The High Time Phish’s Trey Anastasio Had On Willie Nelson’s Bus

Listen to the guitarist tell the tale of hanging with the country music legend at Farm Aid.

By Andy Kahn Oct 3, 2023 10:49 am PDT

Legendary musician Willie Nelson has many iconic aspects associated with his signature brand of country music. The sight of his well-worn acoustic guitar Trigger or signature red bandana wrapped around his long braids is enough to easily identify the 90-year-old Nelson.

Like Trigger and his bandana-bound braided locks, Nelson’s tour bus, affectionately known as the Honeysuckle Rose, is another integral component of his iconic mythology. Another well-known aspect of Nelson’s persona is his well-documented endorsement of marijuana and its many lifestyle benefits.

Plenty of tales of Willie’s bus have been told over the years, almost always ending with the narrator getting exceptionally high off of an impressive stash. Getting to smoke weed with Willie has left many a lasting impression on his fellow musicians and several songs have been written about getting stoned with Nelson.

In 2015, Nelson got into the legal cannabis game with his Willie’s Reserve line of marijuana products. While Willie gave up smoking marijuana in 2019 due to health concerns, he continues to consume cannabis in other forms and is proponent of legalization efforts.

Back in 1998, Phish made their lone appearance to date at Farm Aid. Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp co-founded Farm Aid in 1985, holding annual all-star concerts to raise money for family farmers.

Held 25 years ago today, on October 3, 1998, that year’s Farm Aid took place at The World Amphitheater in Tinley Park, Illinois, near Chicago. Phish’s set that evening famously featured Neil Young’s memorable sit-in on “Down By The River” while playing Phish guitarist ’s custom Paul Languedoc guitar.

Prior to taking the stage for Phish’s set, Anastasio had memorable encounters with both Young and Nelson. Trey has recounted on multiple occasions his pre-set meeting with Young when they discussed collaborating on “Powderfinger,” only to have Young play the song as part of his solo set.

The interaction with Young and Anastasio came after the latter’s visit with Nelson aboard the Honeysuckle Rose that left the Phish guitarist “crippled” from Willie’s supply. Anastasio recounted the experience at a solo acoustic concert in Nashville. He was prompted to tell the story after seeing a photo of Nelson at The Ryman Auditorium.

As Anastasio recalled:

“There’s a picture of Willie backstage on the wall and I remember we played at Farm Aid, right? In like 1999 or something. This is the lesson that I learned – the music lesson that I learned from Willie and Neil Young that day. We’re playing at Farm Aid and Willie first invited me on his bus. So this is how this whole thing started.

“So [we] got on Willie’s bus, right? And he’s just [mimics smoking and passing a joint]. So it begins completely just obliterated with Willie on his bus, which was cool enough.

“Then he’s like, ‘[Are] we gonna play a song or something?’ I said, ‘Yeah, man, how about ‘Moonlight In Vermont’ because we’re from Vermont?’

“And he says, ‘Ok, we’re gonna do ‘Moonlight In Vermont’ at Farm Aid’ and he’s like, ‘You guys do your little thing. I’ll stand on the side stage and I’ll come out.’

“So then I’m like crippled and I’m like trying to get off the bus. I’m telling you man, I’m trying to find the door. [And thinking] ‘OK, I gotta learn this song, ‘Moonlight In Vermont.’”

Trey finished his Farm Aid story by telling the audience at The Ryman about his experience “getting more crippled” going from Nelson’s bus to Neil Young’s bus, where among the people he encountered was actor Woody Harrelson. Trey described how Young ended up onstage with Phish for an intense jam and extended performance of “Down By The River,” none of which was planned.

The lengthy jam apparently started to perturb Nelson, who was waiting side-stage to come out for “Moonlight In Vermont.”

“The final part of the story is that everybody was standing on the side,” Anastasio said. “I guess Willie was standing over on the side and he was kind of starting to get mad because this was going on for a long time. You’re supposed to stop. It’s a TV show, you know?

Finally, Trey got to the moral of the story, the lesson he learned from Willie Nelson and Neil Young:

“Never plan anything.”

Trey will be back in Nashville this Friday, October 6 when Phish Fall Tour 2023 begins with the first of three shows at the Bridgestone Arena. Watch Trey talk about his high time on Willie bus that went down 25 years ago today at Farm Aid 1998 in the video from October 27, 2019 below:

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