[This article was published in the newspaper distributed on the grounds of the IT Festival twenty years ago in early August 2003 courtesy of Dean Budnick of Relix and his team. I also wish to apologize to the ~87 of you who may have seen this post appear on the home page for a very brief time earlier today. I was planning for this to go "live" on the site Monday morning, but I wasn't paying attention to the publication date, and I managed to briefly publish it on the site earlier today in error. I regret the error. You did not imagine... ... ... it. -charlie]
Since IT was announced, fans began speculating about the meaning of IT. Some immediately thought that Stephen King's book of the same name, published in 1986, inspired IT, because the setting of that horror tale also takes place in Maine. Others thought that maybe the festival got its name because the band and its management often wondered whether they would do "it" again -- that is, put on another festival after the hiatus—and IT stuck. Whatever the meaning of "IT," Phish could not have picked a more ambiguous name for a festival. After all, our nation was recently inundated by marketing for a device originally known as "It," which was (is?) supposed to revolutionize human transportation. (Mike has already played bass on a "Segway Human Transporter" live-in-concert on more than one occasion.)
But what about the history of "IT" before IT became the name of Phish's 2003 festival? What is the (sur)real story behind IT in the improvisational rock community?
For an incalculable period of time, "IT" has referred to the transcendent experience of "getting IT" with respect to the music of a band. IT is not the experience of hearing and suddenly liking the music of a particular band. IT is about having that music grab you in a way that is spiritually profound. Your soul is moved to its core. Your eyes gleam with JOY. You love the music with a passion that is thrilling. You may even want to share IT with the world. (So moved was I by IT that in the early 1990s "IT" was the license plate of my 1976 Chevy Nova, which despite having a 305 V8 engine was still a beat-up POS that you may have seen in the lot at a show in the D.C. area in 1993-95.)
The experience of "getting IT" in this manner appears in non-musical contexts as well, of course. It is usually referred to as a "Eureka" experience. And while some people never get IT with respect to anything at all, it's challenging to even get them to understand IT, and so they are—ironically—not the worse for being oblivious of IT.
Given the ambiguity of IT, it wasn't long before "getting IT" became synonymous with the experience of hearing what is commonly referred to in Phish fan parlance as "Hose." In a National Public Radio interview in Spring 1994, Mike and Trey told the interviewer about how Carlos Santana's philosophy of music had influenced their own perspectives. Trey explained that in trying to improve their improvising as a band, Phish would seek to "get rid of the ego" and avoid "flashy solos" in an effort to make a "group sound." Santana had apparently told them that, in his view, music was like a divinely-inspired water that rushed through them and, as musicians, they functioned like a hose that directed the music through to the audience. As Trey put it, "[T]he audience is like a sea of flowers and you're watering the audience [with the music] . . . you're not actually creating it [and] the best thing that you can do is get out of the way."
Mike then chimed in: "It gets—It really starts to seem like it's not the audience or the band. This Thing that gets rolling is it's OWN Thing. When things are going really well, and a jam has taken off, there's this feeling of motion that is created by the rhythm. And at that point my bass that I'm playing feels like this sortof vehicle, or like a hitch for me to hold on to, like someone would hold on to a  ski lift, maybe. A chair lift. Or just something that would hook you on to the motion that's going, and pull you along with IT."
After the interviewer analogized the experience Trey and Mike had described to water-skiing, Trey then added "[T]he water skiing is a good  analogy when it really gets going  and I think the proof of it is that there are times when you just can't pull IT together and you try and try and try and you're beating your head against the wall and IT's just not happening. And that kindof shows right there that you can't pull IT: IT's got to pull you."
"IT" -- in the sense of "Hose" -- is a concept as mystical as it is slippery. On the one hand, in describing IT to each other, we communicate how music elevates our Being in a fulfilling way. As a shared experience between the band, audience and music, there's a certain amount of objectivity to IT.
On the other hand, IT is an intimate state of consciousness that is intrinsically subjective. A "Wolfman's Brother" that one fan believes contained "Hose" could have accompanied another fan's odyssey to the john. Someone could "get IT" from the most ordinary version of "Sparkle," in which there isn't even a hint of "Hose." They might nevertheless claim to have been "hosed down" or "hosed off" by that "Sparkle"—and they wouldn't be wrong.
Some fans, in a futile effort to preserve the integrity of their definition of "Hose," reserve the use of "Hose" to describe improvisation that not only (objectively) transcends or leaves the typical structure of a song, but also (subjectively) "clicks" in a spectacular way. One can find this jam where, for example, an ego-free "group sound" seems to arise while the band simultaneously deconstructs the composed structure of the song in which (or out of which) the jam occurs. It’s typically improvisation that sounds more like composed, melodious music than improvisation. There are a multitude of Phish performances that represent what these fans understand to be "Hose." Check out, for example, the Murat Bathtub Gin (08/13/93), the Orpheum Bowie (11/26/94), the Bozeman Tweezer (11/28/94), the Madison Antelope (10/24/95), the Orlando Stash (11/14/95), the Albany YEMs (05/05/93, 12/09/95, 10/10/99), the Vegas Simple (12/06/96), the Deer Creek Cities (08/10/97), the Gorge Seven Below (07/13/03), and so on. In fact, some fans insist that entire sets of Phish are "Hosefests." Sets that include, for example, the second sets of Bomb Factory (05/07/94), Denver (11/17/97), and West Valley (7/15/03). "The Show"—Cypress late night, 12/31/99—is regarded by some as a “Golden Hose” marathon.
No matter how one defines "Hose" or "IT" for him or herself, why did Phish call their 2003 festival "IT" ? Unsurprisingly, you’ll probably get a different answer depending on whom you ask and what they had for breakfast. In an interview published in High Times (August 2003), Mike Gordon was directly asked “What does the ‘It’ name signify?” In enigmatic fashion, Mike cryptically explained: “I’ve generally been the namer of the festivals. I come up with long lists. I had two long lists. ‘It’ was the second-to-last one on the second one. I think the last one was just one letter, but I can’t remember which letter. Maybe it was a punctuation mark. We batted ‘It’ around. People like ‘It.’ We just start brainstorming.”
Although IT will always be an ambiguous term in the Phish community, the beauty of IT is that it means whatever you want it to mean—and nothing should change that.