To their fans, Phish are not just a band, they're a way of life. Although the group's studio albums sell well enough, Phish are primarily a live phenomenon: the living, breathing, noodling embodiment of the term "jam band." Like Deadheads before them, Phish fans have followed the group city to city, traded bootleg tapes with the band's blessings, and feverishly debate the merits of past gigs (Phish never plays the same set twice). By nurturing this grass-roots following, Phish bypassed commercial radio and evolved over the course of a decade into one of—if not the— hottest live attractions in America.
The band first came together in drummer John Fishman's dorm room at the University of Vermont. Fellow students Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth brought their guitars by to jam, and they were later joined by bassist Mike Gordon, who answered a bulletin-board ad posted by Anastasio. Fan Page McConnell, a student at Goddard College, joined as a keyboardist in 1985, and Holdsworth left the following year. Early performances around this time also featured percussionist Marc Daubert, as well as occasional appearances by the enigmatic singer Dude of Life (with whom the band would later record the album Crimes of the Mind.).
In 1988 Phish recorded its first album, Junta, which was sold as a cassette at gigs. By the time the band released its second album, Lawn Boy (1990), on the independent label Absolute A-Go-Go, Phish's growing fan base had begun to establish a presence on the fledgling Internet at Phish.Net. Elektra signed the group a year later and released A Picture of Nectar in 1992, followed by reissues of Lawn Boy and Junta.
Beginning with 1993's Rift (Number 51), the band's popularity began to translate into chart success. The following year's Hoist, which spawned Phish's only video (for "Down With Disease"), went to Number 34, followed by 1995's double disc A Live One (Number 18), Billy Breathes (Number Seven, 1996), the live Slip, Stitch, & Pass (Number 17,