Phish Reunites With Jeff Holdsworth On Fall Tour 2003

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This year marks 25 years since Phish’s historic Fall Tour 1995. In recognition of that noteworthy tour and to make up for the lack of shows this fall, JamBase presents a daily retrospective highlighting a noteworthy moment from a Phish fall tour concert that took place on that date over the past 25 years (read a note on Fall 1997 here). The 25 Years Of Phish Fall Tour series runs each day between the start of Phish Fall Tour 1995 on September 27 through that tour’s finale on December 17.

Phish’s Fall Tour 2003 was a short run of only four shows that coincided with the band’s 20th anniversary. On the third night, co-founding guitarist Jeff Holdsworth performed with the band for the first time in 17 years.

The four Fall Tour 2003 shows were played in four different venues, November 28 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York; November 29 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia; December 1 at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, New York and December 2 at the Fleetcenter in Boston.

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Longtime friends and collaborators The Dude Of Life and Tom Marshall joined the band in Uniondale and in Philadelphia respectively. Holdsworth’s guest spot came in Albany, while the Boston show was guest-free but featured a 25-minute video retrospective shown during setbreak.

Holdsworth co-founded Phish with guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman at the University of Vermont in 1983. Keyboardist Page McConnell officially joined the band in September 1985.

Holdsworth’s last known performance as a member of Phish was on May 17, 1986 at SpringFest at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont where Page attended and Trey and Fish transferred to as well. When Holdsworth emerged during the second set on December 1, 2003, Phish had played at least 1,348 shows since last sharing the stage with their co-founding cohort.

The circumstances surrounding Jeff’s departure from Phish in 1986 were described by Anastasi in Richard Gehr’s The Phish Book. In the book, Anastasio says:

Trey: Jeff Holdsworth had been in good bands during high school and was the most experienced and competent of us by far. He had an incredible bluesy voice and real stage presence that could knock you out right away. He was a grounding force, while Mike and I were more off-kilter. We didn’t know any songs when we played our first gig at the UVM ROTC party [10/30/83] and had a week to come up with an entire repertoire. It ended up being all songs that Jeff knew, like “Long Cool Woman,” “Proud Mary,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which he also sang. But I wanted to do original stuff from the beginning, and he wasn’t into it. Page joined the band about the same time I wrote “You Enjoy Myself,” and we had a band practice in the little red house on King Street right across from the Harry Hood plant. I’d brought in sheet music with some of “You Enjoy Myself” on it, but Jeff was against it, while Page and the other two were totally into playing it. It was a defining moment and we knew something would have to give. I’d always felt something significant could come out of the band, but I think Jeff considered it more of a fun weekend thing. So when I added learning charts to the equation, he was like, “Forget it” …

Jeff was a fascinating guy, as I increasingly came to see. When we started playing together in 1983, he wore Ray-Ban sunglasses and cool belt buckles, and played a wicked guitar through a Marshall stack with all these effects — the whole rock-dude deal. Over the next couple of years, however, he ditched all his effects, substituted a tiny Fender Tweed for his Marshalls, and replaced his guitar strap with a rope before swearing off electric guitar altogether in order to devote himself to acoustic music. After Page joined in ’85, an awkward period ensued during which we knew the four of us would go forward as a band, and he would eventually be out. But we had to keep doing gigs with five people. We definitely had a bad onstage vibe for a while.

After a hilarious Halloween gig during which some of us got so dosed we couldn’t play, he left town, and I didn’t see him for several months. The four of us moved to a house in Winooski, and one night there was a knock on the door. I open it to find a thin guy with a big button that said THE SON — JESUS around a picture of the sun. I didn’t recognize Jeff at first. He had undergone a genuine transformation and looked completely different. He was thin and drawn, but he looked pretty content. We had just recorded Junta, so I played “David Bowie” for him. He made me turn it off two minutes into the jam, claiming that the Devil was making me play that kind of music.

When I asked him where he’d been, he told me about driving across the country, ending up in Oregon, meeting a woman, and driving back across the country. He described some significant spiritual event and said, “That’s when I saw the light.” The moment he said that, a broken light above us that hadn’t worked in months suddenly went on. He looked up, looked back down, and without missing a beat said, “Praise the Lord.” We ran into him once a few years later in Philadelphia outside a gig at the 23 East Cabaret. We invited him in to play with us but he declined, and that was the last time we saw him.

According to Phish.net, it’s believed that the invitation to sit-in was extended by Phish to Jeff the night before it happened. The reunion occurred midway through the second set, after “Tweezer,” “2001” and the song Holdsworth purportedly was against, “You Enjoy Myself.” The audience roared when Trey introduced his former bandmate and explained the band was about to play two songs that they still regularly play that were written by Jeff. First up was “Camel Walk” with Jeff on lead vocals, followed by “Possum.”

Next came a cover of The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” which had last been played by Phish on October 30, 1998 on what was erroneously thought to be the anniversary of their first concert (see Trey’s quote above). By 2003, it was determined that the first Phish concert (which apparently was not billed as Blackwood Convention despite popular mythology) was held on December 2, 1983 at Harris-Millis Cafeteria on the campus of the University Of Vermont and included the only other known performance of “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress.”

Holdsworth stuck around as he and his former bandmates transitioned into the set closer, which was a song that predates Phish, “Run Like An Antelope.” Marshall emerged to sing the original lyrics he wrote (“Rye, rye, Rocco. Marco Esquandolas! Been you to have any spliff, mon?”) for the song that was first played by Space Antelope, the high school band formed by Trey and The Dude Of Life.

When Phish returned for the encore, they brought Holdsworth with them for a blistering rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” another cover played frequently in the early days of Phish. Holdsworth has not performed with Phish since his sit-in on Fall Tour 2003.

Listen to Jeff Holdsworth’s sit-in with Phish on December 1, 2003, below:

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