to towns across America in vans, buses or even by thumb, and the parking lots of stadiums and concert halls are jam-packed with free spits who really dig Phish.
The tradition of jam band fan followings begins with the Grateful Dead, the most famous jam band in the world, and much like the Dead, Phish has never enjoyed what could be called “mainstream” success. Only one Phish album has reached the Billboard Top 10 ("Joy" in the obscure “Top Independent Albums” category), and they have no hit songs under their belt. However, in 2013, the band grossed more than $34 million in ticket sales, partly due to their loyal fan base.
Since a festival atmosphere is what the Phish lots tend to embody, the Jazz Fest seems almost the perfect place for Phish Heads to gather. One fan, a 30-something woman from Ithaca, New York, who wishes to only be known as “Sunflower,” certainly thinks so.
“This place is great, man. I love the vibe here,” she said before excusing herself to go and squeeze into the crowd that was already gathering for Phish in the early afternoon. Sunflower said that she’s seen Phish perform only a handful of times but that her favorite show was in “1998, I think” in Salt Lake City, when Phish covered Pink Floyd during their entire second set.
Other Phish fans have followed the band faithfully for years, except during Phish’s hiatus between 2004-2008, but they were difficult to find among the throngs of fans and Jazz Fest regulars who filled the grass around the Acura Stage. Several were happy to talk about their favorite band until media outlets were mentioned, and then they asked not to be quoted and left hastily. The stereotype of the paranoid hippie may just have some merit after all.
Photos by Michael Winters and Haley Odom for AXS.com
Read more on the all-AXS Jazz Fest Guide