This year marks the 20th anniversary of JamBase. Part of the yearlong celebration includes the 20 For 20 series featuring 20 lists focusing on 20 notable topics and events of the JamBase era. The lists were compiled by current and former JamBase staff members and contributors, music industry professionals and other experts. Stay tuned for more, as the series continues throughout 2019 and we look back at two decades of encouraging fans to Go See Live Music!
The second list in our series offers a look at 20 Pranks & Gags Played By Jam Acts. Bands such as Phish, The String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic take pride at injecting a sense of humor into their performances and there are plenty of stunts that have been pulled off over the past two decades. Here are 20 standout pranks and gags from the past 20 years:
Phish Invents Kasvot Växt
Oct 31, 2018
Coming into Phish’s most recent Halloween show, rumor had it the quartet would don the musical costume of an obscure album from the early ‘80s. When doors opened at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, those at the venue were given the traditional “Phishbills” heralding a performance of Kasvot Växt’s í rokk, an LP so obscure no one had heard of it. Fans both in Sin City and following along at home were stumped, as the members of Phish spoke so highly of the mysterious group within the Playbill.
Quickly, the quartet’s devotees found pages about the LP on All Music, Perfect Sound Forever and WFMU. By the time the lights went down, internet sleuths had deducted the album didn’t actually exist and the pages were planted by the band ahead of the gig.
Phish took the stage for their second set and played an ambitious series of 10 songs they wrote as if they were a Scandinavian prog-rock act from the early ‘80s and were accompanied by production elements that included an all-white stage and a series of 12 cubes that hung from the ceiling and moved along with the music.
The Kasvot Växt material has become part of the repertoire, as Phish played most of the songs from the set during their New Year’s Run a few months later and fit a few tunes from the LP into setlists at Phish Riviera Maya in Mexico back in February and again during the first shows of Summer Tour 2019.
Turkuaz Swaps Colors For One Night
Oct 28, 2018
The members of Turkuaz each wear their own color to each show. For instance, vocalist Sammi Garett is donned in pink every night, while drummer Michelangelo Carubba sports green gear and guitarist Dave Brandwein takes the stage in blue atttire.
On October 28, 2018, at Suwannee Hulaween in Live Oak, Florida the band members swapped colors — for one night only.
Sammi wore the black usually reserved for saxophonist Greg Sanderson, Michelangelo took over multi-instrumentalist Craig Brodhead’s white, Brandwein wore a pink shirt and pants while the rest of the members of the band also traded their typical places on the color spectrum.
Photo by Dani Brandwein
Trey Anastasio Recreates Meme
Oct 31, 2017
In 2017, Phish frontman Trey Anastasio stopped at a Juice Generation outpost in New York City and took a moment to look over the menu. A fan snapped a photo of Trey gazing at the menu while holding a bag of oranges and posted it to a Phish Facebook group with a note that read, “Any Photoshoppers???”
It didn’t take long for many “Photoshoppers” to go wild as images featuring Anastasio gazing at the menu while in the clutches of the Statue Of Liberty, in the hands of with “The Dude,” in front of a display of donuts and in a scene from Star Wars were just of few of the dozens of photos created from the meme.
On October 31, 2017, Anastasio recreated the original image as he strolled on stage at a Trey Anastasio Band show held at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, while clutching a bag of oranges with the same expression on his face. Trey took it so far as to even wear the same outfit in L.A. that he sported at Juice Generation.
Greensky Bluegrass Enlists Members Of Railroad Earth, Fruition & The Lil’ Smokies For April Fools’ Prank
Apr 1, 2016
Greensky Bluegrass made the most of having set on April Fools’ Day at the WinterWonderGrass Tahoe festival.
“Coming from a background of listening to Phish, a good prank on the audience is an amazing thing to do,” GSBG dobroist Anders Beck explained to JamBase. “We had April Fools’ Day coming up and we as a band embraced that a lot. So we were like, ‘What do we do? Do we lip sync a version of something? What can we possibly do to fool an entire audience of thousands of people?’ So we finally come up with this idea, which like every good prank idea is dumb and great at the same time, that we would have a bunch of friends that kinda look like us or fit our silhouettes or something dress up or whatever you have to do to look like us and go on stage for the first song of the night that Greensky plays.”
The five-piece went with “Windshield” as their opening number of recruited members of Railroad Earth, Fruition and The Lil Smokies to act as them. GSBG had their lighting director backlight the musicians so the stage looked dark and silhouette-y. Then, the members of the other band took the stage and faked performing “Windshield” as a recording of a live version of the tune played over the P.A.
“It was ridiculous and it worked,” Beck added. “It was more fun for us to watch five people be our band for five minutes, it was hilarious. The lights come up and it gets really bright and then after the song we actually walk on stage and it was one of the funniest moments of my musical career. That was a damn good April Fools’ prank.”
Rob Derhak & Ryan Stasik Stage Fight At Summer Camp
May 23, 2014
For well over a decade Umphrey’s McGee and moe. have shared co-headlining responsibilities over Memorial Day Weekend at the Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois. The partnership has resulted in the group’s covering each other’s songs and pairing up for Split Squads and Tag Team sets.
The relationship seemed to have hit a snag in 2014 when UM bassist Ryan Stasik and moe. bassist Rob Derhak scuffled backstage at the festival. Stasik pushed Derhak who responded by breaking what appeared to be a glass bottle over Ryan’s head.
The pair went back-and-forth to the apparent disbelief of those around them. Rob laid out Ryan and the Stasik returned the favor and after a minute or two of fighting on the ground, the two yelled out “April Fools” to the relief of their band mates.
Vulfpeck Games Spotify With Sleepify
Mar 4, 2014
Well before Vulfpeck and Spotify became big names, the band pulled a fast one on the streaming service. In early March of 2014, Vulfpeck released an album dubbed Sleepify via Spotify.
The LP featured 10 tracks of silence with each lasting either 31 or 32 seconds. Vulfpeck announced the record with a video in which frontman and producer Jack Stratton asked fans to stream the silent music in a loop overnight in order to fund a tour. Spotify caught onto the ploy and had the album pulled on April 26, 2014. However, the band had already racked up approximately $20K in royalties from their record of silence.
Vulfpeck used the money to help pay for expenses incurred during the six-date Sleepify Tour in September of 2014. The tour included the group’s New York City debut at the 300-capacity Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. On September 28, 2019 Vulfpeck returns to NYC for a headlining show at Madison Square Garden, a venue just a wee bit bigger than Rockwood.
Greensky Bluegrass Impersonates Railroad Earth At Hangtown
Oct 27, 2013
“It’s really hard to dress up as a band for Halloween year after year. So one year for the Hangtown Halloween Ball, Railroad Earth‘s festival, we decided we would dress up as them because they’re our great friends and we know them very well,” Greensky Bluegrass dobroist Anders Beck told JamBase about their October 27, 2013, set at the event in Placerville, California. “So we each picked a member to dress up as for the late night set and somehow we got [Railroad Earth drummer] Carey Harmon on board because no one was dressing up as him as we don’t have a drummer.”
“We decided to play their song ‘Long Way To Go’ and it was hilarious,” Beck added. “I think the crowd was too high to notice that it wasn’t Railroad Earth.” Here’s more on what went down as per Anders:
“My favorite part of that was that I went shopping the week before in Boulder, Colorado trying to find a shirt that was very [RRE fiddler Tim] ‘Carbone.’ You can get a wig and do all this other stuff but I needed to find a shirt. So I found a shirt that was very “Carbone” like and we’re dressing up backstage and Carbone’s hanging around backstage and he sees the shirt I put on and he goes, ‘Oh man, that’s a nice fucking shirt! I like that shirt. I think I have that exact shirt’ and we all just start dying laughing cracking up because the shirt I got in trying to look like him was the exact shirt that he had and he loved it. He wouldn’t stop talking about it!”
Above, watch Greensky’s rendition of “Long Way To Go” from the 2013 Hangtown Halloween Ball captured by yodycat.
Jeff Waful Gets Pranked At Camp Bisco
Jul 11, 2013
Umphrey’s McGee lighting director Jeff Waful has never hidden his hate for “rage sticks,” flags and generally anything that would block his view of the stage.
The Disco Biscuits and CID Entertainment founder Dan Berkowitz had fun with Jefferson at Camp Bisco 12 on July 11, 2013, when they coordinated an effort to have attendees hoist flags emblazoned with logos and words of different things Waful loves.
One flag featured the Boston Red Sox logo, another had the word “Journalism” on it, while others had the logos for Vine (a now-defunct video app Waful often used at the time) and for long-lost jam band Uncle Sammy (a group Waful managed). Here’s how Jefferson reacted via a post on Umphrey’s’ website:
As I feverishly snapped photos with one hand and ran lights with the other, The Disco Biscuits lighting director, Johnny R. Goode walked up to me with a knowing smile. I said to him, “Who did this, Magner? Berko?” I knew it had to be someone with a budget, office infrastructure and a staff. If it was fans pranking me, it probably would have just been hand-drawn signs. These were professional flags. There had to have been meetings about this. There had to have been fact-checkers, proofs and conference calls. They matched the exact word processor font of our Uncle Sammy demo cassette. Some serious work had gone into this. Johnny wouldn’t give up the culprit. Then the flags started getting closer. They were moving gracefully in unison through the crowd. It was like watching synchronized swimmers. This was getting better by the minute. The flags approached the soundboard area and blocked my view completely at the exact moment Umphrey’s went into their signature song, “In the Kitchen.” This was the point where I knew it had to be Berko. The comedic timing was too perfect for it to be anyone else.
The normally staid Waful embraced the gag and spent time waving a flag sporting the word “Irony.” And how ironic it was that all the things Jefferson loved were used to do the one thing he hates most, having his view blocked.
Quactus Guitarist Gabriel Isaac Pranked By Tim McGraw & Ellen DeGeneres
Feb 5, 2013
McGraw and host Ellen DeGeneres had fun with Gabe when he entered Tim’s dressing room. Ellen fit McGraw with an ear-piece and gave McGraw instructions on what to say to Isaac. Tim and Ellen did their best to crack Gabe up by having McGraw say things to Isaac like, “I’m not related to Dr. Phil even though his last name is McGraw,” “Look at my stomach I work out like crazy” and “I am not wearing underwear.”
Gabe did his best to focus on the task as Tim told him a joke, sang at the highest pitch he could muster and did positive affirmations with him. Eventually, Tim let Gabe in on the prank.
Phish Spells “FUCK YOUR FACE” With Setlist
Aug 31, 2012
Every year since 2011 Phish has spent Labor Day Weekend performing three shows at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. The quartet had setlist shenanigans in store for the first night of the run between 2011 – 2014.
In 2011, the band only played songs that started with the letter “S,” in 2012 the first letter of each song performed through the first two sets spelled out “FUCK YOUR FACE” before Phish actually treated fans to a version of the song to end the second set. Then, in 2013, the four-piece made fans work by utilizing a setlist that proclaimed “MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING” when looking at the first letter of each song in reverse order. Finally, the group trolled fans by spelling the name of long-lost obscurity “LUSHINGTON” with the first 10 songs played at the 2014 Dick’s run.
However, instead of actually performing “Lushington” for the first time since September 2, 1987, they played “Ha Ha Ha.” What made the “FUCK YOUR FACE” show standout was not only the setlist shenanigans but the quality of the music. Plus, the band had to extend many songs with heaping helpings of improv to make the gag work.
Furthur Spells “STEAL YOUR FACE” With Setlist (September 23, 2012)
Sep 23, 2012
Just a few weeks after Phish spelled out “FUCK YOUR FACE” with the first letter of each song played through the first 12 songs of the evening at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado; Furthur pulled off a similar feat at a nearby venue.
The band led by Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh completed a three-night stand at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.
The septet used the first letter of each song played during the first set and the beginning of the second set to spell “STEAL YOUR FACE.” After Furthur spelled out “STEAL YOUR FACE,” they performed “He’s Gone” which features the lyric “steal your face right off your head.”
Widespread Panic 'Dedicates' 'Pigeons' To Kings Of Leon
Jul 24, 2010
On July 23, 2010, Kings of Leon ended their show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri after just three songs due to a pigeon defecating on bassist Jared Followill.
“So sorry St Louis,” KoL drummer Nathan Followill tweeted shortly after the incident. “We had to bail, pigeons shitting in Jared‘s mouth and it was too unsanitary to continue. Don’t take it out on Jared, it’s the fucking venue’s fault. You may enjoy being shit on but we don’t. Sorry for all who traveled many miles.”
Widespread Panic had some fun with the situation the next night at Bank Of America Pavilion in Boston.
“Hi Boston. We’re going to dedicate this first number to Kings Of Leon, here we go,” bassist Dave Schools told the crowd before the band lit into the fitting original “Pigeons.”
moe. Shares Message For Phantasy Tour
Jul 12, 2010
moe. often posts stage setlists to their Facebook page and after a show on July 12, 2010 at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Minnesota the band has fun at the expense of their fans.
However, moe. actually performed a completely different setlist that only had two tunes (“Spine Of A Dog” and “Crab Eyes”) featured on the prank setlist. In fact, the quintet only played one set in Apple Valley as opposed to the two listed in its message to PT. The culprit most likely was crew member at the time Hector Jimenez, of “Hector’s Pillow” fame, who was tasked with printing the band’s stage setlists each night.
'Sarah From Pittsburgh' Plays Drums With Phish
Dec 31, 2009
A tradition continued on December 31, 2009, at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, when Phish played their first New Year’s Eve show in six years and rang in 2010 with a “gag.” While the quartet’s year-ending productions are typically referred to as “gags,” in many cases they are more visual spectacles than pranks.
That year in Miami, however, Phish truly went the “gag” route as drummer Jon Fishman was put into a huge disco ball. The disco ball was inserted into a canon and keyboardist Page McConnell hit a plunger that sent the ball rocketing toward the venue. With Fish “missing,” McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and guitarist Trey Anastasio were left without a drummer to start 2010. Anastasio asked if anyone knew how to play drums and a woman named Sarah from Pittsburgh was pulled from the crowd and took Fish’s seat.
The band then began “Fluffhead” and it was soon clear at some point “Sarah” swapped places with Fishman, who was wearing the same attire as the fan. When concertgoers left the venue they saw what happened to the disco ball, as a car was set up just outside of the American Airlines Arena with the disco ball smashed on top of it.
Umphrey's McGee Tricks Fans With 'Nachos For Two' Fake Out
Apr 1, 2009
On April 1, 2009, Umphrey’s McGee played an April Fools’ Day concert at The Town Ballroom in Buffalo. The show was streamed live via defunct video webcast service iClips.
Those tuning in at home thought the sextet opened with the first “Nachos For Two” since November 1, 2003. Alas, it was a prank pulled by the band, who actually kicked off the concert with “Made To Measure.”
Umphrey’s McGee manager Kevin Browning, the band’s sound caresser at the time, shared what went down:
Any day is a good day to have fun with your die-hard fans but April Fools’ always lends itself to a little something extra. “Nachos For Two” is long retired but it doesn’t stop the incessant requests. To have some fun, we recorded a short video snippet of the song during soundcheck and edited it to playback as if it was the first set opener on that evening’s webcast. Fans at home couldn’t believe it (fans in the audience had no clue).
After about 45 seconds of the pre-recorded segment, the viewer’s screen began spinning into a black hole and cut to the actual live show that was just beginning. One of the greatest things about a fan base as passionate and knowledgeable as ours is they always appreciate the inside baseball, the nuanced humor … even if slightly peeved that were just F’ing with ’em.
The group still hasn not played “Nachos For Two” since 2003.
The Disco Biscuits Honor Original Drummer Sam Altman At His Final Show
Aug 27, 2005
In 2005, The Disco Biscuits said farewell to drummer Sam Altman who went on to embark on a career as a doctor. The announcement came in November 2004 and Altman continued to perform with the band through their Camp Bisco IV festival the following August at Skye-Top Festival Grounds in Van Etten, New York.
On August 27, 2005, the Disco Biscuits played their last show with Altman and paid tribute to their drummer of 10 years with a song dubbed “Salute To Sammy.” Keyboardist Aron Magner explains:
Camp Bisco 2005 would be our last show with our brother and drummer of 10 years, Sam Altman. The band had known for months, the fans too. His decision wasn’t based on any animosity or drama, it was just a desire to try another profession. But that didn’t make the reality any easier to stomach when the final show arrived. We knew we wanted a proper send-off, and shooting him out of a canon had some logical issues. Instead, we rehearsed a “new song” clad with fake lyrics, so we were able to teach him his own send-off song, without the spoiler. It was the last song of a great Camp Bisco. We began playing the vamp, Sammy still none the wiser. Jon holding it together rather well, got the crowd to cheers Sammy with some nice words. And then with Sammy still behind the kit, we began to sing …
The String Cheese Incident Lets Pink Floyd's Pig Fly At Austin City Limits Music Festival
Sep 20, 2003
As legend has it, Pink Floyd used a huge inflatable pig as part of the staging for their 1987 – 1989 tour in support of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason that came off its moorings and floated away during one of the concerts. The String Cheese Incident purchased the iconic pig and paraded it around during a performance of Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” at the second annual Austin City Limits Music Festival on September 20, 2003.
SCI manager Mike Luba told JamBase that he was informed of the pig’s whereabouts by Cheese’s security director at the time, John Langenstein. The plan was originally to let the pig fly during the band’s debut at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on July 19 and 20, 2002. However, the pig was in tatters when it arrived at SCI headquarters in Boulder. Luba spent a year trying to find a company that could patch it back together — without any luck. He received a tip from someone at C3, one of the organizers of the ACL festival, that Nga Keith of Bluebonnet Cut & Sew might be able to salvage the pig.
“At first I wasn’t sure I could fix it,” Keith explained to Floydian Slip. “The face was almost gone.”
Nga was not only a master seamstress but was also a mathematical genius and was able to come up with the precise patches needed to get the pig back into flying shape. Luba and other members of the SCI team hoisted the pig skywards during the aforementioned performance of “Another Brick In The Wall” to a roar of cheers from the massive crowd of festival-goers. Cheese brought the pig with them on a future trip to Japan but after that the inflatable was lost once more.
“As far as I know no one knows where it is right now,” Luba explained. “Rock ‘n’ roll has reclaimed it.”
Joey Arkenstat Disrupts Gov't Mule New Year's Eve Concert
Dec 31, 2002
In 2002, Phish bassist Mike Gordon released a documentary entitled Rising Low, his second feature film, about late Gov’t Mule bassist Allen Woody. One portion of the film told the tale of Joey Arkenstat, a bassist music fans hadn’t heard of but was declared a legend and influential by the likes of Flea, Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Mike Watt in Rising Low. Arkenstat made an appearance during Gov’t Mule’s New Year’s Eve concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on December 31, 2002.
Mule frontman Warren Haynes introduced Joey, who had issues with his bass rig and ended up destroying his instrument on stage. The bassist then “charged at [Warren] only to be subdued by [Gov’t Mule drummer] Matt Abts, [Gov’t Mule multi-instrumentalist] Danny Louis and Haynes guitar tech Brian Farmer,” as Jambands.com reported on January 3, 2003. Arkenstat explained what happened and revealed it was a prank to Jambands.com’s Josh Baron in a feature published a few months later:
Warren Haynes, he called me up. I’ve known him 30 years. This was back in my southern days. He asked me what I was doing New Year’s Eve. He thought it would be kind of cool if we did a prank. We were going to fake this fight. So he gives me this piece of shit Washburn bass because he said, ‘Don’t even bring your instrument.’ So I got there, picked up this thing, it was a fucking joke. I failed to realize the effect it was going to have on Gov’t Mule’s fans. People were asking, ‘Who is this guy?’ I show up on New Year’s Eve just to play and fool around with some friends and now people are saying all kinds of shit.
The mystery of Joey Arkenstat has deepened over the past 15+ years as he’s disappeared from public view. Some say he was played by actor Stephen Payne and his 2005 album Bane was actually recorded by Gordon, while others swear he is a bass legend that couldn’t deal with the sudden notoriety.
Law & Order's Sam Waterston Shuts Down Disco Biscuits Concert
Dec 28, 2002
Fans were surprised when the Disco Biscuits took the stage on December 28, 2002, at Roseland Ballroom in New York City and performed the theme from the long-running television series Law & Order.
Actor Sam Waterston then took the stage. One of the members of the band said, “Will somebody get this asshole off stage?” Waterston introduced himself as Jack McCoy, his character from the show. “McCoy” gave the following speech:
I have a gag order which requires this band from this point on to be in complete silence. The State of New York declares that those who refer to themselves as the Disco Biscuits are to be escorted out of Manhattan this very evening. Some of you may be disappointed. You were expecting these people to entertain you this evening. I’m going to read you the charges against them. They are killing your minds with this banter. Read their website it says, ‘The time is now for the Disco Biscuits to conquer the world.’ Think about it. This is a group that says ‘Save The Robots! Save yourselves!’ What a joke. They tell you through some sort of hypnosis that they use to tell you where to go and what to do, relaxing with the Disco Biscuits.
And listen, I feel sorry for all of you. I’ve dreamed of this day when I shall put these boys away. I want to prevent any more Bisco fans from going nuts and getting the [unintelligible] whatever the hell that may mean. With that little chat, some very persuasive threats have been made. I’ll tell you what, we’ll leave it to you. Do you still want to hear this show?
“McCoy” then introduced the Disco Biscuits who immediately kicked into “And The Ladies Were The Rest Of The Night.”
Bob Weir Slips Into Rob Eaton's Spot At A Dark Star Orchestra Concert
Apr 13, 2002
On April 13, 2002, Grateful Dead tribute act Dark Star Orchestra made their debut at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, a venue the Dead and Jerry Garcia played many times over the years. DSO had a huge treat in store for fans and found a fun way to pull it off as part of their Warfield debut.
The band recreated the same setlist the Grateful Dead did on October 14, 1980 at the same venue including an acoustic first set. In the middle of the second set, guitarist Rob Eaton, who serves as the group’s Bob Weir, slid offstage. Weir himself emerged with little fanfare and replaced Eaton on “Little Red Rooster,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Let It Grow” and “The Wheel.”
Rob Eaton finally re-emerged for “The Music Never Stopped” that closed out the frame. Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh would pull off off a similar feat with DSO at The Fillmore in San Francisco on October 13, 2012.
JamBase’s 20th anniversary celebration will continue throughout 2019. Check out our previous lists here. Be on the lookout for the rest of our 20 For 20 lists of 20 memorable events of the past 20 years, and in the meantime, go see live music.