A Beacon of Light

cliffordLost amidst the excitement of last week’s summer tour announcement was the Dry Goods preview of the long-awaited release of a seven DVD box set chronicling The Clifford Ball, the band’s inaugural Phish-only mega-festival in 1996.  After staging seven larger-than-life weekends, all begging for their own DVD release, the band is finally dropping a long-overdue audio-visual treat.  This box set will recap every single note played that weekend in Plattsburgh, NY, including a disc of extra footage of the late-night “Flatbed Jam,” a thirty minute mini-feature with band interviews, an interview with artist Jim Pollack, August 15th’s 90-minute soundcheck and more.  Needless to say, this will be special trip down memory lane for all who attended and a glimpse into the weekend that started it all for those who didn’t.  A weekend highly deserving of recognition, the Phish community would never be the same afterwards.

The Clifford Ball was a game changer.  As Trey said in Billboard Magazine in September of 1996, “We realized that there is another whole level of concerts that hasn’t been explored yet.Needless to say, Phish pioneered that exploration.  Never before had a single band staged a festival of such magnitude all by itself.  What Phish presented to its fan base on the weekend of August 16-17 of 1996 was something far more than a concert.  From the moment of arrival, fans were given site maps and greeted with an interactive experience that transcended music.  As the 70,000 fans explored the fantastical psychedelic playground, they were greeted with bizarre performers mingling about, art installations, human gyroscopes, and several carnival rides and activities.  This was a 24-hour experience, and there would only be less than six hours of Phish per day.

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"Ball Square" (Todd Wickesty)

With a mid-day orchestral performance coupled with a glider plane’s graceful stunts, Ball Square, the festival’s center of activity, snowboarders ripping high-flying stunts on trampolines during “Tweezer,” and a risque trapeze act by a female acrobat during Antelope, the entire festival seemed as imaginary, hallucinatory, and improvisational as Phish’s music itself.  The band had created an experience– a mini-civilization– that mirrored the values and freedom of their transcendent jams.  There was a constant sense of disbelief throughout the weekend that emanated from the band and audience alike; we had discovered a new way to do things and the results were other-worldly.  Complete with its own “Ball Radio” station delving into the archives and giving reports on the weekend’s happenings, The Clifford Ball was truly something groundbreaking in the music industry.  With the super-saturation of summertime festivals these days, it is hard to remember back to a time when they were few and far between.  As they consistently did with their music, Phish pushed the envelope of what was possible in a live music experience, creating a brand new festival model.

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The Clifford Ball

It wasn’t just the various forms of entertainment that made The Clifford Ball so unique, it was the emerging sense of the Phish community that permeated the weekend.  Collecting the diverse energies of Phish’s unique fans and allowing that energy to guide the festival; when the shows were over the all-night fun was just beginning!  Meandering down the endless airstrips after the shows, one was greeted with a selection of dance parties featuring different types of music, all being spun by fans.  There was nothing official here, just the Phish community going off in the way they knew best.  Between the disco trucks and the large PA’s set up by smaller bands, the conclusion of the official music only meant the beginning of the non-official madness.  This is when the fans took over, putting on their own impromptu all-night events.  This pattern would be built upon throughout the band’s career, as fans continued to play a larger role in the late-night entertainment over subsequent festivals.

phish-clifford-ball-96-1A weekend that would forever change the face of Phish’s summer celebrations, The Clifford Ball was a revelation.  Once you arrived, you didn’t have to go anywhere for the entire weekend.  Cars were parked and not revisited until it was time to leave.  Everything you needed was provided.  From food vendors, to ice trucks, to the 24-hour general store, this was the way to throw a party!  As the final notes of “Tweezer Reprise” blared through the speaker towers closing the final set of the weekend, everyone knew that the community had arrived.  Awestruck by the massive Phish experience, fans floated on cloud nine, not believing what they had just witnessed.  The Ball was a weekend-long lucid dream; it was heaven and you could control your destiny.  With no next show to get to and ultimate freedom from authorities, the weekend served as a colossal decompression tank, akin to a real-life “choose-your-own-adventure” book.

After this August weekend, the paradigm had forever shifted.  Soon Phish found Limestone, ME, and our own sacred decommissioned air force base, to continue this summertime tradition.  Next came The Went, and then The Wheel.  Oswego, Big Cypress, IT, and Coventry would follow, but none of these indelible memories would have come to fruition had it not been for The Clifford Ball– “A beacon of light in the world of flight.”

What are your memories of The Clifford Ball?  Respond in Comments below!

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

8.16.96

8.16.96

8.16.96 The Clifford Ball SBD < LINK

Here’s the phenomenal soundtrack to the first Phish festival day ever.  With a stellar three set performance, The Clifford Ball was off and running, blazing a new path of how to throw a concert.  All three sets were crafted masterfully, while the second and third were especially sick, featuring a monster Mike’s Groove and 2001 > Disease, respectfully.  This day was properly capped with a spirited rendition of “Harry Hood,” affirming that everything in the universe was indeed as perfect as it seemed

I: Chalk Dust Torture, Bathtub Gin, Ya Mar, AC/DC Bag, Esther, The Divided Sky, Halley’s Comet, David Bowie

II: Split Open and Melt, Sparkle, Free, The Squirming Coil, Waste**, Talk**, Train Song**, Strange Design**, Hello My Baby, Mike’s Song > Simple > Contact > Weekapaug Groove

III: Makisupa Policeman, Also Sprach Zarathustra > Down With Disease, NICU, Life on Mars, Harry Hood#

E: Amazing Grace

**Acoustic mini-stage.  #With fireworks.

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46 Responses to “A Beacon of Light”

  1. Mutha_Ohks Says:

    Thanks bhiz-
    She understood the whole Phish thing, and supported it- She didn’t want me making bad decisions along the way. She was letting me know that there can be negative reactions to my actions. I remember her saying “Better me than the cops” and I’ve always remembered that.

  2. Musical Stew Daily Says:

    One of the best weekends of my life. Will never forget it! No other festival I’ve attended could even touch Clifford Ball.

  3. I finally have a nice crispy copy of this ditty now.
    bigg upps miner

  4. Its pretty funny how the band cme up with the name for this festi. The band was in an airport and one of them saw a poster of this man named Clifford Ball, he might have just recently died o something. they were in limbo about deciding the name for their end of summer fest. they thought this man lived an interestin life according to the paragraph under the poster, so they decided the fest would be name The Clifford Ball
    Just thought someone might like to know…..

  5. Chalkdustin Says:

    Thanks for that info, gills. That’s a pretty sweet story. Shows just how creative and innovative the boys are.

  6. …..Reba is right!

  7. Ah Phish was still Phish I was with this chick from Burlington
    after the first night about 2ish when we ran to Tray Mike and Fish
    they were on 4-wheelers it was so crazy , we talked for what seamed like forever then some other people came up so we left ,the Ball was a good clean time by all see yall in Hampton…………………….

  8. BingosBrother Says:

    Ahh, the old choose your adventure books. Spent half my childhood reading those. Very tough not to cheat though. Clifford Ball, the greatest adventure of all. Thanks for bringing me back Miner. So me and my best friend are standing in line around sunrise with a couple people to buy a grilled cheese(by the way, neither of us planned on being there, much less bumping into each other, but hey, phish happens)so we’re in line just blazing and not paying much attention to the fact that said line is not moving. After a few minutes we start watching Mr. Grilled Cheese Cook and it is apparent that whatever we were on, he had eaten twice as much. Dude had no idea what a grilled cheese was, much less how to go about cooking one. He would look from the bread and cheese, to the stove, to us, and to the spatula in his hand with the most bewildered look on his face. This had to go on for at least half an hour with our laughter just building and building by the minute until Mr. Grilled Cheese Cook has lost it and is in tears with laughter along with the handful of us who couldn’t care less if they ever get a sandwich because this is easily the longest, hardest laugh we have or will ever have known. Then for as long as this has gone on, just as quickly some newcomer(apparently a very hungry man)walks behind the stove, grabs Mr. Grilled Cheese Cook’s spatula, pushes him out of the way and proceeds to make everyone a sandwich in about 3 minutes flat. If that hadn’t happened i could believe we’d still be in that lot waiting for a sandwich right now. And I couldn’t imagine a better place in the world. See you on the lot.

  9. Jampirate Says:

    HaHaHa! My buddy and I sold fatty fruity bagels on the lot in ’95 and ’96, and we had many an episode just like your grilled cheese. Way more looking at the food, looking at the grill, looking at a line of people, and wondering how any of it was supposed to fit together instead of serving food. Classic.

    I remember waiting by the gate to the stage the second morning. We wanted to get close, so we made sure to be there for the mad dash. They opened the gates, we all ran full speed, and slowly but surely, everyone started dropping like flies. None of us realized how incredibly long it was to get from the gate to the front of the stage. Somehow, we ran the whole way and were crazy close for day 2. Looking back and seeing 70000 people was nuts.

    Bhizzel..totally remember the crazy dash up and down the grassy knolls towards the gate. We were in my friends mom’s van instead of a rental, but quite the push.

  10. I still tell the Divided Sky sundown note story to non phans when i start into my Phish proselytizing.

  11. Without a doubt as perfect as a weekend possible in the world of phish. The weather, music, energy, and atmosphere were all hard to match. Cypress had all the same but the Ball was a completely uncharted concert experience at that point. Total sensory overload.

  12. Great story Bingo!

  13. Random Memories (the only kind)…
    That highway sign… “Clifford Ball Right Lane” in the pouring rain
    That Indian chick who blessed us by strolling around topless
    Divided Sky
    Walking with our camping gear for way too long
    Hood Fireworks
    Guy with barrel (literally) of his 8% homebrew

  14. I remember driving up and seeing the signs on the highway telling us to turn our stations to the Clifford Ball info station and everyone one in my car was completely in a “what the fuck is going on…”
    It was nothing like I had ever seen… amazing. Can’t wait for the DVD!

  15. themanatee Says:

    that story is a classic bingos. i unfortunately was too damned stubborn to accept phish into my life in 1996 when the clifford ball happened. i didn’t get to see R1 dance naked to Weekapaugh..must have been priceless.

    looking forward to living the ball through and through on dvd…
    especially the slave

  16. Gary Team Canada Says:

    this weekend was the “tits”
    unreal weather
    kick ass music
    i have been to Clifford, IT, Lemonwheel, Oswego, Covenrty but something about Clifford Ball was different…probably realizing what the band was and was about to become….i will never forget that weekend…the first time is always a special one

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