Rock concerts are currently cancelled and all New York City theaters are dark. But for eight consecutive Fridays from Oct 9 to November 27, the guitarist-singer-composer-spatchcock enthusiast Trey Anastasio, best known as the leader of Phish, had access to the empty Beacon Theater on Upper Broadway, where he performed full shows to eager fans tuning in via Twitch.
The residency, called The Beacon Jams, saw a number of guest musicians join Anastasio in trying out new arrangements on old classics. The emotional core of the exercise, however, was communicating with fans via chat (with Anastasio’s twentysomething daughter Eliza aiding in the tech department.)
In addition to providing water in the desert for a fanbase always eager to chase the next show, The Beacon Jams helped raise money for The Divided Sky Fund, a new arm of Phish’s pre-existing Waterwheel Foundation that will build a drug treatment center in Vermont.
Anastasio, who regularly speaks about his recovery from drug addiction, was arrested in 2006 in an area of upstate New York near Vermont. He refers to that incident and his subsequent time in drug courts as having saved his life. Sharing his experiences in chatter between tunes during The Beacon Jams raised “over $1 million” according to a representative who spoke to Vanity Fair.
Some of the songs performed at The Beacon Jams appeared on Anastasio’s so-called “quarantine” album Lonely Trip, which he recorded in isolation from his apartment on New York’s Upper West Side before unleashing very home-brewed videos on Instagram this spring.
But other songs went back to the earliest days of Phish, rearranged for this unusual setting. The old chestnut “You Enjoy Myself” featured a string section who were spontaneously christened The Rescue Squad Strings. This is a reference to Trey’s recent beyond-Spinal Tap moment from this past New Year’s Eve when he got stuck dangling from the rafters of Madison Square Garden, and no I am not kidding. Also new to this version were the surprise guest vocalists Jennifer Hartswick, Celisse Henderson, and Jo Lampert who came in midway through to change some of the gender-based lyrics.
Other highlights included percussionist Cyro Baptista becoming a grandfather while his daughter gave birth in Brazil concurrent with one of the performances, piano work from jam world/Broadway conduit Jeff Tanski, an appearance from Phish drummer Jon Fishman, and pre-recorded jams with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell. Russ Lawton, Tony Markellis, and Ray Paczkowski from the current Trey Anastasio Band line-up formed the core of the group, with James Casey and Natalie Cressman joining in by the end.