The Story of How A Band,
Their Fans and Ice Cream Are Protecting A Lake
Phish from Vermont
Since 1983 Phish have pioneered a genre-defying style of improvisational rock and earned themselves one of the most devoted fan bases of all time. They are unlikely rock gods. They’ve never had a hit single, they made one music video that went nowhere. They’re just four guys who met at college in Vermont and loved to practice, loved to play, and were committed to giving their fans a transcendent experience every night.
Phish are guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboardist Page McConnell. They got their start playing three sets a night in the college bars of Burlington, Vermont. They grew slowly and through word of mouth. Their concerts were events—full of theatrics, audience participation, and virtuosic playing. The band devoured every type of musical influence you could name, mixed it all up, and came up with a sound uniquely their own.
They were called the most important band of the 1990s by Rolling Stone and capped off that decade with 90,000 people at their millennial festival in the Florida Everglades. They basically wrote the book on the modern rock festival.
Last year Phish celebrated their 30th anniversary with a string of sold out shows at Madison Square Garden. In 2014 they released their 12th studio album, Fuego and have toured extensively behind it.
Phish at Bonnaroo, June 2012
For fans of the band, the history is cherished but the future is what it’s all about. Because Phish has never played the same show twice, the thrill of discovery is still there. The best show...is the next show.
View our 17 favorite moments from the band here.
Let’s Get the Show on the Road
On March 18th, 1997, Ben & Jerry’s and Vermont-based jam band Phish launched Phish Food® with a special one-off show and ice cream bash at Burlington Vermont’s intimate and very-sold-out Flynn Theatre. Local radio was on hand to broadcast the show to fans around the state.
Phish at the Flynn, March 1997
As the curtain went up, Ben and Jerry took the stage to introduce the flavor and the band. Ben explained that working together to create the ice cream flavor was born out mutual respect and "a real spiritual connection."
For the band it was the first and only time they’ve licensed their name to a product. For Ben and Jerry, it was one of the only times they’ve allowed outside individuals to drive the flavor creation (Ben wanted raspberry in the flavor and the band demanded caramel). What united both sides was deep passion for the environment in their home state of Vermont.
Phish opened the show with their first ever rendition of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl. After almost three hours of music and numerous special guests, guitarist Trey Anastasio ended the show with a happy birthday wish to Ben, a thank-you to Ben, Jerry, and everyone present for helping out Lake Champlain.
Trey, Ben and Jerry Backstage at the Flynn, March 1997
The Flynn show marked the birth of one of our most popular flavors, the first of many special events dreamt up by Phish and Ben & Jerry’s, and the organization of Phish’s charitable juggernaut, the WaterWheel Foundation.
You can download a very special EP of that show here.
The WaterWheel Foundation
According to drummer John Fishman, the inspiration for doing the ice cream flavor was Paul Newman’s success raising money with Newman’s Own products.
The band members all agreed to funnel their royalties from Phish Food towards environmental causes. They were particularly interested in cleaning up Lake Champlain, the 125 mile long lake on the border of Vermont, New York, and the Canadian province of Quebec. To make sure their dollars were used most effectively they decided to create their own foundation. Drummer Jon Fishman credits bass player, Mike Gordon with coming up with the name for the WaterWheel Foundation.
“He’s good at names. Everyone liked the idea of the waterwheel being this thing that harnessed the power of water moving by. We thought that maybe just by being out there doing our thing, we could be doing some good.”
The WaterWheel Foundation’s primary mission became the clean up of the Lake Champlain watershed from years of pollution. Wastewater systems, less-than-ideal agricultural practices, and runoff associated with sprawl were greatly damaging the beauty and health of the prized and important community resource.
The band instituted a philosophy of giving money over lengthy periods of time to coordinated groups of small organizations that worked with low overhead and demonstrated clear results. As the years have gone by the mission has expanded. A touring division supported by fans and ticket sales has contributed to over 500 non-profits in each community Phish plays. The Foundation tables in the halls or on the concert grounds of each show, often bringing in members of the local non-profits to meet fans and explain their causes.
The WaterWheel Foundation Tent at Randall's Island, July 2014
“The WaterWheel Foundation chooses non-profits from a large sphere of needs including social services, primarily those benefitting women and children; environmental, with a focus on clean water and land conservation with public access; as well as food banks, urban gardening and the like,” says Phish General Manager, Beth Montouri-Rowles.
The Story Under the Lid
Chocolate ice cream with gooey marshmallow, caramel swirls & fudge fish. It’s delicious, but how did it come to be? Ben had been pondering the lack of a good marshmallow ice cream for years. “Most attempts at marshmallow were whispy. You can see the white streaks but you can't taste them, you can't feel them, you can't experience the true glorious marshmallowness of it all,” Ben remembers.
As the wheel started turning on the Phish collaboration, he saw an opportunity to solve the marshmallow conundrum once and for all. Starting with a base of rich chocolate ice cream, he and the flavor development team started bringing the band test pints of the evolving flavor concoction. That’s when things got interesting. According to Jerry, Phish wasn’t just going to rubber stamp whatever we brought to them.
“We ate a lot of test pints around the table with Phish. We’ve done flavors with other artists and entities, but nobody was more involved in creating the flavor than Phish was,” Jerry says.
The band was instrumental in calling for caramel swirl. An addition that pushed the flavor over the top. Together, we made one of our most iconic flavors.
Ben & Jerry’s and the WaterWheel Foundation have gone on to collaborate on numerous special events and concerts across the country.
The two organizations celebrated their 15 year partnership with drummer Jon Fishman leading the world’s largest cowbell ensemble and raising money for victims of Hurricane Irene. When Mike Gordon released an album everyone got together for a free concert in front of the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop in the legendary Haight neighborhood of San Francisco.
Ben & Jerry’s can often be found at Phish shows and festivals serving-up free ice cream and working to get the word out about causes near and dear to us, as well as the WaterWheel Foundation. Most recently we dished Phish Food and rallied support for GMO labeling laws at the band’s three night stand on New York’s Randall’s Island.
Phish at Randall's Island, July 2014
To support the good work of the WaterWheel Foundation, just pick up a pint of Phish Food at your local store!
Or merchandise can be purchased on the road and via Phish Dry Goods
To contact WaterWheel email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to WaterWheel, PO Box 4400, Burlington VT 05406-4400.