“Gin Terr is Coming” warns the tour poster for Runaway Gin’s Fall 2019 tour. Savannah Phish fans will get a chance to see why Charleston’s Runaway Gin was voted the best Phish tribute in the world two years in a row when they take their jam to Victory North on Thursday, Oct. 17.
Phish fans are a breed apart from regular music lovers, with a loyal devotion that leads them to see the band perform live sometimes dozens of times. Andy Greenberg, Runaway Gin’s guitarist and vocalist, has seen nearly 200 Phish shows, so far. “That’s dedication, right?” said Greenberg.Get Savannah arts & culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and food newsletters
Runaway Gin, which consists of longtime Phish fans Greenberg, Bobby Hogg (bass, vocals), John Fitzgerald (keyboards, vocals), and John Pope (drums, vocals), formed in 2014 with the intent of creating an authentic Phish experience through extended jams and accurate song transcriptions.
Greenberg has performed in other tribute projects dedicated to Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, and Beck, but he prefers the improvisational freedom that comes with Phish’s music.
“With the other bands, the improv is just something we insert on top of the regular songs,” explained Greenberg. “With Phish, the crowd that comes out is definitely really interested in the jams, as much as the actual songs. After over 300 shows with this band we still are playing different shows every time and nothing has really gotten old. The shear potential of playing tons and tons of shows and being able to make it different every time.”
It’s not enough to just play the songs and jam — Runaway Gin earn the title of best Phish tribute band because they accurately recreate Phish’s sound, as well. Greenberg goes so far as to play a Languedoc guitar similar to the one used by Phish’s guitarist, Trey Anastasio, along with a similar bank of effects pedals. “Trying to emulate that tone is a huge part of it,” said Greenberg. “I try to emulate his tone more than I emulate his playing style—and I do try to emulate his playing style—so that is saying a lot.”
Runaway Gin have learned over 200 Phish songs, so far, and work hard at keeping them in rotation to keep the shows fresh. That is a lot of music to memorize. “That is probably the most difficult thing,” said Greenberg. “There aren’t that many bands that have songs that are composed as complex as Phish. The only other bands I can think of that would are Yes or Frank Zappa or Steely Dan. That’s the main difficulty off-the-bat. Anyone can get up there and jam.”
Of course, jamming offers it’s own challenges. “That is the second most difficult thing, is getting to that point where you can jam for 20 or 30 minutes on a song and keep it interesting.”
Like Phish, Runaway Gin has developed a loyal fanbase that follows them on tour. Repeat audiences can expect a unique experience every time. “We definitely have people who travel with us from show to show which is awesome to think that someone would get in their car and drive that distance to see us play,” said Greenberg. “We take that seriously and don’t repeat songs or anything that will make them regret that decision, or think that we’re not keeping it fresh. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a huge compliment to us.”