As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the wild ride that was 2018. For this series of Live For Live Music staff picks, we’ll be reliving many of the glorious musical moments from the past year. Today, we’re revisiting some of the strangest stories of 2018. Enjoy!
Curveball into Vaxt
In the world of Phish, 2018 was a truly eventful year. Some good points, some bad points. But, as is usually the case with this band, it all worked out (and, of course, left many fans more than a little freaked out). As we all remember, Phish’s 11th festival, Curveball, was unceremoniously cancelled in August due to water contamination. The big silver sphere that sat ready to amaze on the festival grounds was deflated before anyone got to see it. Months of planning disappeared into the mist.
On Halloween, Phish invented an “old,” “obscure” band, Kasvot Växt, and “covered” their album as their annual costume. The set and the new original music it produced was overwhelmingly well-received, exciting fans more than any “new Phish” has in quite some time. After the Curveball debacle, the band was back on track and set in a new creative groove—a place they wouldn’t have reached without the festival’s cancellation.
As Trey Anastasio explained in the recently released “Ask Trey” segment on SiriusXM‘s Phish Radio, the band used the Curveball setback as creative inspiration. As Trey explained, after the cancellation, the band asked themselves, “How can we take this loss and turn it into a gift?”
That brainstorming led to an idea about a fake band that was originally gonna be called The Sphere. That brainstorming continued, the band got involved, we kept going, we kept going, we kept going, and eventually we ended up with Kasvot Växt. I can tell you right now, straight up, that wouldn’t have happened if Curveball hadn’t have gotten cancelled.
At this past weekend’s New Year’s celebration at MSG, the introduction of the Kasvot Växt songs into the Phish ecosystem was the big story of the run. Nearly all of the Kasvot material was played during the run, often in exciting placements (like the mid-“Tweezer” jam “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” on night two), and always to enthusiastic audience response. The band finally welcomed the new year by blasting into space with “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, Trey and Mike Gordon flying through the air as they played.
Curveball was a low point, for sure. But it’s all part of the 2018 story—a story that ended with a band on a roll with a new crop of material that the fans love and a renewed excitement for their craft. Talk about turning a negative into a positive…
Grateful Family Ties
The extended Grateful Dead family was frequently in the news in 2018. Bob Weir hit the road with his new band of “Bros,” Phil Lesh played a bunch of memorable shows with his Terrapin Family Band and extended the family ties to the hip-hop community with a very special show at the historic Apollo Theater. The list goes on…
Beyond the music, though, there were a handful of truly strange and amusing stories surrounding the families of the Dead. In August, Courtney Love decided to do some sleuthing about her own ties to the band. In the comments of an Instagram post by John Mayer that pictured him with Mickey Hart and Deadhead NBA legend Bill Walton, Love asked Mayer to investigate a story her father once told her:
My insane father who briefly managed the Warlocks (and apparently stole from them), after dosing me at 4, and loads of other crazy stuff. He told me Phil (Lesh) is my godfather. It may be true. Will you find out? I was too shy to ask in Albany once on tour. Maybe he’s not. I don’t know. And I’ll get you a nice Rolex, John.
Rita Wilson even chimed in on the proposition, noting that she thought it was a really good story. No word on whether this deal ever panned out, but it is pretty fun to think about.
And then, of course, there was the time the Internet freaked out when Bob Weir’s college-aged daughter, Monet Weir, brought her dad along with her girl gang to Coachella to show the longtime rockstar how Millennials party. The video clips are pretty hilarious. We ended up chatting with Bobby and Monet about their Coachella experience and how music has affected their father-daughter relationship. You can read the full interview with Bob and Monet Weir here.
Fyre Festival Fallout
Oh, Fyre Festival, the schadenfreude gift that keeps on giving. The disastrous luxury destination festival that almost took place in spring of 2017. If 2017 was the year of joking about how wrong Fyre Festival went, 2018 was the year of watching the fallout for its oblivious young founder, Billy McFarland, like watching a car wreck through parted fingers—it’s ugly, but you just can’t look away.
Even after his comically catastrophic 2017, McFarland managed to make matters even worse for himself in 2018. In March, McFarland pleaded guilty to fraud charges surrounding Fyre Festival’s monumental fuck-up, and faced up to 40 years in prison. Then, in July, McFarland pleaded guilty to a new set of fraud charges for a new ticket-based scam, which he presumably put together to help recoup his Fyre Festival losses. This time, he sold fake tickets to major events including Coachella, Super Bowl LII, and the MET Gala. According to prosecutors, McFarland scammed 30 people out of at least $150,000 and also attempted to pay an employee with a $25,000 fraudulent check. With the new charges, McFarland faced up to 115 years in prison. In September, ahead of sentencing, McFarland’s lawyers threw up a hail mary, asking for lenient sentencing because their client’s actions were affected by “mental illness” and delusions of grandeur. Yea, no shit.
Luckily, we can all get a closer look at our favorite trainwreck this year when Netflix releases their new documentary about the fabulous failure of Fyre Festival this month.
One of the biggest stories pertaining to live music fans in 2018 was the undercover report in September that revealed that ticketing giant Ticketmaster had been promoting a new service, TradeDesk, that aids scalpers in moving large numbers of secondary market tickets for an additional fee. While Ticketmaster maintained that they hold their TradeDesk clients to the same purchasing restrictions as all ticket buyers, the reports indicated that the service’s sales told potential clients that had a policy of looking the other way on ticket limits. This would allow Ticketmaster to make money off illegally obtained secondary market tickets while maintaining a facade of compliance with their own rules.
Said one Ticketmaster sales representative in the initial report, “I have brokers that have literally a couple of hundred accounts. It’s not something that we look at or report.” Shady, we know.
Ticketmaster put out a statement defending their new platform which did little to dissuade the notion that the whole thing smelled rotten to Ticketmaster’s customers. Later, the U.S. senators behind the BOTS Act (which effectively criminalized the use of ticket bot software to hack websites and purchase tickets before average consumers) stepped in, making an official inquiry about the legality of the TradeDesk service. The company ended up doubling down on their defense of the platform as not violating any rules, and vowed to uphold the same rules for TradeDesk re-sellers as they do for regular ticket consumers—contrary to the promises made by sales reps in the initial reports. Hopefully, being put on blast like this makes Ticketmaster enforce this position. Either way, the whole thing made live music fans even more wary of what goes on behind ticketing curtain than ever before.
Perhaps the strangest, most “2018” narrative that unfolded during last year was the Weezer/Toto “Africa” saga. It all started with a young Weezer. It started in late 2017, when a young Weezer fan named Mary started a Twitter account, @WeezerAfrica, with a singular purpose: Get Weezer to cover Toto‘s oft-meme’d 1982 hit, “Africa”. The joke quickly grew into something much bigger than Mary could’ve imagined.
After the Internet campaign began to pick up viral steam, Weezer finally heard the calls, but not in the way you might expect. What does the Internet love more than “Africa” and a good grassroots social media campaign? Trolling of course. In May, Weezer decided to cover Toto—but not “Africa”. Instead, they debuted a cover of Toto’s other 1982 smash, “Rosanna”. Unsurprisingly, the Internet ate that shit up.
After the Rivers Cuomo-led “Rosanna” cover went viral, the band eventually acquiesced to the Internet’s request, performing “Africa” to close out the month. They later released their rendition of “Africa” as a single—with a screenshot of @TweezerAfrica’s initial tweet as the single art—and the cover’s popularity and amusing backstory have since made it Weezer’s highest-charting hit in years. Toto’s own Steve Porcaro even joined Weezer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! for a rendition of “Africa” in June. Now, Weezer regularly includes the song in their live shows to the wild excitement of their fans. They even welcomed Weird Al Yankovic to shred an accordion solo on their rendition of “Africa” at the L.A. Forum. Later in the summer, Toto themselves threw their hats into this bizarre story, releasing their own cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe”.
The whole Weezer/Africa was even referenced in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch in which Weezer’s “Africa” cover is played at a dinner party and sparks a heated argument about the band among two unlikely die-hard fans played by Leslie Jones and guest host Matt Damon.
Weezer – “Africa” [Toto Cover]