20 Cool Things We Learned About Phish’s WaterWheel Foundation on Its 20th Birthday

March 16, 2017


Happy Anniversary, WaterWheel!

Trying to name every single awesome thing that Phish’s WaterWheel Foundation has done over the past two decades is kind of like trying to scoop your way through a pint of Phish Food without eating a single delectably fudgy fish. In other words: impossible!

But we gave it a shot anyway. Here are 20 fascinating facts, charity highlights, and backstage insights in honor of WaterWheel’s 20th birthday. Enjoy!

1. Phish created WaterWheel in 1997 to guide and manage all its charitable work. In fact, WaterWheel was launched on the same night that a certain ice cream flavor was introduced to the world, all part of an epic concert in Burlington, Vermont. 

2. Ice cream flavor? Yes, well, like WaterWheel, Phish Food is still doing good and making people happy twenty years later.

Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream pints

3. You might have heard of the four great humans who started WaterWheel: Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell. Not many know this, but they also appear to have achieved a certain amount of success with their side project, Phish.

4. It’s all about local. “Think globally, act locally” is WaterWheel’s mantra. It has donated about $1 million to Vermont-based non-profits.

5. Just like Phish, WaterWheel has its roots in Vermont, but it’s constantly on the move. Its Touring Division supports organizations in every community that Phish visits on tour. That’s how local goes global.

6. The Touring Division sets up a table at every concert with local non-profits and then donates all proceeds to those non-profits. Since 1997, the Touring Division has donated a total of $1.8 million.

Phish WaterWheel Foundation

7. Lake Champlain may not technically be a Great Lake, but everyone here in Vermont, New York, and Quebec thinks it’s pretty great anyway. WaterWheel has raised about $2.5 million to keep it clean for generations to come.

8. Vermont was hit with massive flooding in 2011 after Hurricane Irene blasted our state and, within weeks, Phish and WaterWheel stepped up with a benefit concert that raised $1.2 million for the recovery effort!

9. WaterWheel has a fever… for more cowbell. On its 15th anniversary, Jon Fishman led a cowbell-clanging crowd of more than 1600 strong down Church Street in Burlington, breaking a world record.



10. At Phish’s 2016 Magnaball festival in Watkins Glen, NY, WaterWheel partnered with Reverb to reduce waste. They kept 59,269 plastic bottles from ending up in landfills AND they raised over $100,000!

Phish's WaterWheel Foundation

11. Let’s talk about Jim Pollock for a second. Jim has been Phish’s premier artist forever, not to mention a great friend to WaterWheel. All his posters and T-shirts have raised a lot of $$$ to help a lot of people.

Phish's WaterWheel Foundation

12. Touring can generate tons of waste and leave a substantial carbon footprint. So, partnering with Reverb over the past nine years, WaterWheel has worked to coordinate the “greening” of Phish tours.

13. All the buses that Phish’s crew take on tour now run on biodiesel (WaterWheel used 14,313 gallons of locally sourced biodiesel in 2016).

Phish's WaterWheel Foundation

14. In 2016, WaterWheel looked to reduce waste and carbon emissions and support local food systems:

  • 124.9 tons of CO2 eliminated
  • 47,700 gallons of recyclable materials diverted from landfills
  • More than 8,000 single-use plastic bottles kept from being used backstage
  • 43 local family farms and artisans supported throughout the tour
  • 2480 lb. of prepared food donated, creating 2065 meals for hunger-relief efforts in local communities

15. In 2012 WaterWheel had an idea: why not host an awesome party before the big party? These Preshow Celebrations are now held a few times a year at various Phish tour venues and have been a big hit (raising $35K-$55K per event).

Phish concert ticket

16. Before WaterWheel there was G-Crew. The Green Crew started out way back as a recycling program. Now they collect thousands of bags of recyclables on every Phish tour.

17. Without its amazing staff, volunteers, and interns, WaterWheel simply could not exist. Other than a few paid seasonal staff members, the whole organization is run by volunteers, some of whom have been with WaterWheel for many years.

18. WaterWheel also relies on the generous community of fans that have grown around Phish. Phish donates $1 per ticket sold to WaterWheel and the fans match that amount every year.

19. Did you know that there’s WaterWheel merchandise? There is! You can get it from the WaterWheel tables at shows, of course, but you can also buy some right here. Every item you purchase helps WaterWheel raise more funds.

Phish t-shirts

20. If you can’t get out to see Phish while they’re on tour, you can still make a difference. Keep the WaterWheel turning by donating today