Mike Gordon and Phish

Phish bassist Mike Gordon

It’s summer and time for some great outdoor concerts. This weekend the DC area gets a double shot of Phish, the Jam band phenomenon. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that drummer Mike Fishman is Jewish, but this week we’re here to tell you about bassist Mike Gordon.

Gordon had a very Jewish upbringing, celebrating Shabbat and the holidays while attending the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston in Newton, Massachusetts.

He met Fishman, Trey Anastasio, and Jeff Holdsworth in 1983 while at the University of Vermont and Phish was born. Their current lineup was solidified when keyboardist Paige McConnell joined the band in 1985 and Holdsworth left in 1986.

While their music, which crosses genres and relies heavily on jazz-style  improvisation, may not receive much airplay on the radio waves, Phish grew into one of the top grossing acts in the country by developing an intensely devoted fan base that travels constantly to see the band perform, riding the Jam Band wave led by their predecessors, The Grateful Dead.

Asked in an interview ten years ago about the relationship of music to religion, Gordon said, “music fills many of the holes that religion leaves open. The philosophical feeling behind religion, a religious upbringing, and even the notion of praying to God is very abstract. This transfers directly to my relationship with music. While you cannot necessarily touch music, you can feel it and it is something to believe in.”

“I’ve always compared my movements on stage to davening [praying],” he added. “To me, music has always served as that type of religious release.”

Go to any show and among the hippies in the parking lot, you’re certain to find a bevy of tribesmen, a figure noted in 1999 at about 30% of the audience at any given show. There was even at one time a rabbi and a group of Orthodox Jews following the band, calling themselves Gefilte Fish.

Mike Gordon with Phish in Miami, December 2009

Phish has incorporated Jewish and Hebrew songs into their regular on-stage repertoire, with such tunes as Avenu Malkenu, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, and even Sholom Aleichem.

The band took a two year hiatus starting in late 2000 and broke up amicably in 2004, citing a need to “preserve and respect” what they had initially created.

While Gordon has developed many musical side projects and toured solo through the years, he reunited with his Phish bandmates for a 3-day stint in Hampton,Virginia in March of 2009. The band has toured regularly again since with a memorable run of four days including New Year’s in Miami this winter. For true fans, it was reminiscent of the 90’s heyday of the well-prepared, musically tight version of the band they loved to tour with.

Phish plays Merriweather Post Pavilion this weekend, Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th at 7:00pm. Lawn seats are still available through TicketFly.

Peace, Love, and Veggie Burritos,

The Chosen

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