It’s 5:55 p.m. on the Friday night before New Year’s, and I’m sipping my second (okay, third) IPA at a bar around the corner from Madison Square Garden. I’m with my friend Jerry and a couple of his friends from high school, and we’re all super pumped, because we’re heading to Madison Square Garden to see Phish kick off their annual four-night New Year’s run. To us and the thousands of other Phish fans who flock to the Garden at this time every year, December in New York has become more synonymous with Phish than the window displays at Macy’s, and the bartender knows this all too well. He’s blasting Phish and the Grateful Dead, clearly playing to his audience, and everyone’s singing along, smiling, laughing. It feels cozy in there, more like a rustic Vermont brewery than a random sports bar on one of the most annoying, garbage-lined streets of New York.
To an outsider, all Phish fans might look alike, but if you know anything about the band’s complicated fandom, this is the sort of place you’d likely find one of their early fans — otherwise known as a “1.0.”
One thing to know about Phish, if you know nothing else about Phish, is that they are, more than anything else, a live band. Sure, they have studio albums, and yes, there is a time and a place to listen to those — but the true heart of Phish, the one that’s created such a vibrant and character-filled following, the one that brings boatloads of Phish fans to New York for the New Year’s run year after year after year, the one that leaves outsiders baffled when they see a random blurry-eyed dude strolling down Broadway searching for his “girlfriend” Molly, lies in the magic of the live performances. And that’s where the whole 1.0 thing comes in.
Calling yourself or anyone else a 1.0 is part of a totally geeky, era-based ranking system that Phish fans have developed over the years, one that’s based on the three overall eras Phish has been together between their two breakups. It also translates to when you attended your first show. As a journalist who also happens to be a huge Phish fan, I consider it my civic duty to break down this nuanced system for you, to help you better understand the massive blob of glitter and glowsticks that has taken over New York this week. Phish is a touring band that’s been around for a really, really long time. And as the band has evolved and the world has evolved, the fanbase has evolved with it.
With that in mind, let’s get into the technical definitions. 1.0s saw Phish live for the first time at some point between the band’s formation in 1983 and their first hiatus in 2000, when Phish told their fans that they needed to take a break. 1.0s are, in many ways, the Phish equivalent of the hippie mom who sent her kids to school with organic kale chips way before wellness was cool — the true OGs of the bunch. They love to reminisce about the days when they had to buy wristbands at their local video store just to qualify them to get in line to buy tickets, or the time they spent following Phish to random college towns back before they got big.
Next up is my group, which is the smallest — the somewhat elusive 2.0s. We saw our first show at some point after Phish came back from their hiatus in 2002, and before they officially broke up in 2004, which was largely a result of lead singer Trey Anastasio’s drug use. Sadly, our era is often defined by Trey’s less-than-stellar performance, as he was at his ultimate musical low right when we started seeing him live. He also released a self-titled solo album during our era, and while I can’t speak for all 2.0s on this one, I know that I certainly developed an extra-special soft spot for him during this time — which is why I’m so happy to see him healthy and sober now.
Finally, Phish 3.0s are the newbies, and perhaps the most controversial and overanalyzed of the bunch, because lots of them — but certainly not all of them — have a whole different vibe going on. They’re the ones who just started seeing shows in 2009, when Phish got back together after their breakup, led by a newly sober Trey. (He’s been sober now since 2006.) For many 3.0s, this timing was mostly a result of simply being younger, or learning about Phish from older siblings or friends during the breakup, and having to wait it out until they could see a show live. That’s certainly what happened with Paul Campagna, 32, who I spoke with during set break at Friday night’s show. “I listened to Phish a lot in high school, but never made it to a show, and then I was in college during the breakup years,” he explained. “So as soon as Phish got back together, my friend Eric and I started going.”
Regardless of how they fell into their 3.0 fandom, though, the 2009 kickoff timing ultimately means that 3.0s are coming up in a totally different, hyperconnected live Phish world. There are iPhones now, and Spotify, and Instagram, and the face-value ticket company CashorTrade, and other technological advancements that change the entire experience. For 3.0s, everything is just a little more accessible than it was during earlier times, and Phish plays bigger cities for longer amounts of time, which makes it easier to go to shows for multiple days in a row. The 3.0s I know are super dedicated to showing up and have been to far more shows than I have at this point, many approaching or past 100 (I’m around 40 or so, I think, though I don’t keep track).
There’s even an extremely devoted and well-known fan group called the “Moo Crew,” led by some 3.0s (though it’s not limited to 3.0s). Members of “the herd,” as they also call themselves, come from all over the country and often dress up in cow gear during the shows (think cow ears and shirts). They even release cow-print balloons into the free-range field of Madison Square Garden’s general-admission floor during set breaks.
But perhaps the biggest distinction between 3.0s and 2.0s and 1.0s is that, as products of the EDM culture of the late 2000s, many 3.0s often take molly now, too, which is a far cry from the more relaxed weed and wine situation we 1.0s and 2.0s tend to prefer. (“Dude, it drives me nuts when the ‘molly generation’ goes for the scene and not the music,” Jerry wails back before the show.) This EDM-adjacency also means that, unlike 1.0s and 2.0s, who tend to show up to shows wearing hoodies with stash pockets for joints or maybe even a fleece if we’re feeling crazy, 3.0s are often dressed to impress. You can always spot a classic 3.0 in the wild at a show because they’re likely decked out in rave gear, like glitter and mardi gras beads and possible swag.
While most fans agree that the ranking system doesn’t really matter, and that we’re all ultimately there to just have a good time together, each group is also down to throw some quick shade at the others when prompted — all in good fun, of course. There’s a 1.0 guy on YouTube named FZappa420 who nicknamed a particular breed of 3.0s “chompers,” for example. “Chompers are basically just 3.0s who are so enthusiastic about the regular shit,” explains Matt Simon, a 44-year-old 1.0 who started going to shows in the early ’90s. “It’s like this big huge event for them, where they’re buying all of the beers and spilling all of the beers, and it’s more about being at an event where it’s okay to do designer drugs than it is about the music.” 3.0s aren’t always full of rave reviews for 1.0s and 2.0s, either. One 3.0 I spoke with, who prefers to remain anonymous, points out that there’s “definitely a bit of a jaded vet mentality” among the OG crew.
Ultimately, though, while the ranking system is an interesting view into how a band’s fandom changes over time, Phish shows are all about the community and the friendships that form around them. Because after all of the beers spilled and the joints passed and the vape pens lost and the molly consumed, it’s really about the energy you feel at a show — no matter if you’re wearing cow ears or a stash-pocket hoodie.