In celebration of Phish's 13-show run at Madison Square Garden, the Mockingbird Foundation is announcing 13 unsolicited "miracle grants" supporting music programs across the country. Each board member identified their favorite Phish show, and we found a worthy music education program nearby, part of the Foundation's long-standing Tour Grants program. We're presenting these 13 special grants chronologically, based on the dates of those favorited shows. Following #1, #2, and #3, here's #4...
Ah, 1994 - a truly joyous time to be a Phish fan! The band was bursting at the seams with inspiration, innovation and raw talent...touring incessantly while blowing minds and melting faces on a daily basis. And the fan base was expanding exponentially, many of us sharing our amazement, excitement, tales and friendship with each other via the developing Internet - r.m.p., IRC, post-show run to the pay phone to call Ellis with the setlist, sign up for the tape trees to get last month’s tapes (always saving the MaxPoints!).
As a university student in Santa Cruz I did what I could to get to as many shows as possible, mainly on the West Coast. For my summer tour, that meant seven shows in May, wrapping up with five straight days of Phish - three at the Warfield, followed by two headlining shows in Monterey at the incredible Laguna Seca Daze festival. What a run - the Warfield curtain opening to a monster "Curtain"...a screaming debut of "Simple" melting into a Puccini opera...thousands of boxes of mac and cheese (“shake shake shake when you hear the drum break!”)...Les Claypool dropping hands and jaw as Fish rips on the Electrolux...then a final show under the Monterey sun - my first up close on the rail - with the band so amped to just keep on playing that they dropped a six-song double encore. Nobody wanted to stop, and I knew I needed more more more!
I immediately started plotting and planning, and put together a trip to catch the last seven nights of leg 2 of summer tour out east - connecting with some PA phish.net buddies to hit the road, sling some grilled cheese, and Phish Phish PHISH! 1994, praise Icculus! My run started at Great Woods, with a fiery "Llama" melting into a swirly "NO2," launching a complete narrated Gamehendge. It ended with a pilgrimage to Vermont - Sugarbush - where deep in space a comet crashed into Jupiter and flung forth the "Harpua" I had been chasing so desperately. And between these two slices of toasted heaven was the gooiest, stickiest, most epic cheese to ever hit a parking lot grill…
At the heart of this run, and in many ways the heart of my Phish experience, was an out-of-the-way show on a little ski hill in a small town in New York state - a name that still echoes in the memories of us glides - BIG BIRCH! So for this commemorative miracle grant, I chose the kids’ music program nearest to the epicenter of this 9.4 Phishquake - the music and chorus program at the Matthew Patterson Elementary School in Patterson, NY.
Of course Big Birch was such an epic, twisted oddity of a show, with songs losing form and twisting and recombining in ways seldom seen before or since, the tapes of the second set are firmly imprinted into the DNA of every fan who was around in the 90s. If by chance you’re a newer follower who is unfamiliar with Big Birch, go listen. Now. It’s a big part of why so many of us are still here doing this thing. While you cue up the tape (or whatever the hell you do with a streaming MP3), I’ll reminisce on a few of the things that went down around that incredible music…
There were two significant tours bobbing and weaving around each other that summer: Phish, of course, and the Grateful Dead. For the fickle, it was pretty easy to bounce between the two. But on that Wednesday the 13th, Jerry and company hosted their first of two massive clusterfucks way up in Highgate, Vermont. The massive draw of the Dead in Vermont very effectively sucked away anyone and everyone who was either just there for the party, or who still prioritized the slow, sad fade out of Jer-bear. Leaving Patterson to the serious Phish fans. It just felt special - we knew we were all there, on this little hill in this little town, because we wanted PHISH. Together we celebrated our phishiness...I scored a Glide shirt in an epic round of Where’s Waldo… together in that little dirt lot.
The scene inside the venue was somewhat primitive. A small tent with a stage at one end and the soundboard at the other, with folding chairs set up as reserved seating. The GA section was the lawn outside the tent. Between the two was, well, the honor system. The band hit the stage, launched into a screaming "Buried Alive," and before Fish could hit the cowbell twice it was absolute chaos - everybody into the tent, chairs trampled underfoot, Trey’s overdriven flanger fueling a writhing pit of celebratory madness. I remember the first set being just massive ‘94 energy... "Down with Disease" (a still new song), "Fee," and "Split Open and Melt" being especially hot, and "Fast Enough for You" giving us a chance to stack those damned chairs and again dance on firm ground.
Set II is the beast that became legend. Things kicked off with "Possum," its sweet swampy groove getting us moving, that quickly escalated into a sireny rage just on the verge of losing control...until it did. A dropped beat...a lurch forward...and Mike cuts loose with a gospel howl to drive it limping back home. From there, things just stayed, well, warped. "Cavern" commences, but the lyrics are "Wilson." "NICU" delivers a spectacular "Tweezerfuck," tripping its way in and out of "Julius," "I Know a Little," "Big Black Furry Creature from a Mule," and "Mound." "Slave," as always, is glorious. And "Suzy," somehow, becomes a "Slave." Yeah. THAT set.
Twenty-three years later, and I’m still proud to be a Phish fan, sharing my amazement, excitement, tales and friendship with my friends here on the internet. And I’m honored, thanks to the all-volunteer all-phan Mockingbird Foundation, to be able to celebrate one of my very favorite Phish experiences by helping the children of Patterson, New York to make more music. Thank you Phish! Thank you phriends! And THANK YOU BIG BIRCH!
If you liked this blog post, one way you could "like" it is to make a donation to The Mockingbird Foundation, the sponsor of Phish.net. Support music education for children, and you just might change the world.
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Phish.net is a non-commercial project run by Phish fans and for Phish fans under the auspices of the all-volunteer, non-profit Mockingbird Foundation.
This project serves to compile, preserve, and protect encyclopedic information about Phish and their music.
The Mockingbird Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Phish fans in 1996 to generate charitable proceeds from the Phish community.
And since we're entirely volunteer – with no office, salaries, or paid staff – administrative costs are less than 2% of revenues! So far, we've distributed over $1,000,000 to support music education for children – hundreds of grants in all 50 states, with more on the way.