Archive for Festivals

A Beacon of Light

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 13, 2009 by Mr.Miner

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.


"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.


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!





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.

Weekend Nuggets: The Great Went

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 27, 2008 by Mr.Miner


phish-great-went97As we return from the holidays, let’s finish some unfinished business.  The last “Download Of the Day” was night one of The Great Went.  This weekend’s downloads complete all of the music that happened on this historic and memorable first trip to Limestone.  With magic dancing in the air, the feeling of complete isolation from society was enchanting.  Taking on a whole different feeling than The Clifford Ball, the sheer distance that people drove to get to the tip of America made Limestone feel like it belonged to us.  We had our own little Phish city in the middle of nowhere.  The Lemonwheel and IT would carry this tradition proudly, but there was nothing like the first time we stepped foot on Loring Air Force Base.  Relive the weekend in all its glory, including Kevin Shapiro’s broadcasts from the archives that we heard all weekend.  (I’ll put a link to night one in this post as well, for the convenience of having everything in one place.)

8.16.97 The Great Went, Limestone, ME SBD < LINK

8.17.97 The Great Went, Limestone, ME SBD < LINK

I: The Wedge, Beauty of My Dreams, Dogs Stole Things, Vultures, Water in the Sky > Maze, Bouncing Around the Room, Tweezer > Taste, Carolina

II: Down With Disease > Bathtub Gin > Uncle Pen, Also Sprach Zarathustra >Art Jam* > Harry Hood

III: Buffalo Bill > NICU, Weigh, Guyute, Dirt, Scent of a Mule# > Prince Caspian

E: When the Circus Comes > Tweezer Reprise^

*The band members take turns painting large designs at the side of the stage. Then, the crowd “carries” the pieces of this design to the side of the venue where it is assembled and hoisted for everyone to see onto a tower. This wood tower is tall and covered in painted plywood and has been built during the two shows.  As “Harry Hood” goes into its jam, Trey asks Chris to turn the lights off, and the band jams while the front section has a gigantic Glow Stick War. #No Muel Duel.  ^The entire art tower was burned to the ground.

8.16.97 Late Night “Disco Tent” < LINK

The Great Went Archives Radio Show < LINK



“2001 > Art Banter” 8.17.97

“Tweezer” Jam 8.17.97

The Tower

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 4, 2008 by Mr.Miner

As Phish evolved through the ’90s, one of the most enchanting qualities surrounding their shows was the sheer spectacle of it all.  Between the size of the crowds, the loud mind-bending music, and the fantastical light show, it felt as though we opened the door to Oz every time the lights went down.  Creating a parallel reality at their shows, we felt as if were entering the Phish dimension walking through the portals of basketball arenas.  The band, more than anyone loved a spectacle.  One need not look farther than their New Years’ shows and festivals to prove that.  Whether it was riding a giant hot dog or torching a massive piece of communal art, the greatest show on earth sometimes included much more than music.  One such time was the somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd of August at IT in Limestone, when Phish put on perhaps the greatest spectacle of their career.

Russ Kahn

photo: Russ Kahn

It had been rumored all day that the annual “late night” set would take place atop the air traffic tower that still stood on the defunct Air Force base.  By the time the show happened, everyone all but knew this would go down after the show, and it seemed a hell of a lot cooler than jamming on a moving truck or the Great Went’s “disco” tent.  Nonetheless, the show happened and all was jolly in post-show partyland when we began to see a light from atop the tower and could hear sound in the distance.  Moving quickly to the tower, we were greeted with an empty field that soon filled, in a sort of “real-time-lapse” film.  Barely visible, Phish bellowed dissonant noise from the sky as smoke poured off the tower against the red concert lights.

tower2Although we knew all day this would happen, it was still utterly surreal- nobody knew it would look like this!  As the band progressed into some more developed madness, it became apparent that they would jam extensively from the darkness of the night, and from the dark side of the universe, as if composing the score of a psychedelic war movie.  And the music was dirty.  Wasting no time with composition, the band aimed an arrow at the heart of experimentation and hit a bulls eye.  Exploring dark, dissonant, and noise-like textures, the band created a sort of evil doppelganger to their more melodic and broadcasted sound check.  Something that seemed pulled from a dream sequence, Phish continued improvising on the most menacing abstract planes, creating music that transcended anything one could hope for from a song-based jam.  Delving deep into the cavern of experimental sound, the band raged an hour of music that was the highlight weekend.  Artistically reaching natural peaks and grooves, the band stood as silhouettes, as smoke, light and sound poured from atop the tower.  Now this was a spectacle!


photo: Vinnie Ray

Leave it to Phish to take it a step farther.  As if this wasn’t enough psychedelia, about two thirds of the way through the sinister sonic experiment, white sheets fell, covering all visible sides of the tower as three dancers from the Bay Area’s Project Bandaloop began performing acrobatics at the top.  They began to gradually descend in front of projected patterns as Phish slowed down, trying to match their music with a beat-less texture.  Amorphously improvising amidst their own late-night circus scenery, Phish had outdone themselves once again; leaving nothing behind them but a trail of smoke and light in the night sky.

As the weekend of IT concluded Summer ’03, Phish had returned.  Killing a festival at the end of their “return-to-glory” tour, things sat well as we left Limestone.  Little did we know in a year, it would be done.  Yet, as we dispersed from tour, with so many new magical memories in our head, none were more indelible than The Tower Set.  As night turned to day, and day back to night, that feeling of standing in a pit of musical mayhem, with colorful smoke and music bellowing from the heavens, did not soon fade.  The exclamation point on a summer of renewed exploration, The Tower stood as a reminder of what was and what could be.

THE TOWER JAM (Great Footage!)



12.5.95 Mullins Center, UMASS, Amherst, MA < LINK

The second of two shows at UMASS, this show stood out among the first week of December ’95.  The first set contains a great “Free,” and “David Bowie,” while the second set is strewn with classic ’95 improv.  A 20+ minute excursion into “Bathtub Gin” ends in “Keyboard Cavalry,” while a 15 minute Scent lands in “Lifeboy.”  To top the show off, Phish played a magnificent “Harry Hood” that stands out among the best of 1995.  Trey’s guitar run through the Leslie speaker (usually used for organ) creates the most haunting tone.  Enjoy this classic!

I: Horn, Chalk Dust Torture, Fog That Surrounds, Lizards*, Free, Esther, David Bowie, I’m Blue I’m Lonesome

II: Poor Heart, Bathtub Gin > Keyboard Army, Scent of a Mule > Lifeboy, Harry Hood, Cavern

E: Theme From the Bottom, Sweet Adeline

*Dedicated to Dick Vitale.

Halley’s > Cities

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 16, 2008 by Mr.Miner

The weekend of August 16-17 is staring at us on the calendar once again. One cannot help but reminisce when even casually glancing at the date. There’s just too many big memories. The Ball, The Went, The Lemonwheel, and Coventry all happened on this historic weekend. Throughout all twenty four sets listed above, when I think of the enormity and feeling of summer Phish festivals, I think of the music provided by the Great Went’s Halley’s > Cities. It is this jam sequence that comes closet to musically defining the feeling that Phish festivals gave me .

What am I talking about, right? I mean being surrounded by colorful molasses, vibrant slow moving thickness- with the supernatural ability to navigate that color with freedom and ease. Being overpowered by the hugeness of the sound bellowing from the speaker towers. The elephant-like slowness of the music. Being dominated by the gigantic spaces in the music just as easily as by the piercing notes. This is what I am talking about. Maybe you know the feeling? Just being lost in the sheer magnitude of what was in front of you; the sound, the chunky, crunchy grooves; “it.”

This is where Halley’s > Cities comes in. This segment is most likely my favorite festival Phish experience ever. I don’t want to begin ranking music, there is too much that is the “best ever.” Well, Halley”s > Cities falls squarely into that category. This jam is just so colossal. The Halley’s is like a swanky ride down Broadway morphing into deep slow Phish-funk that is best characterized as a Brontosaurus plodding through a swamp, questing for leaf after rhythmic leaf.

The pace of this Halley’s, as they begin the opening verse and drumbeat, holds an aura of potential greatness. So methodical and patient, with enough space to hear every note that each of them played cooperatively. This is what Summer ’97 was all about, and it had built for months to this point. Every piano note, bass note, kick, cymbal, snare and guitar lick rang clear as crystal in your ears and through your imagination. Even as they move into the notoriously ripping jam, the pace remains the same as Phish begins to dig in. If this first part of this Halley’s brings you to the central part of town, with Trey unleashing some nasty licks; the second part takes you straight off the grid, with daring whole group improv. Throughout this time and many different beats, Fishman never speeds up, and it is one of the keys to the jam’s intrigue and success. In fact when the tempo does change, it is a down-shift into murkier territory.

Trudging into that murk, the music reaches a point of “barely moving” reminiscent of so many jams that summer. Like Raleigh’s DWD>Mike’s segue, the band similarly sets up and teases a transition for minutes, with music crawling along with as much empty space as there are notes. This is where the Brontosaurus funk kicks in. Yet, as they slide into Cities, they never speed up, and our dinosaur continues romping through the jungles of our brain for another ten minutes before picking up steam progressing towards Llama. With all the room in the world to dance as hard as a you wanted, under the stars, with the greatest dance music of all time; this was truly massive. And the enormity of this all is where we got started.

So, Halley’s > Cities defines what a Phish festival is all about. I hope I make more sense now. There are some other jams that could stake a claim to this title, for sure- but not for me. That’s why Phish is so great, it’s a communal experience that is so personally intimate. Few things replicate such a dynamic. We all have our own Halley’s > Cities. On such a memorable weekend as we have upon us, go back to your own greatest summer festival memory and relive it. You will find the power is still there.



Ambient Enchantment

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 15, 2008 by Mr.Miner

A fourth set?!  Is that what Trey just said?  Had they ever done that before? Apparently, this year’s installment of the secret late night on-site set wouldn’t be a secret at all.  They were gonna come out on the main stage and play another set “as the spirit moves,” in the words of Trey, himself.  Before that happened, a huge ring of torches would be set up, surrounding the entire audience.  The “temple of fire” that had been joked about on Phish’s summer tour advertisements for months was not a joke in the end.  We would all be surrounded by flames, unifying the audience in a mass of tonal sponge to absorb the spiritual emanations from the stage. Was this real?  This was the Lemonwheel- ten years ago today- the exclamation point to Summer 98, Phish’s very own summer of love.  The tour that featured a two-week European stint that kicked off in Copenhagen’s Den Gra Hal for an epic three nights, two ridiculous nights at The Gorge, a dark-horse Texas run, a straight romp through Phish’s classic Midwestern haunts, and a surreal stop at Virginia Beach, had once again twisted up to Limestone.  And on the first night of the festival, where they usually had played a quirky late night set somewhere on the festival grounds (the flatbed jam and “disco” tent) they instead would come out and just play.

I had always dreamed of this.  Drop the songs and just play, improvise- play Phish music.  Phish songs were always fun, some phenomenal, but in the end, the ones we loved the most were launching pads for improvisation- Phish jams, the stuff dreams are made of.  The Tweezers, Bowies, YEMs, Rebas, Splits, Diseases, Mikes; the big guns.  As the composed sections of these songs moved along, anticipation continued for that drop into the jam- one of the most compelling, mysterious and hopeful feelings experienced at a show.  But this time, there would be no drop or build up, they would just play.  I, and everyone else around me, stood wide-eyed in disbelief that this was going to really go down.

the ambient set (

the ambient set (

Yet, after a prolonged break- they needed to set up the fire after all- Phish indeed came out and spun an hour long tale of mystical beauty, starting from a simple melody and flowing naturally through so many segments, all filled with the most familiar, yet brand new music.  Moving in a natural bell curve, the hour slowly built to an organic peak and then carried us back down the hill again into silence.  All four band members were moving as one, no one leading any more than the other, and the result was a completely sublime experience for us all.  I distinctly remember closing my eyes for most all of the set and upon its end, not believing how much time had passed.  The music transcended time, and still exists as one of the most magical hours of Phish’s career.

This style foreshadowed the ambient jams that would be added to the band’s repertoire in the Fall of the same year.  Jams like the Greek Theatre Reba (10.29), the Vegas Wolfman’s (10.31- though a bit darker), the UIC AC/DC Bag (11/7), the Bi-Lo Wolfman’s (11.18), the Hampton Simple (11.21) are all examples of the type of playing that became magnified throughout the autumn months.  But all song-based jams aside, the ambient set exists as, literally, one of the greatest things the band has ever done.

To be honest, I was thinking that the NYE Big Cypress set would be more like this, in terms of music being played with no reference points to know where the band was going or when something was winding up or winding down.  Though the Cypress Roses that brought the darkness into the light of the new millennium, did provide one massive 40 minute excursion in this vein.  Nonetheless, that torch lit summer night in late August of ’98 remains a unique and one time experience that brought out the very essence of Phish music.  It could have only happened on the hallowed grounds of Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine.  If you were there, you vividly recall where you were on that field when Phish came out in the middle of the night and just played.


DOWNLOAD THE AMBIENT SET, and next time you’re hanging out at sunrise, throw it on.  It will be perfect.

The Festival

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 23, 2008 by Mr.Miner

Bonnaroo, Rothbury, 10,000 Lakes, Coachella, Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, All Good, Camp Bisco, Gathering of the Vibes, Summer Camp, All Points West, moeDown, Langerado.  So many festivals, so little time.  That quick list ranges from the massive corporate festivals to the more mid-range festivals happening this summer.  JamBase’s festival guide lists 302 music festivals happening this summer!  Obviously, these run the gamut of size and type of festivals, but the jam-indie-rock festival landscape has been greatly altered since the days of The Clifford Ball and Coventry.  The post-Phish festival scene is quite interesting to dissect, and speaks volumes about those carefree days in Limestone and upstate New York.

Radiohead. Widespread Panic. The Dave Matthews Band. My Morning Jacket. Phil and Friends– interchangeable headliners on an ever changing festival poster. These days, promoters put together festivals with as many bands, genres, stages, and gimmicks as possible trying to bring together as many fans from across the country. Bonnaroo drew 80,000 people, Rothbury 40,000, Coachella around 60,000.  While some of these festivals are obviously successful ventures, they are promotional monsters that lack a cohesive vibe to their event. With so many people coming to these gatherings for so many different reasons and to see so many different acts, there is hardly a unity to the masses that gather on seemingly every weekend of the summer.

A Phish festival was so very different.  At a Phish festival you had the feeling that you were in on this little secret with 75,000 other people.  Even though there were often more people in attendance than these new school festivals, everyone knew why each other were there. There was only one reason– Phish.  With 92 (!) bands playing over four days at Rothbury on god-knows how many stages, you have a crowd that is motivated to attend for so many different reasons.  These bands include most all of the aforementioned headliners– the biggest names in the biz, yet none that could draw these numbers on their own.   This dynamic dilutes the genuine unity of a festival that was so prominent when Phish reeled 60-70,000 fans to the tip of America three times, and 85,000 to the Everglades of Florida.   What’s going on here?

Phish could announce a festival in East Podunk, Saskatchewan, and virtually 100,000 people will find a way there.  One band.  One stage.  Two days.  Six sets.  That’s all, nothing else.  That is enough, and anyone who understands Phish, knows it.  That is the difference– the power of the Phish experience, which is magnified under the lens of their festivals where it is all Phish, all the time.  Apparently both the magical and financial power of Phish equals the power of every other band in the scene put together.  That’s simply proven by empirical data.

New-school festivals, while no doubt hosting great talent, lack the ethos of Phish festivals.  Maybe some of the “band-centric” mid-range festivals like Camp Bisco, Summer Camp, or moeDown scratch the surface of this dynamic, but even at these events, there are still double-digit number of other bands and DJs there to, well, to take that united magic away while hopefully bringing in a few more people. Not to say magic doesn’t exist in new-school festivals.  I just came back from a very magical time at Camp Bisco where the Biscuits were the overwhelming draw for the 7,500 in attendance.  The music was transcendent and the crowd, albeit quite young for the most part, were definitely were there to rage Biscuits. I heard that Rothbury, amidst its masses, tapped into something special, yet not because of one particular act.  But the post-Phish festival model, and maybe the pre-Phish model too (think Woodstock, The Horde (w/Phish), Further Festival), lends itself to a greatly different experience.

No one band could pull off what Phish pulled off.  Fact.  If they could, why don’t they?  In all my x-number of Phish shows, some of my greatest all-time memories come from Phish festivals.  Those places were vast Phish playgrounds with absolutely no rules.  The freedom I felt at those festivals were like none other I’ve felt in my life.  The sites were so endless and bliss-laden, with art installations and interactive activities and “projects” for fans to engage their twisted minds.  Almost always tour-ending musical showcases for the band, we all looked forward to the wide open Phishy freedom those weekends provided.

The sky was always a little more blue than usual. The air a bit cleaner.  The clouds a bit more fluffy.  Remember the Great Went night 2 sunset?  Probably the most Crayola colors in one sky ever. Orange, yellow, purple, blue, and every shade in between–  so rich.  The shimmering moon surrounded by the most regal violet.  The natural environment coupled with the massive air-force-base locales created the most carefree and Phish focused atmospheres ever.

Some memories from those hallowed weekends.  The Clifford Ball-  who knew this model was possible?!  Limestone, ME and The Great Went- one of the most spiritual weekends of my life.  Halley’s>Cities.  The return to Limestone– The Lemonwheel, capping the modern day Summer of Love, 1998. The Ambient Set- possibly the best hour of Phish ever. The Tower Set- an hour long exploration with a lens on the darker and dirtier side of things. The Cypress Roses bringing the dark into the light.  The sunrises, the traffic, the parties, the air-strip long shakedowns, post-show lot disco parties, every friend you know in one place.  Oh, the memories.

These memories are about to return.  Mike Gordon, after his set at last weekend’s Mile High Music Festival, made it clear we can expect to see the boys back together “pretty soon.”  Those are his words, not mine.  He is already talking about “leaving room” for solo projects, which can only mean that this whole Phish thing is very much around the corner.  We can only hope that for their first show back, we can can return to the enchanted land of the Phish festival. It is really the only way to comeback.  They tried the MSG thing, and that turned out to be a fiasco, with fans trying to wrestle all the tickets away from scalpers to the tune of $500 a piece.  The only place for Phish to comeback is in the context of their hallowed festivals. Anyone can come. Noone can be turned away because it’s sold out.  How amazing would it be to hear Phish’s first notes back bellowing from the speaker towers of a festival with 75,000+ friends.  Groups of friends sitting in circles during setbreak, passing spliffs and laughing together, trying to figure out what is coming next. That is the way it should be. We can only hope the band feels the same.

Below are some nuggets from festivals past:

Great Went Bathtub Gin Jam

Clifford Ball Clips

IT Lizards