Divided Sky

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
Also Known AsThe Divided Sky
VocalsMike, Page, Trey
Phish Debut1987-05-11
Last Played2024-04-21
Current Gap5
HistorianSyd Schwartz, lumpblockclod
Last Update2016-02-28


Arguably Phish’s melodic masterpiece, “Divided Sky” is one of the most beloved songs in the Phish canon and has been responsible for converting many into fans. The version of “Divided Sky” that appears on Junta marks a distinct compositional time period for Trey (though its roots are much older), and while rarely a vehicle for experimental improvisation, it has provided ample opportunity for each of the band members to develop unique solos within the framework.

According to Parke Puterbaugh's Phish: The Biography, "Divided Sky" was originally titled "Log" because Trey used pieces of firewood to lay down the initial percussion tracks. Trey has stated that the song was written at The Rhombus with Tom Marshall and Marc Daubert, during Trey’s first year at Mercer Community College on a night enhanced by psychedelic mushrooms. Trey once said that the inspiration came while looking at parting clouds, but he has also stated that the chant originated during a bonfire inside The Rhombus while he, Tom, Marc, and perhaps others were playing a percussion jam. Apparently Trey threw an acoustic guitar down on the ground and began beating on it, chanting “Divided Sky.” According to Marshall, they began chanting it on top of The Rhombus after noticing that the sky appeared divided into a light half and a dark half caused by the lighting of a nearby chapel tower.

"The Divided Sky" 4/29/90 Woodbury, CT (Part 1) (Part 2)

The exact truth is likely lost forever in a haze of caps and stems, but the true origin of “Divided Sky” begins years earlier when Trey and his mother wrote Christmas songs together. They had written a musical called Gus the Christmas Dog, and two themes from that musical were lifted to form parts of “Divided Sky”: “There’s a Christmas Star” (which forms the melodic “lullaby” section) and “Gus” (which became the melody for the end of the song.)  

“Divided Sky” – along with other Trey-penned “epics” such as “You Enjoy Myself,” “Fluffhead,” “David Bowie,” and “Reba” – reflects the compositional influence of the late Ernie Stires, and the main melody is one of the most recognizable instrumental hooks in the Phish repertoire.

Like “Punch You In The Eye,” “Llama,” and “McGrupp,” “Divided Sky” is not a part of Trey’s The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday Senior Study, but is included in the Gamehendge mythos. As written in the Junta liner notes, three individuals are chosen (through a Secret Agenda known only to a select few, but the three are Mike, Trey and Page for the time being) to climb the rhombus in the middle of a field to offer tribute to Icculus by singing the chant, “Divided Sky, the wind blows high.”

"The Divided Sky" 10/31/94 Glens Falls, NY (Part 1) (Part 2)

After the chant, the song moves into a section often referred to as the “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or "Palindrome" segment, which is comprised of an intricate note pattern over a shifting time signature – this segment is played, then played backwards (check the Junta CD at about 1:15 into the song). Coming out of this into what Mike has described as a Pat Metheny-influenced section, Phish begins the build towards their “tension and release” style of playing, and culminating in a Trey-led section into the main theme of the song.

After the main theme is presented, there is a pause in the song before Trey plays a theme-resolving note. Trey has described in several early ’90s interviews that during this pause, he can hear the jam continuing in his head. He has also described the pause as an exercise in audience behavioral study, as the pause almost always results in three waves of audience cheers – the first soon after the pause, the second about 30 seconds later (this cheer often contains a certain degree of uncertainty and builds tension) and the final cheer being the release for the audience and the cue for Trey to hit the last note and continue into the song. The length of the pause has increased over the years to the point where some fans have become critical that the it “ruins the flow of the song.”

When "Divided Sky" debuted in 1987, it clocked in at about four minutes and was missing all of the music after the pause. That's because the music that now forms the heart of "Divided Sky" was appended to "No Dogs Allowed," another song from the Gus the Christmas Dog musical Trey wrote with his mother (check out the version on Colorado '88 for an example). After the 3/21/88 performance of "Divided Sky," the song went on a six month hiatus, during which time "No Dogs Allowed" was being played with the "Divided Sky" ending. However, on 9/24/88, the band debuted the complete "Divided Sky" that we know and love (and "No Dogs Allowed" became a four-minute ditty, before fading into obscurity).

"Divided Sky" 6/7/11 Mansfield, MA

“Divided Sky” also holds a unique place in Phish history as one of only two songs (the other being “Esther”) that sparked a video treatment in the early 1990s. The same company who produced the “Esther” video (played only once at the Somerville Theatre in 1991) also presented an idea for a video for “Divided Sky” to the band. Apparently, prototypes were designed by a woman associated with that video company for inclusion in the “Divided Sky” video, but the green light to proceed was not forthcoming. The band at the time was considering including both videos on the Elektra reissue of Junta, but that ultimately never came to pass, and it is unlikely that Elektra had anything to do with the funding or making of either video.

Phish played “Divided Sky” very frequently from 1990 to 1994. 1995 and 1996 showed a distinct drop in frequency and the song was played only sporadically through October 2000, and with considerably less accuracy than the Phish of the early 90s. While "Divided Sky" was played with greater frequency in the 2003-04 period, it continued to suffer from accuracy issues. However, when Phish returned to the stage in 2009, they did so with a renewed emphasis on nailing their epic compositions, an approach exemplified by choosing the tandem of "Fluffhead" and "Divided Sky" to open their first show back on 3/6/09

Notable versions of "Divided Sky" include 7/21/91 (with the Giant Country Horns), 3/17/92, 7/15/92, 11/27/92, 8/14/93 (Live Phish 07) 8/20/93, 10/29/94, 10/31/94 (Live Phish 13), 6/17/95, 8/13/96 (Live Phish 12), 8/16/96, 8/2/98, 11/21/98 (on HCA), 12/29/98 (encore), and 7/10/03. Of particular note are the versions played on 7/10/03 (which featured an unusual serene jam towards the end of the song, resulting in a version that clocked in at over 19 minutes) and 6/7/11 (with very unique staccato playing from Trey during the latter part of the song). Other versions of note in the 3.0 era include 8/10/10 in majestic Telluride, CO, 7/17/13 in Alpharetta, GA, and 8/22/15 at Magnaball.

Trey Anastasio & Seattle Symphony, "The Divided Sky" – 9/11/14, Seattle, WA

Trey has performed several remarkable versions of “Divided Sky” outside of Phish. On 11/11/05 at the legendary "Countdown to Utica" show, it was performed as an acoustic duet with Trey and Mike (with Fishman adding two cymbal taps), marking the first time during the break-up that three members of Phish shared the stage together. On both 10/8/06 and 10/9/06, at the Bar 17 record release shows at Webster Hall, Trey performed stunning versions "Divided Sky" accompanied by a string quintet conducted by Don Hart. Continuing the progression from trio, to sextet, to full-blown orchestra, Trey’s orchestral versions of "Divided Sky" debuted on 9/27/08 with Orchestra Nashville), and it has been performed with some of the country’s most renowned orchestras since then, including 9/12/09 at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic3/10/12 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with Los Angeles Philharmonic; and on 5/22/13 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. with National Symphony Orchestra. Though stripped down by orchestral standards, the 11/18/10 rendition, with the help of the Scorchio String Quintet is also not to be missed.

It should also be noted that Blues Traveler’s frontman John Popper put lyrics to the main “Divided Sky” theme and contributed the resulting song “Christmas” to the album A Very Special Christmas: Volume 3 which was released in 1997.

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