|Originally Performed By||Bob Dylan|
|Original Album||Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971)|
|Historian||Jeremy D. Goodwin|
Although Phish has kept a handful of bluegrass numbers in the rotation since the early ‘90s (such as genre standards “Uncle Pen” and “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome”), and the spring ’94 tour with Rev. Jeff Mosier amplified the group’s affection for the genre, it was never all that apparent that Phish felt a very deep connection with the body of acoustic music from the Appalachians to the Ozarks which constitutes this country’s “traditional music.” While the heavy hand of 70’s classic rock is evident, it’s hard to find much of an influence in the Phish sound from the English and Scottish ballads of the 19th century, the pre-blues fife-and-drum combos of the Georgia Sea Islands, the sublime melancholy of the Mississippi Delta Blues, or the front stoop virtuosity of bluegrass.
So it was both tantalizing and surprising when Trey said in a Relix interview in 2003 that he would have suggested Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes as the “musical costume” if Phish had elected to play Halloween that year. In fact, he said he was listening to the album frequently on summer tour, courtesy of the iPod with which he and the other band members had been equipped. Although the original “basement tapes” date from 1969 and not the misty backyard horizon of inherited music, it is a body of work which sprang from that tradition; see “Quinn the Eskimo” for a more detailed description of the “basement tapes” (dozens of songs cut informally in Woodstock in ’69) and Basement Tapes (1975 Columbia release, complete with some overdubs).
The selection of this track from the other similarly worthy numbers is apparently due to the lyrics; debuting the song only a few days before the tour-closing festival, Trey hesitated several seconds before completing the couplet, “We’ll climb that hill no matter how steep/ when we get up to...it.” One imagines that other songs from the album contain the word “it,” but for whatever reason the band deemed this song more appropriate. (It does include also an instruction to “pick up your money and pack up your tent.”)
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