‘Cluster Flies’: A New Age For Phish Covers

By Scott Bernstein May 3, 2021 6:29 am PDT

Tonight marks the end of the timed release of the limited-edition 3LP version of Cluster Flies featuring custom artwork and a poster created by longtime Phish collaborator Jim Pollock. While the timed release closes this evening at 11:59 p.m. ET, it’s our hope the compilation that includes Phish songs reimagined by Umphrey’s McGee’s Brendan Bayliss, Club d’Elf, Daniel Donato, Chris Forsyth, Neal Francis, Jennifer Hartswick, Amy Helm, Lindsay Lou, Reed Mathis, White Denim’s James Petralli, Strand Of Oaks, Sylvan Esso, William Tyler, Sadler Vaden, Vetiver, Ryley Walker and a supergroup led by Tim Palmieri opens the door to many new Phish covers from a wide variety of artists.

In 1991 Arista released Deadicated, a Grateful Dead tribute album featuring 15 covers recorded by the likes of Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Warren Zevon and Los Lobos. Most of the artists who contributed to Deadicated were peers of the Grateful Dead while only a few were younger acts that were influenced by the group such as Jane’s Addiction, Suzanne Vega and Indigo Girls.

Twenty-five years later came Day Of The Dead, a massive set compiling 59 Grateful Dead covers that went on the opposite direction of Deadicated. This time around artists such as Hiss Golden Messenger, Jim James, Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen, Real Estate, The Flaming Lips, Phosphorescent and The National that count the Grateful Dead among the groups which helped shape their sound contributed to the compilation.

Day Of The Dead opened the floodgates on musicians outside of the jam world embracing the Grateful Dead. The stereotypes of noodling improvisation and tie-dyes finally took a backseat to the songs. Now, it seems hardly a month passes by without a new Grateful Dead cover coming from an act more likely to be written up by Pitchfork than Jambands.com. We hope a similar situation plays out with Phish.

Twenty years ago the Mockingbird Foundation released the marvelous Phish compilation Sharin’ In The Groove featuring 20 covers recorded by 23 bands. Most were from acts that came before Phish such as Jimmy Buffett, Arlo Guthrie, The Wailers, Merl Saunders, Little Feat and Hot Tuna. Just a few of the covers included on the compilation were from younger groups influenced by Phish.

Now, with Cluster Flies, we have 17 Phish covers from musicians either influenced by or who run in the same circles as the Vermont-based quartet. Some of the artists such as Daniel Donato, Ben Atkind and Neal Francis were born after Phish was formed.

It’s our wish Cluster Flies has introduced you to artists that may not have been on your radar. It’s also our hope Cluster Flies gets rid of the stigma that comes with an act covering Phish and launches a new era of groups from a wide range of genres embracing Phish’s music. The reality is Phish won’t be around forever and it would be tragic if their music isn’t played by the generations that follow in the way the Grateful Dead’s music has been.

Let Cluster Flies serve as a breaking of the seal with a wave of musicians continuing to embrace Phish songs and reinventing them in their own style. Thanks to your support, it appears JamBase will be around to write about Phish covers for a long time to come.

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