November 1, 2001

VYO plays on Phish tribute album

It was a night they’ll never forget.

When the 83 members of the Vermont Youth Orchestra walked out onto the stage at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, N.Y., they felt it immediately. “There was this incredible energy in the room,” said Troy Peters, VYO music director and conductor. “It was just electric and the kids really felt that.”

The show at one of the premiere concert halls in the country — which sold out in five minutes — was one of two February performances the VYO did with Trey Anastasio, guitarist of the Vermont-based rock band Phish, who decided to take a break from the action last year after a storied 17-year run. The other performance came two days later at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington.

A selection from the Troy show, an arrangement of Phish songs “My Friend My Friend” and “Guyute” that was composed by Anastasio and Peters, provides one of the standout tracks on a new Phish tribute album called “Sharin’ in the Groove: Celebrating the Music of Phish.” On the disc, the VYO finds itself in some heady company: The 20 tracks on the CD include such artists as Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett, the Wailers, the Tom Tom Club and Little Feat performing Phish songs.

Peters said that he and the young area musicians, most of whom are high school students, are excited about their inclusion. Such national tribute discs usually involve established stars or cult artists only, and almost never include a community-based youth orchestra.

“It’s so cool,” said Peters. “We’re really psyched. I think the recording captures the energy that was in the room that night. To me, it sends exactly the message that was the heart of the concert for me, which is this willingness to kind of explore across boundaries in music that people don’t cross enough.”

The inclusion of the VYO on the album is fitting, as 75 percent of the\ album’s net proceeds go to supporting music education for young people throughout the country via a not-for-profit charitable organization called the Mockingbird Foundation that was started by Phish fans in 1997. Though the VYO — like all of the other artists on the album — does not receive any money from sales of the CD, the Troy show and a videotape of the Flynn performance have helped raise funds for a newly renovated facility at St. Michael’s College that opens Nov. 10.

Beyond the inclusion of the VYO, “Sharin’ in the Groove” offers another twist on the traditional tribute album concept. The usual practice is for artists to honor a legend who has influenced them, but here we get performers who had a big influence on Phish. Three such examples are Chicago bluesman Son Seals (“Suzy Greenberg”), legendary reggae band The Wailers (“Makisupa Policeman”) and funk keyboardist Merl Saunders (“Julius”). The diverse array of sounds and styles is a testament to the many sources of inspiration for the eclectic Phish, with everything from blues to bluegrass, folk to funk, hip-hop to hardcore, jazz to jam, and rock to reggae.

The Phish waters were fairly foreign to many of the artists, who searched to find the song that spoke to them. “I never really knew that much about them until I started working on this project,” said turntablist DJ Logic, who gives a groovy hip-hop treatment to “Cars Trucks Buses” with jazz guitar great John Scofield. “I ended up learning a lot about the band and really getting into the music,” he said. “That song just popped up and grabbed me.”

Gordon Stone is a bit more familiar with the band. The local banjo maestro, who recently relocated to Massachusetts, gave Phish bass player Mike Gordon banjo lessons in the 1980s and has appeared on several Phish albums. The Gordon Stone Band delivers a funky bluegrass treatment of the previously unreleased “Runaway Jim.” “We were looking for a good, obscure sort of tune,” said Stone, “and that seemed to fit our style.”

Tom Tom Club, which features Talking Heads founding members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, brings a Latin-flavored dancehall vibe to their version of “Sand.” “We felt it was a song we could relate to both musically and lyrically and we’re very pleased with the results,” Frantz and Weymouth said via e-mail. “We are very pleased to be part of the greater community that emanates from Phish.”

Talking Heads, the legendary ’80s band that dissolved in 1995 with the departure of singer David Byrne, were a big influence on Phish, who covered their “Remain In Light” album in its entirety at a 1996 Halloween show. Frantz and Weymouth said they hoped the band’s hiatus was “not an indication that they will break up.” “Speaking from personal experience,” they said, “bands like this do not come along every day.”

More information

— Some stores carrying the “Sharin’ in the Groove” Phish tribute CD include: Borders Books Music & Cafe, 29 Church St., Burlington, $13.99; Record Town, Burlington Town Center, Burlington, $13.89; Record Town
Saturday Matinee, University Mall, South Burlington, $13.89; Coconuts Music & Video, 861 Williston Rd., South Burlington, $12.89. The recording is also available at Phish Dry Goods by calling 862-5400 or online at
www.phish.com, $14.

— A videotape of the Trey Anastasio/Vermont Youth Orchestra performance at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts last February is available exclusively through Phish Dry Goods by calling 862-5400 or online at www.phish.com. Running time: 55 minutes. $15 ($5 from every video purchase goes directly to the VYO’s capital campaign for the Elley-Long Music Center at St. Michael’s College.)

— Some artists who appear on “Sharin’ in the Groove” CD who will be performing soon in the area: The Wailers, Higher Ground in Winooski, Nov. 28; Gordon Stone Band with Railroad Earth, at Higher Ground, Nov. 30.; Vermont Youth Orchestra music director and conductor Troy Peters conducts the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble in Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale”at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 9, 10 and 11. He also conducts Handel’s Messiah with the Vermont Philharmonic at the Barre Opera House on Dec. 2.

-Tom Huntington