Every year our halftime show is the biggest and shortest concert in America. It’s geared to please.
Halftime Performers, 5 Year History:
2012: Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., Cee Lo Green
2013: Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child
2014: Bruno Mars, Red Hot Chili Peppers
2015: Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Missy Elliott
2016: Coldplay, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson
2017: Lady Gaga.
Like many concerts we have opening acts. Pre game we usually hear a country star, Hank Williams Jr, Carrie Underwood, or Faith Hill, to name just the recent few. But for Atlanta, and Super Bowl LI:
Phish, a heady Vermont jam-band associated with psychedelia and a loyal fan base like none other.
Here’s the commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRBc5X5sAeE&t=16s
Here’s a live version (3 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlxSunqVDLc
Extra 30 minute version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZUnqY_39JM
So it’s not like this was expected, after all. Guitarist and singer-songwriter for Phish, Trey Anastasio, wasn’t consulted or even asked. Here’s a leaked text conversation with Trey (in grey):
To the well tuned football fan, this is actually the second time Phish has snuck into the NFL. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, secured his own personal theme song. The band: Phish, the song: Wilson. Okay, that one makes sense.
Long story short, Trey loves football, and really liked Russell Wilson. In 2013 in Seattle, Trey asked his concert goers to help him get the the crowd at Seahawks home games to chant “Wiiiilllsoooon”, just like Phish’s fans started in the song over 2 decades ago.
Here’s the full story of how the FANS made that connection happen. It’s a 15 minute film made by the NFL.
The Main Question
Why Phish? Why here and now? Who chose this? Where did the idea come from? Is it at all connected to 2013?
Here’s why it’s so perplexing:
Phish is one of the most successful and yet least famous bands in modern rock. It’s not an exaggeration. Sure, there are hippies who have heard the band play over 200 times, but what about real people? What about seriously accomplished people?
Film director Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting – had this to say on the band’s music:
“I tried with Phish,” Boyle said in the interview. “I bought everything and listened to it multiple times…but I found it very, very difficult.”
Boyle was directing 127 Hours, a true story about a bicyclist who suffered a grave accident in the desert during a long bike ride. This bicyclist loved to listen to Phish on his rides, so Boyle wanted to include Phish’s music in the movie. #FAIL.
No Phish music can be heard in the movie.
Cleary, this music is not for everyone.
In Search for Answers
This author hopped onto social media to spout his surprise and pleasure, and even before the game began, Relix Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Jambase.com, three prominent music publications, had written articles on the occasion. But nobody answered, “WHY?”
Maybe, the NFL wants to open up the music more, to be more inclusive. After all, Phish is known to be one of the highest grossing bands in America, similar to Dave Matthews Band and U2 (Taylor Swift had 1 year at the top). Phish is powerful enough to do a 13 night run at Madison Square Garden over the summer in 2017. Maybe the geniuses at the NFL wanted to share some of that revenue stream.
Maybe the folks in Atlanta are hooked on Phish. On fall tour 2016, Phish made sure to swing south.
Maybe it was just some intern in a booth, picking a song he loves and sharing it with America and the world.
Or maybe, just maybe, when Phish played Wilson in Seattle, and inspired their fans with a good old viral marketing campaign in 2013, their music infected the greatest sports league in the United States of America. Four years later, and the band is back in front of the NFL audience, only bigger.
Whatever it is, when the Tweezer jam dropped, I mean, when the pump up commercial began, the lights went on, and the Phish fans went wild. Phish knows how to throw a party. It makes sense that someone brings their technical party skills to the biggest party in America.
Phish, New Years Madison Square Garden run, December 27, 2016. Photo Credit: Seth Gordon-Lipkin