Brandon Astin has traveled to Washington, Wisconsin and Arizona to experience his favorite band, Phish, live in concert.

But for the next three nights, all Astin has to do is walk five blocks from his Chelsea Heights home to Bader Field to see them.

“I didn’t expect it to be this soon, but I did expect to happen,” said Astin, 35, about the return of Phish to Atlantic City after the band made its debut in the resort two years ago at Boardwalk Hall. “I really think they enjoyed playing here. I think the city enjoyed it. ... When the Dave Matthews thing happened last summer, I felt it opened the door because Dave Matthews’ management is the same people who manage Phish right now.”

During the past 17 years, Astin, who puts together food orders for local businesses at Sam’s Club, has seen favorite group 138 times live in concert.

Astin, along with his wife of 8 years Kelly Astin, will be one of the thousands of people attending the shows tonight through Sunday to catch what is possibly the biggest cult band operating in music right now.

Phish is a four-piece group that was formed in the 1980s in Vermont. The group grew in popularity during the 1990s based on its live shows.

The band never achieved a Top-40 single, which means its songs are never played on pop radio, but Phish has managed to attract and hold onto fans who have seen the group perform dozens, if not hundreds of times, because the band makes each live show a unique experience.

Phish’s set list changes from show to show. The length of the songs and the order they are performed in vary.

The group is known for its ability to improvise both collectively and individually on their instruments, making Phish one of leaders of rock’s jam band subgenre. The band’s fans are known for traveling around from city to city and seeing multiple shows during the group’s tours.

Phish’s music has an aspect of danceability to it. Its sound features a gumbo of different styles including rock, jazz, funk and folk.

The band’s first appearance in Atlantic City drew more than 40,000 fans over three shows held from Oct 29 to 31, 2010, at Boardwalk Hall. Hall officials worked very closely with the Atlantic City Police Department, said Greg Tesone, the hall’s general manager.

“There was an educational process that we went through with the police prior to doing the shows, so they understood what the crowd was going to be, what they were going to do while they were here and how they were going to react,” Tesone said. “We actually took one of the Atlantic City detectives to a show in another city. ... They saw things roll out just the way it was described to them,” Tesone said.

The Boardwalk Hall shows had virtually no incidents from the Phish fans, Tesone said.

“Over the course of the three shows, if we threw out five people, that would have been it,” Tesone said. “Once they were inside, it was fine. They were some of the easiest crowds we did. They are a very easy crowd to deal with. They do what you tell them to do. If you say, ‘Hey, don’t sit on this,’ they get down.”

Phish is moving up from Boardwalk Hall to Bader Field, a venue that can hold ten of thousands more people because the Dave Matthews Band showed last summer that a multi-day, outdoor concerts could be successfully staged at the 142-acre former municipal airfield.

Morgan Sweeney, 35, attended all three Phish shows in 2010 in Boardwalk Hall. Sweeney will be at all the Bader Field shows.

When Sweeney is not checking out Phish concerts, he is raising his two children - son, Liam, 7, and daughter, Kyla, 2 - and working in the IT department for AtlantiCare.

“I was hearing rumors that they were supposed to come back last fall, but that never panned out,” said Sweeney, of Margate, who has seen the group 95 times since 1996. “Now, they’re back again. This is great. I’m very excited. I think it’s a good thing for the town also, for local businesses. It definitely could help out. Everybody needs money around here, especially with this economy.”

Gary Bongiovanni, the editor of Pollstar, which covers the worldwide concert industry, said he didn’t know if Phish is quite as huge now as the band was a few years ago. The group broke up in 2004 but reunited in 2008.

“They are one of the preeminent jam bands that really kind of inherited the mantle from the Grateful Dead. They are known for having a very passionate audience that will travel substantial distances to see them,” Bongiovanni said. “They don’t tour anywhere as much as they used to, but they are still a very strong attraction and have never been dependent on getting airplay.”

Mike Coyne, 32, Pleasantville, who is starting a landscaping company, has more of a musical appreciation for what Phish does than most fans. Coyne is a bassist, who plays in two bands, the Pedestrians and the Cresson Avenue Band. Each group has at least one Phish song in its repertoire.

Coyne has seen Phish live about 25 times since 1999.

“I’m a bass player, and I think Mike Gordon is one of the best in the world,” said Coyne, who added Phish always jams well. “Since they took the hiatus and went off and did different projects, they obviously all kept playing. Their musical ability has progressed.”

Rock station WZXL-FM 100.7 is the only place giving away Phish three-day passes today. Listeners have to call the request line at 609-370-1007. 

Keith Wurster, 28, of Philadelphia, a 2008 Rowan University graduate, has a show on WGLS-FM 89.7, the Rowan University radio station, titled “The Wind and the Willows.” The show airs from 6 to 7 p.m. Sundays, and during that hour, Wurster plays mostly the Grateful Dead and Phish, but he will give some airtime to other jam bands.

Wurster’s show is one of the few places where Phish can be heard over the radio. He will be one of the people generating economic activity this weekend as he is staying at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa while attending all three shows. When not on the radio, Wurster works in the marketing department of a financial firm in King of Prussia, Pa.

“I highly suggest that people who haven’t heard them go out and see a show. There is obviously a large stigma attached to them as being a jam band, but I think their fans get a bad rap a lot of the times as being part of the counterculture. They are actually very intelligent. They know a lot about music as a whole,” Wurster said.

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