It’s not hard to see who Phish guitarist and singer Trey Anastasio most closely resembles in terms of historical precursors. Penchant for extensive jamming? Check. Cultishly devoted following? Previous playing experience with his heroes in question? Check. All of these signs point to an obvious answer: Neil Young, of course!
Sure, the rest of the world might be crying out to make Anastasio the new Jerry Garcia, but Anastasio’s influences extend far beyond just the world of the Grateful Dead. As the Phish guitarist explained to Rolling Stone, Young’s unique guitar style was an invaluable asset to Anastasio when he was first learning the instrument, and it would be one of the pillars that he would build any aspiring guitarist’s foundation on.
“If I was ever going to teach a master class to young guitarists, the first thing I would play them is the first minute of Neil Young’s original ‘Down by the River’ solo,” Anastasio explains. “It’s one-note, but it’s so melodic, and it just snarls with attitude and anger. It’s like he desperately wants to connect. Neil’s playing is like an open tube from his heart right to the audience.”
“Traditional concepts of rhythm and keys are great, but music is like a giant ocean,” he adds. “It’s a big, furious place, and there are a lot of trenches that haven’t been explored. Neil is still blazing a trail for people who are younger than him, reminding us you can break artistic ground.”
Anastasio actually got to fulfil what was most assuredly a childhood fantasy when Phish were on the bill for the 1998 edition of Young’s festival Farm Aid. Taking the band’s signature ability to stretch out any song to epic lengths, Phish welcomed Young on stage to push the already nine-minute ‘Down by the River’ to an epic 20-minute guitar extravaganza.
Anastasio and Young trade jagged riffs, with Anastasio doing his best to roughen up his fluid style and Young ploughing forward with his signature sound. The results come straight from jam band heaven as Young and Phish make an unlikely but ultimately entrancing pair.
Check out the performance of ‘Down By the River’ down below.