Sixteen years. That's how long Tom Kelly managed the Minnesota Twins, Don Fraser represented Minnesota's Fifth District in Congress and Vikings great Paul Krause played safety in the NFL.
It's also how long it has been since Phish, that essential jam band, has performed in the Twin Cities.
"Wow! That's pretty crazy," said Phish bassist Mike Gordon when informed of the overlong absence that will end Wednesday with the band's concert in St. Paul.
His explanation might not appease Upper Midwest Phishheads but he says it's more about being practical than anything personal about the Twin Cities.
"Twenty-five years ago, we toured nine months a year," he said. "Now we tour six weeks." He explained that the veteran Vermont quartet hits major markets, smaller hamlets and lots of outdoor venues.
In any case, Phish will kick off its summer tour at Xcel Energy Center.
"Expect the unexpected," said Gordon, sounding as joyous and vague as your average Phishhead.
There were a few days of Phish rehearsal here and there but the bassist did lots of personal practicing after the band members discussed possible material via e-mail.
Singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio prepares the nightly set list.
"He works from a long list of ideas," Gordon explained. "There are 40 songs for the first set that are eventually down to seven or eight. It's always a big work in progress."
Will there be a Prince cover? Paul McCartney, Blondie, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Zac Brown Band have saluted the late Minneapolis icon at their Twin Cities concerts.
"We like to avoid what's overdone," Gordon said. "We were big fans. We got to go party at Paisley palace once. He was a powerhouse of creativity."
Declined Dead & Company
Even though Phish is their main gig, the four members have outside activities. For instance, Anastasio worked last year with Fare Thee Well, the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary band, and fronts the Trey Anastasio Band. Keyboardist Page McConnell has put out two solo albums and tours under his own name, and he has three kids. Drummer Jon Fishman tours with the comedy troupe Touchpants and he has five young children.
Gordon, 51, fronts his own band, records and sometimes tours with Minneapolis guitar god Leo Kottke (they've made two albums together) and spends time with his 9-year-old daughter.
"We do daddy/daughter adventures," he said. "We just went to Savannah together."
Gordon has rediscovered pop music by letting his daughter play DJ in the car. "I'm embracing pop for the first time since the mid-'70s," the bassist admitted. "I like getting exposed to different things, not just AAA radio, bluegrass or West African music."
He has warmed up to songs by Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and even Justin Bieber. The one he can't escape is "No" by Meghan Trainor.
"It was appearing as the soundtrack in my dreams whether I wanted it or not," he said.
Gordon's commitments to his daughter and his own band prevented him from accepting a coveted gig last year — bassist with Dead & Company featuring John Mayer and members of the Grateful Dead.
"It's such a dream gig," Gordon said. "I went for a week of rehearsals. I was flattered they wanted me as the first choice for bass. The prospect of doing it was exciting. I love the Grateful Dead."
But there was a Phish album in the works and Gordon was working on his own album. If he accepted the Dead & Company gig, it would have meant waiting another two to three years to make his solo record.
"It was the biggest dream going that I've ever had to say no to," he said, sounding somewhat resigned as the bass slot eventually went to Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers. "Phish has made a career out of saying no to things. We're trying to stay on our own personal paths of integrity."
A meaty Phish
Phish has been working on its 13th studio album with producer Bob Ezrin, who has worked with Alice Cooper, Kiss and Pink Floyd, among others. He was involved with Phish's last recording, 2014's "Fuego."
"Bob gave us an interesting assignment to check out inspirational music to get a more raw emotion," Gordon said of the new project. "He wanted us to carve away the fluff and wordplay."
So the band learned a few cover songs — not to record but to inspire them.
"Indirectly, it had a big effect," Gordon pointed out. "This album is particularly heartfelt. Not ballads or sappy. It's meaty, though I probably shouldn't use that word since I'm a vegetarian."
The studio requires a different approach from Phish in concert. The quartet is known for its improvisational jams onstage. The key to making the jams work is paying attention to what the other three musicians are playing.
"If you're in your own head, then it's going to be horrible," Gordon explained. "The only formula to make sure it works is to listen in a deep way. It sounds simple. But it's a lesson I have to teach myself even after 33 years in this band. If you can listen to everyone else, all else will work."