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Anastasio Sees A Harmonic Convergence

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By ROGER CATLIN, Courant Rock Critic

On paper, there would seem little common ground in a panel consisting of Grateful Dead founder Bob Weir, opera star Beverly Sills and jazz musician Nicholas Payton.

But to Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, last to be added for the Connecticut Forum's sold-out "The Power of Music" panel discussion tonight at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, it's a dream combination. "It couldn't be better," he says by phone from his Vermont home.

It may seem that the 37-year-old guitarist would have the most in common with Weir, whose band - like Anastasio's - commanded huge, loyal, migrating audiences for their jam-based rock.

But Anastasio says he has much admiration for the other two as well.

"I've always wanted to meet Nicholas Payton," he says. "His album with Doc Cheatham is one of the three or four albums my wife and I play in our house. I've played that record 5,000 times."

Even the classical connection works for him. "When I was learning music, I would only listen to classical music - a lot of my favorite composers were those from the turn of the century - Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky - because of their harmonic content. I tried to inject some of that in Phish."

Besides, he's anxious to talk to Sills because of her skills as an arts administrator, currently chairwoman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and a member of the board of the Metropolitan Opera. One of Anastasio's many current projects is getting a music-education program started in his home state.

If there are any rock fans who scored tickets for the event tonight, though, it's likely so they can hear the unique forum for Weir and Anastasio.

"I've met Bob Weir a couple of times, played music with him and been influenced by him all though high school years and college and beyond, obviously," Anastasio says. "He played with Phish in San Francisco at the Shoreline Amphitheater, in the last six months before our break."

The break for Phish, which began in October 2000, meant heartbreak for fans whose lives revolved around following the group's shows year in and year out. But the hiatus is something band members desperately needed, Anastasio says.

"We were touring so much we didn't have a chance to get a handle on the office," he says. More important, there were personal lives to attend to.

"You gotta realize, that for the last six or 10 years - and I'd go back to 12 years - our schedule was planned out a year and a half in advance at all times," he says. "I always knew everything I'd be doing 18 months later. That's just the way it is. You have to plan a tour six months in advance. And if you book a tour, you know when you finish the tour, you'll probably record an album. So you're always thinking a good year out."

Still, Anastasio doesn't want to give the impression that fans boxed the band into the corner of constant tours.

"We've been thinking a lot about this," he says. "It's important for people to know. You can say it was kind of a drag, you know, but really, it was fantastic. Everything about it was fantastic."

Keyboardist "Page [McConnell] and I got together yesterday talking about this, and I do worry that people will get the wrong idea," Anastasio says. Though the years with Phish were often up and down, he says, "I love roller coaster rides."

Still, he adds, "I know I had a lot of personal issues to deal with that I needed to deal with."

And so did the others. "People are buying houses and having babies and things," he says.

"And we all did a lot of stuff we wanted to do."

For Anastasio, that meant scoring Phish music for a children's choir; recording and touring with the supergroup Oysterhead, alongside Primus bassist Les Claypool and ex-Police drummer Stewart Copland; and touring in front of his own band last summer.

Another tour with the solo band is due in the spring when the album he's working on is released.

"I'm having a great time working on the album right now," Anastasio say