Phish in the North Country. Celebrating 20 Years of the WaterWheel Foundation

Published: November 4, 2017

Written By: Brando Rich

November 4th was a special day for phans in Burlington, Vermont. Since the middle of October the Waterwheel foundation has been putting on the exhibit "Phish in the North Country" at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The gallery was filled with a time line of Phish posters from the beginning of their career until now. Among phans was Beth Rowles, the executive directior of the Waterwheel Foundation, and Phish Archivist Kevin Shapiro, who did two gallery tours. The event was a fundraiser for the Waterwheel foundation, which is the nonprofit Phish started in 1997 that oversees Phish's charitable activities. Waterwheel does a lot of work with local non-profits in the Vermont area mainly with children and the environment, focusing on clean air and water. Phish not only considers Vermont their "local" community. Any location that Phish has played a show while on tour is considered part of their "local" community. Since expanding with the touring division Waterwheel has given over $1,000,000 to participating charities.

Kevin Shapiro was a very special guest at the exhibit. He led the talks with Phish's "A Live One" on vinyl gently playing through the open gallery. There are so many years of music and there is so much to know about Phish, and keeping record of all of that is his job...pretty sweet gig right? Kevin spoke in detail with good stories and fun facts that only an archivist would know. Kevin explained first why they decided to choose the "North Country" as their focus for this exhibit. The amount of Phish "artifacts" they have is incredible. Everything from their first posters as a band, and every poster for every show they've played (nearly 1,800), to the Pope hat Fishman wore during the Baker's Dozen. With so many things they had to narrow it down. The posters for this exhibit were only from the North Country, which featured many of the firsts shows in Phish's history as well as some more recent monumental ones, like the benefit for Hurricane Irene at the Lake Champlain Expo Center in Essex, VT, and their first summer tour show back from hiatus in 2009 at Fenway Park that May.

Kevin started the talk with the Waterwheel foundation's limited edition posters which are often created by Jim Pollock. There was one by David Welker for their 15th anniversary as well. Next Kevin described the poster from one of the first show Phish shows ever played where they had formally adopted the band name, on 12/1/84. He continued with others from those early times that included the first poster Jim Pollock created for their show on 5/10/87. Next, we moved into the first three set show at Nectar's and on to their first show with the Giant Country Horns. That about ended the early flyer type posters, and on to the full color, screen prints. The evolution of styles ranging from multiple artists was like getting into a heady art time machine.

There was a limited edition Pollock that was sold at the event. A very pleasant and rare surprise was that Jim Pollock himself was there signing the prints. He was able to connect with many phans whose homes most likely have at least one piece of his art already.

When talking about Phish and the Waterwheel foundation, Ben and Jerry's is an important piece of the history. There were great displays showing the history of the relationship between the Band and the Ice Cream Company, which eventually resulted in a collaboration with Waterwheel to produce the "Phish Food" ice cream flavor. Throughout the many years of Phish Food, there has been a lot of art on the labels, shirts and other merchandise with Phishy prints and themes. The money from the licensing of the name "Phish" goes directly to the Waterwheel Foundation. Ben and Jerry's supplied free Phish Food for all of the guests and multiple displays, including the history of the ice cream and the evolution of the art.

A huge thank you to everyone at the Waterwheel Foundation who made this event so special. Here's to 20 years of helping build communities, and to many more!