The musical possibilities are endless for nationally recognized Charleston Phish tribute band Runaway Gin | High Eye Photography

Over the last eight years, Charleston’s own Runaway Gin has cemented a national reputation as one of the most active and highly regarded Phish tribute projects in America. The blossoming jam band will hold court at the Windjammer’s Liquid Aloha Beach Stage May 6 for an increasingly rare hometown gig.

Founder and frontman Andy Greenberg first landed in the Lowcountry back in 2005 to attend dental school at MUSC. 

“After years as a professional musician in New Orleans I decided to go to graduate school to establish a path that would make it easier for me to control my own scheduling and business,” Greenberg told City Paper. “Dentistry fit the bill.” 

At this point, it’s hard to say precisely which of his careers is the side hustle, but music most definitely came first. 

“I actually started playing classical piano when I was 5,’’ Greenberg said. “My earliest musical influences were the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder.” 

Greenberg said that his initial role in a musical group — singing in his older brother’s band — came a bit later in middle school. 

“My only real qualification was that I was bold and I loved singing,” he said. “I started playing guitar around that same time and playing in my high school jazz band really pushed me to learn guitar formally.”

As Greenberg came of age, there were, admittedly, growing pains.

“I was very influenced by ‘shred’ and metal guitarists like Slash, [Eddie] Van Halen and Jimmy Page,” he said. “I tried to get as many notes out in the shortest time possible. As I have developed as a musician, I find myself leaning more into finding simple melodies that appeal to the listener in beauty and connection rather than technical prowess.”

Encountering Phish figured heavily into his own musical evolution. Not only was he unapologetically attracted to the band’s overall aesthetic, but he credits the act’s classic 1989 album Junta with inspiring him to start listening and performing differently, too. Suddenly, he said, he wanted to “play more by ear and less by brain.”

“The melodies, rhythms and chord progressions definitely drew me in. I also really dug the absurdist and humorous lyrical sides of the band. I am very into surrealism and comedy. Phish seems to almost magically capture most of my own disparate musical influences — more so than any other modern band.”

It makes perfect sense that Runaway Gin came to be and seems likely that this eclectic electric ensemble might not have been possible anywhere else.

“The amount of sheer musical talent in Charleston right now is staggering,” Greenberg said. “Our bassist Tim Khayat comes primarily from a jazz and Cuban background. Our drummer Sean Bing comes from a funk and rock background. Neither one had played in an improvisational rock band before Runaway Gin, so we have had the unique opportunity of creating new jam-styles almost from scratch rather than relying on their experience in this genre to guide us. Rounding out our lineup is Jennifer Reiser on the keys, who does have jam band experience but is more steeped in classic progressive rock.”

Greenberg’s larger point is that this collective was designed to pay tribute to Phish, but in a decidedly original way: “Most Phish tributes are made of musicians whose central influence is Phish — which limits them stylistically, relatively speaking,” he said. “To me as a huge Phish fan, the Runaway Gin lineup mirrors Phish members’ varied musical backgrounds.” 

As expected, for the Windjammer show, Greenberg and the band plan a plethora of Phish tunes along with other artists’ songs that Phish has covered at some point. 

“The dominant themes of the band right now are deep, long improvisations and playful segues and mash-ups,” he said. “If you watch us on stage you’ll pick up very quickly that we are all very inspired, having tons of fun and very open to any musical possibility.”

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