‘Cluster Flies’: Chris Forsyth Covers Phish’s ‘Piper’

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JamBase presents Cluster Flies, a covers compilation reimagining Phish’s album Farmhouse, complete with bonus songs and revamped tracklist. The limited-edition 3LP release was mastered by engineer Joe Lambert and includes custom artwork and a poster created by longtime Phish collaborator Jim Pollock. A pre-order is underway now through May 3 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. Visit www.clusterflies.com for purchasing information as well as full album credits and tracklist details.

Each of the songs on Cluster Flies will be featured via daily episodes of The JamBase Podcast with interviews with the musician that recorded the cover. Today’s episode features guitarist Chris Forsyth’s cover of “Piper.” Explore additional Cluster Flies podcast episodes here.

Phish’s song, “Piper,” is track nine on Farmhouse. The origins of the song about a red worm date back to writing retreats held in March and May 1997 by guitarist Trey Anastasio and his writing partner since adolescence, Tom Marshall. Those getaways resulted in Anastasio and Marshall composing many of the songs that appeared on 1997’s The Story Of The Ghost and later Farmhouse when it was issued in May 2000.

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“Piper” made its semi-public debut on June 6, 1997, when Phish performed a pre-tour warmup concert at their former tour manager Brad Sands and drum tech Pete Carini’s house in Charlotte, Vermont. The song made its formal debut on the second night of Phish’s 1997 European Summer Tour in Dublin, Ireland. “Piper” tallied over 60 setlist appearances through October 5, 2000, when Phish played it for a final time before starting a hiatus.

When Phish returned from that two-year break with a comeback concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, they opened the December 31, 2002, New Year’s Eve show with an electrifying “Piper” that sent the audience into a frenzy. Continuing to prove itself as a vehicle to memorable jams, “Piper” launched many memorable improvisations in 2003 and again the following year, culminating with a rendition in August 2004 at the band’s festival in Coventry, Vermont that ushered in a second hiatus.

Phish waited to play “Piper” until their second show following their second comeback in March 2009. A staple ever since, “Piper” remains a consistent part of the band’s liver repertoire and a frequent source of noteworthy jams.

The Farmhouse version of “Piper” contains the studio album’s only live tracking. Co-producers Anastasio and Byrce Goggin used 10 seconds of the intro from the July 18, 1999 recording of “Piper” at Phish’s Camp Oswego festival in Volney, New York on what ultimately became the Farmhouse track. Anastasio explained in a 2000 interview with Philzone:

“The first 5 or 10 seconds of ‘Piper’ there’s a cross-fade. We couldn’t get the intro together as good as it was live. I’m talking about the very quiet stuff in the beginning. We edited a bit of a live take but as soon as those 10 seconds are up it’s completely live in the studio. We played it all in The Barn.

JamBase’s Jon McLennand thoroughly reviewed the evolving structure “Piper” has had over the course of its history. McL examined the main sections of “Piper,” which are defined as the Intro, Verses, Bridge, Jam and Coda, on the episode of The JamBase Podcast below.

A visual breakdown of how Phish has approached those sections over the years can be explored via our interactive “Piper” Infographic, which was created by McL and JamBase contributor Maya Gans as a companion to the podcast episode. Maya took McL’s data to create the visual representation of the song’s evolution. Each bar on the chart represents one of 172 performances of “Piper” played live by Phish between June 6, 1997 and February 21, 2020. Click here or the image below to experience the interactive “Piper” graph.


Today’s episode of The JamBase Podcast also features an interview with guitarist Chris Forsyth who turned in an outstanding 18-minute cover of “Piper” for Cluster Flies. Forsyth recorded “Piper” with Brent Cordero (farfisa, four-handed piano), Ryan Jewell (drums, percussion, four-handed piano), Peter Kerlin (bass guitar) and Jeff Zeiger (background vocals).

Video of Forsyth recording “Piper” was filmed by Greenhouse Media. Watch Chris Forsyth’s cover of Phish’s “Piper” for JamBase’s Cluster Flies compilation here:

In a recent interview with JamBase’s David Onigman, Forsyth discussed how the “Piper” session was the only time he performed with other musicians in the pandemic-disrupted 2020, finding similarities between a “Piper” jam and one of his own songs, his approach to tracking the cover in the studio and more.

Listen to the “Piper” Cluster Flies episode of The JamBase Podcast below or via all major podcast services including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Google Podcast: