For Andy Greenberg, frontman of the Charleston, SC-based Phish tribute Runaway Gin, attending a Phish concert is like going “back to the source,” both for the joyful experience of being there, and for the side effect of creative inspiration that follows.
As Runaway Gin prepares to celebrate their 10th anniversary with two days of music at their home venue, the Charleston Pour House (Jan. 12 and 13, 2024), Greenberg himself is fresh off another return to the source, in the form of four nights of Phish at Madison Square Garden to ring in 2024.
“We’ve done a lot of Runaway Gin shows over the years like this,” Greenberg explains. “They come right after big Phish runs. And it’s really my favorite way to do it because it feels like you’re trying to grab something, like water in a bucket, and hold it, and then carry it with you until you get to the show. And then it’s delayed gratification. It’s amazing.”
Water in a Bucket: On Seeing Phish at MSG
Anyone who pays attention to Phish knows that this recent New Year’s Eve run wasn’t just another NYE show. The group pulled out a set known as Gamehendge, Trey Anastasio’s college thesis, which hadn’t been played live in its entirety since 1994.
Of course, this article isn’t about Phish, directly, it’s about Runaway Gin and their 10th anniversary shows, but it’s good to know that Greenberg might be carrying some of that water in his bucket. I couldn’t tell you, exactly, because Greenberg and I spoke before those shows.
“Whenever Phish gets into a long jam– and this is a big part of why I’ve continued to do Runaway Gin –is because there’s this weird thing that clicks in my head. It’s like everything’s right in the world. So I don’t have to pay attention to it anymore. And then I can zone out and pay attention to other things that I can’t normally pay attention to. I don’t know why that happens or what that is. It may be some weird psychological phenomenon, but it’s definitely something that I almost always experience.”
Most of us who have been to Phish shows can relate with a feeling similar to the one that Greenberg describes. Everything about the experience, from the lights, to the crowd, to the music, and the best part– the element of surprise that is always lurking –has the potential to be deeply inspirational, and can influence areas of your life that are far and away from the show itself.
Visiting the Creative Wellspring
“Sometimes you’ll just be standing there and something will hit you, some little thing that you didn’t notice,” Greenberg continues. “And then it ends up permeating into the entire experience for whatever you do after that.”
There’s a historic thread here that traces all the way back to the 1960s and the culture surrounding the Grateful Dead, and continues with 40+ years of Phish (so far), but I’m not setting out to write a book today. There is a long and documented history of Deadheads and Phish fans finding inspiration in the music and going on to collaborate, form bonds, and create great things, even as pioneers of the early internet. In fact, that trend continues right here in this very article.
“There’s no coincidence,” Greenberg says. “It’s a creative wellspring, so to speak. That’s kind of what I feel going to the Phish shows before doing a Runaway Gin run, or just going to Phish shows in general. It’s like going back to the source, you know? And it’s beyond the band. It’s beyond the members of the band. It’s so much bigger than that. There’s something very profound about it, you know?”
The idea of a communal, creative wellspring is what Greenberg strives to recreate with Runaway Gin. It goes beyond simply playing the music of Phish, or songs that Phish covers. According to Greenberg, Runaway Gin is more of a tribute to the idea at the core of Phish.
“This project came about to try and replicate on some level the energy and the feeling that we all get at Phish shows that’s so hard to define,” he says.
So, with Runaway Gin, just as with Phish themselves, there aren’t many rules about what you should expect to see at their shows.
Character (Zero) Acting
“You know, the conundrum with Phish is: How do you play a tribute to Phish? A band that does something different every night,” Greenberg asks. “It’s a paradox. If you do something that’s expected, then you’re really not tributing Phish. Even if you sound exactly like they do, or did, or would.”
The only thing that Greenberg can do in this case, to provide an honest tribute to Phish, is not to emulate any particular member of the band (too much), despite sharing an instrument with Trey Anastasio. Greenberg and Runaway Gin perform a tribute to Phish as themselves, letting their own unique experiences and perspectives dictate the music. They take that core idea and make it their own.
This is how Runaway Gin ended up doing things like Makisupa Police, Man, which was a concept that involved adding music by Sting & The Police to their sets of Phish songs. Then there was Runaway Gin with horns, a collaboration with Mike Quinn of Doom Flamingo (also inspired by Phish’s shows in 1991 with Big Country Horns).
“I think that that was the idea behind the Police concept that we did,” Greenberg explains. “We noticed that our jams were going in different directions and it felt like the thing that was tethering us on some level was that we were using Phish songs as a launching pad to jam. So at that point, the idea was to use a different launching pad to the jam and see how it would differ for variety and just for, you know, for fun.”
What to Expect from the 10th Anniversary Shows
For the shows at Charleston Pour House on January 12th and 13th, Runaway Gin have some special things planned (and not planned), but I couldn’t get much out of Greenberg in terms of what to expect, musically. Considering the rest of our conversation, this is on brand.
“I mean, I have a lot of ideas, but we never really know what’s going to happen. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. And all I can do is try and steer the boat in the right direction based on the information that has been conveyed to me and my own take on it. And that’s my ideas and everybody’s ideas, kind of synthesizing them together and trying to make something that’s conducive for the vibe. For a really, you know, positive vibe where it’s not… it’s just, you know… — pure love, essentially. So I think it’s going to be all geared towards that. Yeah. There’s definitely no rules, not even all Phish songs.”
Night One: Friday, January 12th (TICKETS)
Ten years to the date from their first-ever show on the Charleston Pour House deck, they’ll be joined by Bobby Hogg and John Pope, part of the longest-running Runaway Gin lineup that also featured the late John Fitzgerald. Current keyboardist Jen Reiser will also be in the mix.
“Essentially what we’re going to do is a play on the current lineup and interfuse historical things that we’ve done with the older lineup,” Greenberg reveals.
On the deck prior to the show will be the return of the JJ Cale tribute featuring Jim Rubush on guitar alongside fellow Little Bird members Noah Jones (keys), Oleg Terentiev (drums), and Ben Mossman (bass), plus Jonathan Peace of Lureto and Persona La Ave on drums.
Night Two: Saturday, January 13th (TICKETS)
The second night brings another unique lineup, with Sean Bing and Tim Khayat from the most recent lineup, prior to the current one featuring Jennifer Resier on keys, Karl Anderson on drums and David Katilius, or DKat, on bass.
Mike Quinn will also be joining with the horn section from the two ‘Brass Apparatus’ shows in early 2023.
On the deck prior to the show is a tribute to Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder by Jeff Caldwell alongside Oleg Terentiev, Noah Jones & Ben Mossman of Little Bird.
“I think by fusing the original lineup with the current lineup, and then the last lineup with the current lineup, it’s going to act as a conduit to supercharge the band as we turn the corner into 10 years. Turn everything that we’ve learned into almost a thesis statement and present it to ourselves and the crowd in real time.”
We’re ready to expect two nights of unexpected musical shenanigans at the Charleston Pour House January 12th and 13th. Here’s to many more years of going down to the well with Runaway Gin.