Twenty years ago today, in the cozy confines of Larrabee Farm in Auburn, Maine, Phish wrapped up their touring for the Summer of 1991. The entire run, barring Amy’s Farm, consisted of the well received Horn Tour. Commencing with the home-town show at Battery Park in Burlington, VT on July 11th and winding down the East Coast and culminating at the potent one set blowout at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, GA, the Horn Tour was 15 shows that became etched into the collective memory of the fan-base. However, as fun as the Horn Tour was, and as good as the shows were, the definitive show that paints the picture of where Phish was at that time, and portended signs of things to come, was Saturday, August 3rd at Amy’s Farm.
Front page Maine Sun Journal, August 4, 1991
Phish was slowly graduating from smoky clubs, college bars, and fraternity houses to slightly larger venues in 1991. While clubs like the Front in Burlington, the Campus Club in Providence, and Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill were still on the docket, so too were venues like the State Theatre in Ithaca (not the Haunt!), the Boulder Theater in Colorado (not JJ McCabes!) and the Capitol Theater in Port Chester (not Club Bene!) The excitement was palpable and though most shows were not sold-out, it was abundantly clear something special was happening. The momentum was building and there was a buzz about the band that was literally deafening. It was tough to talk about music on the nascent Internet, at other shows, around campuses and all along the East Coast without someone bringing up Phish. An exciting time it was to still be able to arrive at a club 30 minutes before show time, pay $10 and get your hand stamped, and know that you were seeing history in the making. At the final show of the Horn Tour, Trey made official what had been rumored since the Spring and all summer long: there would be an end of summer party at Amy’s Farm, and we were all invited.
While Amy’s Farm (and even Townshend Family Park & Ian’s Farm) may have marked the humble beginnings of their future festival plans and the beginning of an era of meteoric rise in popularity, similarly to Woodstock, it also marked the end of an era as well. Spreading through word of mouth and a quick announcement from Trey, a couple thousand fans descended into Auburn and it was abundantly clear that the cat was out of the bag. Phish was on their way to hitting the big time & likely shows would begin to be drastically different in a very short time. Although the show wasn’t until Saturday, the first inkling that there’d be a decent turnout was Thursday night as early birds started arriving at the farm. While there was no sense of panic, it was evident that there was still lots of work to be done to get the grounds ready. Late into the night and into the early Friday AM hours, a flurry of activity happened with some of the fans pitching in elbow grease and volunteering for whatever needed to be done. Throughout the day on Friday, as work continued on the concert field, cars continued to slowly trickle in. As it turned to afternoon and early evening, the trickle became a steady flow & ultimately into an unbroken chain of vehicles entering for as far as the eye could see.
The exuberance of entering a free show, with no security, no police, no vehicle checks, & a few thousand like minded fans was pure bliss. Actually, there was a small fee as some remember. Upon entering the farm, a coffee tin was collecting a nominal $5 fee per car to help offset the cost of purchasing grass seed to replant the fields we’d all be parking on. And as ZZYZX recalls, you even received the omnipresent, green on black, Phish logo sticker with your donation.
While you’d see many familiar faces at shows, Phish was still mostly regional at this point. Clusters of fans from areas you'd see only in that locale. Yet here was this small farm in Maine, where fans were descending from every state and corner of the country. The arrivals kept pouring in as did the warm embraces and hugs. Friends from Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York etc. all communally bound together for one day of music, by one band...that most of the country had never heard of. Yet.
Humorously, Fish kicked off the festivities trying to generate interest for a non-profit organization that was there. Trey jumped in and rescued Fish from talking in circles for the remainder of the weekend. Amy followed up with a warm welcome to the crowd saying that there were "good happy feelings, good habby vibes out there in the fields". Some more reminders from Mike, Amy & Trey about the flamable nature of the fields and even the stage, made up partially of hay bales....and the first few notes of "Wilson" drowned out the final, "Thanks for coming!" from Amy...the band eager to get playing and a day of music, fun and camraderie lay ahead.
Three full sets and two interesting encores wrapped up a full day of fun on Saturday. Trey ended Set III after "Possum" by saying, “Thank you very much for coming, see you guys next night, have a good night, we are going to be out there partying with you so have a good time.” And after the legendarily memorable encores with Sofi and the Dude of Life, Trey telling Sam, “Your dog has been found”, and the "Harry Hood" finale, the end of summer party was over as was an era.
Rudimentary stats from my journal day before Amy's Farm. Couldn't jump on Phish.net and check stats at the time!
So what was the day like at Amy’s Farm? I asked a few other people who were there for their recollections of this special event and here are a few responses:
..after being at a bunch of ‘91 summer tour shows we heard a bunch of rumblings about a camp out at a farm in Maine with Phish playing. As the the end of tour got closer the rumblings became more realistic. We also heard it would be free and would be a week after the tour closer in Atlanta. We got directions from someone at Trax in Charlotsville which was my last summer show till Amy's. Drove up from Jersey the day before, got to the farm and I think we ended up paying $5 to park which would cover all damages so it basically was free. We camped basically right next to this mini stage. You could walk completely around the stage. The stage was by no means giant like they have at fests now. It was small with this yellow tarp on top of it maybe 5 feet above the bands heads. There were a bunch of dogs around. Basically free reign. It was hotter than hell. Had to be over 100 degrees. I’d say there was between 500 and 1000 people there as word definitely spread, but they still were basically a bar band. It was so relaxed. There was no rush to do anything. I think I recall people running around just because there was so much room not to mention you could get 5 hits of amazing L for $10. There was a giant water truck with potable water but more 18 wheeler looking than the things they have now. The hay fields were super dry and sharp and there were signs everywhere to keep your shoes on. I could go on and on and on about the music but you can listen to the tapes for yourself to hear Sofie, the Dude of Life, even Marley barking during some jams or how ridiculously funny the encore is. It was truly an amazing place and an amazing time in my life that i will never forget.
Pollock designed, Amy's Farm T-Shirt graciouslly modeled by Jackson. From my recollection at this point, the only shirts being sold at shows were the green on black logo shirts so this was a special treat having a shirt for the event. They sold out relatively quickly. (Merch table manned by original roadie 'Topher)
After many years of following the GD in the 1980's, and after hearing about this band “Phish” from back home in New England, I finally went and saw them live on NYE, 1990 at the World Trade Center in Boston. Good show, but I knew no songs. I did know I wanted to see more of this talented band.
After getting a couple bootleg cassettes and familiarizing myself, I began to see a decent #s of shows in 1991. Mostly all at small theaters and University Gyms (Grene Hall Smith College, UNH Fieldhouse, Colonial Theater Keene NH, The Bayou Wash. DC, Berkshire Perf.Arts Center, Beacon Theater NYC, etc.) This was the summer of The Giant Country Horns tour, which was fucking incredible. Still, the whole scene was tiny, it was never hard to get tix to shows and the venues were great.
So after the rumors of a free show in ME were confirmed, me and six or seven friends climbed into our cars in MA and drove up. Weather was decent, hot, but not too hot,. Although they did have hoses to spray ppl down. I remember parking in a field, with some small groves of trees. Everyone there was super chill and friendly. Drum circles, ppl playing acoustic guitars, lots of herb and beer. NO Cops! It was a peaceful and out of the way site on the farm. We walked up to the stage and I remember there was a lot of hay bales used to construct various aspects of the performance space. The area in front of the stage was nice grass, a comfortable place to be.
I remember ppl walking around with a couple of large bongs, something I had yet to see at any concert I'd ever been to. I mean, like three foot Graphix bongs in the middle of the crowd during the music. The music was good in my memory, not as good as many of the previous indoor shows from that summer, but the scene was so mellow and fun, it didn't really matter. They played a bunch of Gamehendge and also some of the songs that were less than a year old in their repertoire and would be on A Picture of Nectar. I remember being less impressed with the songs they played with the Dude of Life. I most clearly remember Llama, The Curtain, Lizards, Possum and most of all Hood as far as the music went.
We were not sure if we were going to stay the night and camp out or dive home the short distance to MA. There were rumors that there would be a 4th, “secret set” later on at night. We debated staying to see if that happened, but we decided to cruise. Since that never materialized, I am okay with our decision. If something really crazy had been pulled out later, I'd have been pissed. All in all, it was one of the coolest summer concerts/festivals/parties I ever attended. Yeah, really it was just a big party for a bunch of good friends to celebrate summer, music and the whole Phish thing, which was beginning to gain some momentum. I miss such small venues and intimate affairs such as that one.
Setlist from my tour note book.
I went to Amy's farm with two friends from high school, both girls Kate and Ellen. Both had been to a couple shows in Keene NH and maybe Portsmouth, NH, this was my first show. We drove up from central new Hampshire and arrived a bit late I remember driving in with the top down hearing Reba, a classic. Parked the car and made our way through a woods area on a trail and entered into a large opening. The band set up directly across the opening with what seemed to be two or three thousand over heated heads bouncing. It was a warm to hot day as I recall, a water truck was provided to hose people down. I recall JEMP parked on one side of the stage and a couple of motor cycles cruising around. Music was pretty new to me at that point but really enjoyed it. The Dude of Life was a heavy presence during the third set and the encore. Pretty in your face type of lyrics and stage presence IMO. The vibe was really heady as people were passing out all sorts of free goodies as we settled back into camp following the third set, I can't remember what we did for food but I know we met up with some others from my High school and drank some beers allowing the night groove to set in as it got really dark out. We returned to the trail and eventually to where the stage was set up and there were people hanging out throwing beats in different drum circles,the forest had some trees that had glowing bark, at least in the state we were in, people were chilling in the woods making up lyrics to a song about the "glowing in the dark bark". Years later I thought back and figured someone must have opened a glow stick and sprayed it. Fun at the time though. The rest of the night into the early morning we strummed so guitars and met a bunch a cool heads. We left the next day not really appreciating the event we had just been a part of.
Amy's Farm was the freakin best, so unreal.....I've seen 300+ shows and it ranks easily in the top 5. I've got a blog of old phish stuff that I just started (www.backinmyday.net) and am also doing an Amy's Farm post...Shit was the bomb.... Here are some brief memories:
- Amy riding around on horseback asking fans for a $5 donation to seed the fields
- Trey riding to the stage on a Harley (how sick was that?)
- All the cool different campsites on the mounds/hills that were between the stage and campground
- Incredible weather on show day, only to wake up to torrential downpour on the second day
- Dead cover band "Double Dose" who were two twin brothers-- they played in the campground that night, do you remember?
- Also remember the water truck and the killer seitan stand
- Introduction by Amy is classic, also the only time I ever saw Sofi on stage (I think)
- I also remember the incredibly lax atmosphere-- zero security, zero police, naked girls, and bong hits 5 feet from the stage. It was so relaxed, you could be standing at the stage and not have a person within 5 feet of you, it was just so chill.
Yes...it's hard to believe it has been 20 years. I was 19 years old and working at a summer camp in Casco, Maine about two towns over from Amy's Farm. I was very excited to be able to get to it, because it was my very first Phish concert. Phish was supposed to have played at my school (Clark University) earlier that year in April, but it was cancelled for some reason. I was very much a novice fan in 1991. I had one bootleg cassette tape from Cutler Quad (4/22/1990), and I was certainly not well versed in Phish's song repertoire. I found out about the Amy’s Farm show from a friend who was touring for a few shows in July. He wrote me a letter (no cell phones, email, etc back then) that the band had organized this free party at their friend's farm to celebrate their signing to Electra records, and that it was right near where I was working. I quickly made sure that I could get the day off.
A couple of other counselors and myself got in the car and drove on over. There were a few handmade signs pointing us in the right direction once we got closer to the entrance. Parking was kind of a free for all. I remember getting out and seeing lots of people setting up tents to stay for the night. Everybody was super friendly. Many strangers were inviting us to come and party with them. There was, however, not any lot scene or "Shakedown Street" that I can recall. The crowd did not even seem particularly "hippie" to me either- something, I feel, that became more prominent after Jerry died.
We walked on over to the stage area. I remember having to walk through some wooded area to get there. One of my most vivid memories of that day happened next. In the woods, there was a fairly obese, shirtless, and exceptionally wasted fan hanging from a tree welcoming everybody to the show. From the top of his lungs he announced to all- "I AM THE LARGE ONE!!" It was the first of many surreal moments I would have at Phish concerts. (Sidenote- I did the "Large One" later that year when Phish played the Sommerville Theater. He was hanging from the curtain and swinging around during Tweezer)
The show began and I'd say that there were probably about 1500-2000 people in attendance. TONS of space to move around. I know that at some point I walked all the way up to the front with no problem. Again, not being too familiar, I only recognized a few songs, but was just really blown away by their playing, and by the very warm, low key vibe. Having seen a bunch of stadium Dead shows (and growing more unimpressed with the Jerry forgetting the lyrics), I specifically recall me telling myself, "Out with the old and in with the new!" One last specific memory about the music was watching the Dude of Life and thinking..."what the fuck is this?" (sorry Dude of Life)
I went over to the merch table. I had my heart set on getting one of those black Phish t-shirts with the neon green logo. My friend Adam had one I thought it was just the coolest thing. But they were only selling commemorative Amy's Farm shirts. I was really bummed, but bought one anyway. Well, I wore that t-shirt to every show for years. Trust me, that shirt has many miles on it…it’s paper thin at this point and barely hanging on a hanger. But wearing it made me feel like I was in some secret club. Amy’s Farm has taken on some sort of legendary status among Phish shows. People would comment on the shirt and say, "man…you were there! That's awesome."
I could not stay all night at the show, so I have no input into the after show scene. I headed back to the camp soon afterwards. Looking back, it’s hard to reflect on exactly how I felt at the time concerning the show’s impact on Phish and their history. It’s not like now when you are going to a Halloween, NYE, or a festival and know that it will be legendary. This one was sort of out of the blue. Being my first show, it stands out in my mind as everybody’s first show stands out in their minds. But, I went to sleep that night knowing that I had just been to something very cool. Not necessarily historic, but cool.
From the Maine's Sun Journal
(excerpts from Article that ran in Maine's Sunday newspaper following the show, full scans available at bottom of article)
"It could have been a one-band Woodstock right here in Auburn, Maine, with thousands of Birkenstock and indian-print-clad fans groovin' to music that sounded like no other band's. But this crowd was fishier. More than 2,500 fans from New England and beyond were drawn to the free admission Phish concert on a Larrabee Farm field on Broad Street Saturday afternoon. The concert was hosted by Amy Skelton, a Larrabee Farm resident, who said she'd been friends with the band long ago, before they had kicked up a path of faithful, Grateful Dead-like followers to rival groupies of all but the best-known bands."
"It was just finalized ten days ago"
"The free concert is just a gesture to Phish fans who have been faithfully buying tickets over the years," said Paluska.
Marybeth Stocking and Parker Harrington were two fans who'd followed Phish from first to last gig this summer. Harrington said Phish's three-week tour, which began July 11th, ran from the New England States to Virginia and Georgia, and the he expected the Auburn concert to be the highlight of the tour. "I've got a sticker on my car that says, 'Sharin' in the groove'," said Harrington, pushing his shoulder length brown hair out of his face and sticking a hand in the pocket of his fatigue shorts. "Havin' a good time- that's what it's all about."
The air was filled with the smell of patchouli. A young woman dressed in a flowing white dress and beads strung jerked into a arm-flailing, head-dizzying dance. The funky music had begun, and she was lost in her own dancing world, barely noticing the the entire crowd had joiner her.
Sadly, the "fourth set" never came to pass. It seemed a forgone conclusion that everyone was looking forward to and talking about. Amy was in the fields and chatting with some of the fans and said that apparently the music had attracted a handful of locals "that were not welcome" and "looking for trouble". So rather than risking late night issues in what had been a stress free, laid back, and enjoyable day, the late night set was canceled leaving people to their own drum circles, camp fires, hanging out or listening to "Double Dose".
As the cars poured out on Saturday, in typical Phish fan fashion, several dozen people, who were in no rush to leave, hung back and helped leave the Farm as it was when everyone arrived: Pristine, clean & devoid of trash or traces from the mass of humanity that called the farm home for the past 24 -48 hours. The next show back after Amy's saw the band debut Brother, It's Ice, Sparkle, & All Things Reconsidered at the Colonial Theatre in Keene, NH. A new era was beginning to unfold, and an exciting period of Phish history was starting to be written.
Maine Sun Journal
Maine Sun Journal
Phish Newsletter from Summer 1991. Note no mention of Amy's Farm
Me driving out of Amy's on Sunday..Summer over, and looking forward to the Fall.
What about you? Were you at Amy's Farm 20 years ago? What were your memories? What stuck with you after all these years?
Not at Amy's? Feel free to comment on the music, ask questions, or anything else
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Mike Gordon: November 20, 2016
12 months ago
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