Phish Summer Tour 2021: 1st Leg Fan Survey Results

Find out what 2,080 fans think of the tour so far, favorite shows, best jams, COVID-19 protocols and more.

By Ben Greenfield Aug 27, 2021 8:36 am PDT

Early on in Phish’s first tour since the pandemic shuttered amphitheaters and rock clubs the world round, two things became clear: Phish had not forgotten how to execute their singular brand of musical telepathy, and fans had not forgotten how to overanalyze it to death online. Even before the final notes of the first show in Rogers, Arkansas had concluded, the posts and tweets were flying: had the band failed to practice enough? Had Sarah Huckabee Sanders ruined their flow?

Of course, those fears were dashed more quickly than a beachside “Scents And Subtle Sounds” jam, as the band unleashed a string of some of the most well-received shows in years. But outside of the loud online voices — the lovers, the haters, the rankers and the raters — how did this tour stack up in the eyes of Phish fans?

To find out, I surveyed 2,080 Phish fans between the first and second legs of summer tour, on topics ranging from favorite shows and jams, to the tour’s MVP, to how fans kept safe on pandemic tour, and what they thought about the stricter COVID-19 safety requirements at upcoming shows. The participation rates were incredible: the sample includes fans from every state but South Dakota and Hawaii, as well as over 175 attendees from every show.

“It’s true that people keep tabs about a lot of stuff. But I don’t know, I guess it’s flattering that they’d want to. It is kind of silly when they’re making pie graphs about setlist openers. But then, I always liked a good graph.”
Phish bassist Mike Gordon
Detroit Free Press interview, December 5, 1997

Public opinion research is actually my job. (If you follow me, you might have been under the impression that I tweet about songs Phish fans hate for a living, but believe it or not, it doesn’t pay the bills!) I’m a pollster for a prominent public opinion firm.

I want to emphasize one thing: unlike the polls you read about in the news, this is not a scientific survey — the respondents were people who saw links in online Phish forums, which is in no way a representative sample of all concertgoers. By virtue of even spending time in these forums, this survey’s responders are likely bigger Phish fans than the person sitting behind you at the show who yelled, “‘YEM!’ Sick!” after the first few notes of “Divided Sky.”

All of this should be kept in mind not only on the musical questions (more casual Phish fans probably don’t have strong opinions on who the MVP of tour was!) but also on the COVID-19 questions — it’s quite possible that people might have been more or less likely to answer a survey that asked about their safety precautions, depending on their feelings about the virus.


Visit JamBase’s Phish: The Skinny Hub for links to show recaps, setlist analysis and more


So how good was this tour?

Pretty darn good. A huge majority of respondents — 71% — thought this tour was better than the average tour from the last few years. Another 21% thought it was about the same. Only 4% thought the tour was worse than the average tour from the past few years.

Even the jaded vets agree that the tour was great: when we break down the results by decade of birth, we see that fans of all ages, n00bs and vets alike, are almost equally likely to say this tour was above average.

(A side note about age: this survey confirms the notion that Phish is no longer a band college students listen to — a grand total of five respondents age 22 or younger took the survey. 72% were born in the ‘70s or ‘80s.)


Deer Creek night one (August 6) is the most popular show of the tour

When asked to choose the best performance so far, 37% selected August 6 in Noblesville, Indiana as the show of the tour. Coming in a distant second place were Hershey night two and Alpharetta night two — at 9% each.

Attendees of each show were, on average, more than three times as likely to say that show was the show of the tour. Some of this is undoubtedly explained by attendance bias, many fans probably just haven’t heard shows they didn’t attend. But regardless of the explanation, this pattern only makes Deer Creek night one’s margin more impressive: even 27% of those who didn’t attend the show say it was the best of the tour.


August 6 also had the jam of the tour

An equal number, 37%, chose either the “Simple” or “Blaze On” from August 6 as their favorite jam. “Simple” was the clear favorite, though: 28% of all respondents ranked it first. The next closest contender was the monster “Tweezer” from Alpharetta at 18%, followed by the “Blaze On” at 9%. A number of other jams were clustered at 3-4% — more of a sign of the tour’s embarrassment of riches than of any lower quality among those jams.


00:00:00
Phish (See 201 videos)
Phish (See 3,815 videos)

The tour’s MVP was…

The music gave Phish fans plenty to talk about this summer, but so did changes to the band’s gear. From Trey Anastasio’s new guitar and rig, to Page McConnell’s new synth sounds, to drummer Jon Fishman’s samples, there was an inextricable link between the band’s musical explorations and the new tools they had to explore with. And considerable numbers of fans saw each of these three as the tour MVP. (Though bassist Mike Gordon’s playing was phenomenal all tour, there was less noticeably new about what he was doing, which presumably explains his relatively low number of votes.)

But there can only be one most valuable. And this tour, it was… Page McConnell!


Kasvot is not the only thing that’s Växt

The overwhelming majority of respondents, 95%, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. I want to emphasize my point from earlier: this is not a representative sample of all Phish fans. It’s quite possible that unvaccinated fans were more hesitant to take a survey that was partly about COVID-19 precautions.

Of course, for the remainder of summer and all of fall tour, an even higher percentage of the audience will likely be vaccinated, as the band has required either proof of vaccination or a recent negative test in order to enter the shows. Fans overwhelmingly approve of this requirement: 94% approve, including 87% who strongly approve. (Some respondents thought the requirement was too lax, with some wishing for a vaccination-only requirement, and others wishing both vaccination and negative test were required.)

Even with the increased precautions, 31% of fans would feel unsafe attending a show right now. A slight majority, 51%, would feel somewhat safe.

This is not just a theoretical sentiment: an incredible 38% say they might skip some or all shows, depending on both the state of the virus and whether the shows are indoor. While 9% of respondents say they will not attend any shows until conditions improve.

And a large majority of respondents believe the band should either cancel shows in COVID-19 hotspots (29%), move all indoor shows outside (36%) or cancel all shows (6%). Only 28% think all shows should go on as planned. (This question did not allow respondents to select multiple answers, which likely would have increased support even further for canceling shows in hotspots and moving all shows outdoors.)

Respondents’ actual experience suggests that a non-negligible but small percentage of Phish concert attendees have contracted COVID-19 during the course of their travels. Overall, 5% of those who saw at least one show either tested positive or got sick with what they think was COVID-19 in the days or weeks following the show. By comparison, just under 1% of the U.S. population tested positive over the same period. Of course, we don’t know how many of these fans caught the virus at the shows, and how many did elsewhere during the course of their travels.

There was a difference in case rates between those who were and were not vaccinated: 4% of those who have been fully vaccinated contracted the virus, while 11% of unvaccinated respondents did. No other factor was strongly correlated with contracting COVID-19: I ran regressions on mask-wearing during the show, self-reported time spent indoors with others while on tour, and number of shows seen, and none of these variables have much explanatory power. (I should be clear that none of this should be taken as public health advice one way or another.)


Chris Kuroda’s new light rig is officially so stupendous

It was admittedly unfair to ask only about Fish, Mike, Page and Trey in the “tour MVP” question, when a significant percentage of fans would have undoubtedly chosen the band’s fifth member, Chris Kuroda, if he’d been an option. To make it up to Chris, the survey’s final question asked fans to describe their feelings on his new light rig, and the answer choices may have been a little, uh, rigged:


Phish Summer Tour 2021 resumes tonight with the first of three shows at The Gorge in Washington state. Livestreams are available via via LivePhish.com.

JamBase Collections