Big Phish Small Pond: America’s biggest jam band comes to Arkansas

Phish / Courtesy photo

On July 28, the band Phish will open their 2021 Summer Tour at the Walmart AMP.

I thought as a native Arkansan and huge Phish Phan, (my first show was at The Memphis Pyramid on 9-29-99 which is cool because not many people can say they’ve seen a Phish show inside a Bass Pro Shop) I might explain to the people of Northwest Arkansas what is going to happen around those days and how you can best prepare for the experience.

Come July 27 you may smell the scent of patchouli wafting through the air. That is how you’ll know the hippies have descended on the region. Phish fans are a peaceful group who typically congregate in drum circles, campgrounds, and parking lots outside the venue looking for cold beer and tickets to the show.

We Phish Phans speak our own language that few can understand. So if you are heading to your first show here are a few terms you should know:

Wook – Super Phan, named because their dreadlocks and beard often make them look similar to Chewbacca, the wookie from Star Wars.

TMWSIY – The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday a.k.a. Trey’s thesis. A song cycle created by Trey Anastasio, lead guitarist, for his senior project at Goddard College. Many of the songs would go on to become Phish staples.

Jams – Long extended versions of songs. This is why many Phish Phans come to shows.

Lyrics – Optional.

Page Side – The left side of the audience closest to keyboard player Page McConnell.

Mike Side – The right side of the audience closest to bassist Mike Gordon. These designations are used to find your group or meet up with people. Example: “Second set meet me down front on the Page Side. Page Side, rage side!”

White Whale (Moby Dick Reference) – Because every Phish Live show is different, a Phan could see 100 shows but never hear one certain song. That is their White Whale. Mine is “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley” (Trey, are you listening?).

Vacuum – (Instrument) Jon Fishman, drummer and namesake of the band, is known to step out from behind his kit and play his college vacuum from time to time.

The Lot – Where Phans start to gather typically hours before the show.

Shakedown – Subsection of The Lot, named for the Grateful Dead song, Shakedown Street. The Shakedown is the spot you can find bootleg shirts, glass, grilled cheese sandwiches, and so much more for sale.

“This is not a walkway!” – An expression used in general admission seating areas to designate your dancing space is not accessible.

Once you’ve mastered these terms you’ll have a good handle on the scene. Despite what you may have been told, not every Wook is on drugs. But some people are and that’s alright, just don’t be a bubblegummer.

What’s a bubblegummer you ask? Remember in Pulp Fiction when John Travotla asks Eric Stolz to stab Uma Thurmond with the adrenaline shot to save her from a heroin overdose. Stolz says “I never done this before, my friends aren’t bubblegummers, they know how to handle their $#!*”

Tip One: Don’t be a bubblegummer. Know what you are eating and don’t eat so much that you convulse on the floor and foam at the mouth. And if you see someone falling out, call the paramedics and make sure they get the help they need. Once the medics arrive and have the situation under control, don’t be afraid to step over the body and walk away. Don’t let a bubblegummer ruin your show.

Tip Two: Never leave a Phan behind. Even the sharpest of people can get caught up in the sights and sounds of a Phish show. Some of the best people watching in the world can also lead to a lost friend so stay together and have a meet up spot in case someone does get lost.

Tip Three: Drink lots of water. I mean gallons. This show is in JULY in ARKANSAS!!! Drugs and alcohol dehydrate you and if you are going to dance as hard as me and my crew you’re going to need to stay hydrated. Bring a refillable water bottle or if you are going to buy water at the venue bring your own bottle cap so you can recap your water and not kick it over in the middle of that sick Timber jam.

Tip Four: Have a good time. In the end a Phish show is equal parts concert, religious experience, and sweaty mess. You may not know a single song or get all the references but in the end if you surrender to the flow, I guarantee you will have a great time…as long as the cops are cool.

Jeff Poole is the CEO of Piper Golf, golf company for Phish Phans. Check out some events Piper has planned around the Phish tour opener in Rogers at