BURLINGTON — Thirty years ago when Phish cut its first, self-titled album, the band was just another group of University of Vermont students trying to make a go of it on the local gig circuit.
But unlike most bands, Phish quickly became a national phenom with a cult following. The “jam” band mashed musical genres — bluegrass, rock, jazz, blues, country and funk — in a fusion of mellow sound that appealed to an alt-rock fan base.
The four-man group has cut 16 albums and sold more than 8 million copies. Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman and Page McConnell spent their formative years in Burlington and played together for 15 years. After a hiatus, the group began performing together again in 2009.
“Phish in the North Country,” a new exhibit in Burlington that opened Saturday at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery celebrates the band’s trajectory from 1983 to the present. Forty-nine fliers, posters and other pieces of memorabilia intimately narrate Phish’s story.
John Killacky, the executive director of the Flynn Center in Burlington, which runs the gallery, says the fliers and posters are a “snapshot of history.”
“It’s (about) the local band that made good, and Phish has a multi-generational fan base,” Killacky said.
Fliers and posters feature Phish performances in the early days at Nectar’s and Hunt’s — and at venues that can be reached in hours in a car in Boston, Hartford, Connecticut, and Albany, New York — line the walls. Another room displays Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream containers, newspaper articles, a cow bell, drum stick and T-shirts.
Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro said the earliest fliers were drawn by an individual band mate or group members. The artist Jim Pollock began designing posters for the band in the late 1980s, using a signature block print technique.
One of Pollock’s posters will be auctioned Nov. 4 as benefit for The WaterWheel Foundation, a charity founded by Phish in 1997.
Beth Montuori Rowles, who has worked with Phish for more than two decades, said a portion of the royalties earned from Phish Food funds environmental groups that are involved in Lake Champlain cleanup.
Phish also supports a wide range of nonprofits across the country, including food banks, clean water organizations, arts education for children, youth-at-risk programs, urban gardening groups and health care for the needy, Montuori Rowles said.
Fan buzz about the exhibit has been growing.
“From the reaction that we’ve received from the fans so far, they are pretty excited about the exhibit,” Montuori Rowles said. “I assume they’ll feel what I did when we were choosing the posters and then seeing them up on the wall in the gallery. There’s a bit of nostalgia at remembering some of the best concerts that you’ve ever been to, who you were with and the stories about how you got there. Stories you’ve shared with your still-close friends over time and a pride you feel in being a part of the amazing, spirited and genuine community that has grown up around Phish, which is a big part of why The WaterWheel Foundation is so successful.”