What Was The Clifford Ball
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"We realized that there is another whole level of concerts that hasn't been explored yet."
-- Trey, in Billboard Magazine 9/7/96
Title: The event is named for the Clifford Ball, famed aviator who held fabulous balls for other aviators such as Amelia Earheart. The band purportedly learned of Ball from a plaque in a Pittsburgh-area airport, memorializing Ball with the epitath "a beacon of light in the world of flight". Trey used that phrase to introduce Page at 3/26/92 (during the Harpua encore), and at 3/24/92 he calls Fishman "Clifford O'Sullivan ... a beacon of light in the world of flight!" Over four years later, the phrase became the theme of the event named the Clifford Ball. (Thanks to Craig Delucia.)
The Clifford Ball was an absolutely phenomenal, unequivocably religious, amazing event at the former Air Force Base in Plattsburgh, New York, in August 1996. Phish performed three sets and an encore on each of the two show days, of a Friday-to-Sunday event, where some 70-80,000 fans camped on site for three days. Phish and Great Northeast Productions provided an array of entertainment and preparations that included:
- flights overhead by bombers, fighters, gliders, and other airial vehicles, including two planes pulling banners with silly sayings (eg "Help... We're out of fuel... Seriously...")
- carnival rides; wandering jugglers and stilters
- a classical violin quartet, a blues quartet, a choral quintet, guitar soloists, and a full orchestra
- scores of food vendors, a general store with basic necessities, and wandering ice vendors
- 900 portable johns, cleaned regularly; and large fresh water tanks, filled regularly
- on stage guests, including Ben and Jerry, two tramplonists, and a woman swinging on a rope
- three huge video screens, and four sound towers
- a central village ("Ball Square") built on a hill
- movies in the camping area (Phantasia on Thursday night; cartoons and Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday)
- and more...
The audience was four times the size of hosting Clinton County, and temporarily made Plattsburgh the ninth largetst city in New York State.
Flatbed Jam: At about 3:30 a.m. (the night after the first show), Phish rolled through the parking lot on the back of a flatbed truck decorated with billions (well, lots anyway) of lights, playing an incredibly moving and rolling jam. (Tapes exist -- the first 20 minutes or so from Audio Technica 822 mics attached to bicycle handlebars, and the last 15 minutes or so from Neumann KM-140 mics attached to a stick, and there is an effort underway by Airwaves studios in Chicago to combine the two and mix out noise from the truck and the crowd -- but the experience cannot be captured.)
Ball Radio: During high-traffic periods going into the event, Phish took over the airwaves, as 89.1 FM, Ball Radio, "Ball All the Time!" Here's what they played on the radio 8/15/96 (the day the campgrounds opened):
12/31/91- Tweezer > McGrupp 3/26/92- NICU 3/24/92- Brother 6/22/94- Catapult > Simple > Icculus 7/15/94- Setting Sail 6/23/94- Frankenstein 12/30/92- Ride Captain Ride - - S.O.A.M. 10/29/94-Buffalo Bill > Makisupa Policeman 7/5/94- The Cities 3/26/93-P.Y.I.T.E. 8/13/93- Bathtub Gin > CB radio announcement, Bathtub Gin Gt; Ya Mar 2/19/93- Funky Bitch 2/9/90- Ballad Of Curtis Lowe 11/1/91- The Landlady > Destiny Unbound 12/30/92-Timber Ho > Bowie 7/14/91- 6/26/94-Tube 5/25/88-Alumni Blues
Orchestra: On the second day (Saturday, 8/17/96), between the first and second sets, there was an orchestral set by what was deemed the Clifford Ball Orchestra. Gliders flew overhead to the music, and then off into the sunset as the music came to an end. Tapes do exist and circulate. The setlist was as follows: Debussy: Nocturnes (2 movements), Ravel: Pavane Pour une Enfante Defunte, Debussy: Claire de Lune, Ravel: Tombeau de Couperin (2 movements), Chavrier: Joyeux Muse, Faure: Pelleas et Mellisandre (2 movements), Stravinsky: The Firebird (2 movements)
Thanks where due: If you'd like to send a letter to Plattsburgh and thank for them for helping put on such an amazing event, send snail mail to:
Mr. Randy Beach, Chairman Board of Directors Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Committee 426 U. S. Oval - Suite 1000 Plattsburgh, New York 12903
No likely return: Though the event brought needed revenue and attention to Plattsburgh, NY, the local government ruled that there ought not be a repeat. The to-press story at the time was that the event left trash (ranging from glass to cigarette butts) that couldn't be completely removed and which would interefere with more longterm (and profitable) use of the site, by presenting hazards to airplane tires on the tarmacs. There has also been some discussion that the event had been planned and promoted by (and in coordiation with) incumbent Democracts; when Republicans came into office, approving a sequel (to a disputable, stereotypeable, crazy, liberal spectacle, the largest concert in North America that year and the seventh largest city in New York that weekend) would be acknowledging a success of those recently beaten at the ballot box.
MTV showed a 22-minute film about the Clifford Ball, and aired it twice during prime time. A longer version (of 70-minutes or 90-minutes; the rumors differ) reportedly exists, and there were many official cameras throughout the event, so there is great hope that a full documentary will be made about the event. On the other hand, and particular with a second similar event (The Great Went) in 1997 and a third (The Lemonwheel) coming this year, there may be less interest in attracting too much attention.
Note: The Third Ball was completely unrelated (as far as we know) to the Clifford Ball. It was held 6-6-96 in Woodstock, NY, following the recording of Billy Breathes at Bearsville Studios. Mentioned on rec.music.phish just hours before the show, this event was circa 200 people crammed into a small bar, with circa 300 more outside. Soundboard tapes of this show, at which Character Zero and Waste were introduced, are circulating.
Also: Despite what's printed in the liner notes to A Live One, there was not a Clifford Ball (
so called) in 1994. The tracks on A Live One are from the fall of 1994.
The Clifford Ball gave birth to a new group of fans helping to keep the scene tidy, the Clifford Care Bears.
As a sequel to the Clifford Ball, the Great Went was held in August of 1997 and the Lemonwheel will be held in August 1998, both at the former Loring Air Force Base (now the Loring Commerce Center) in Limestone, Maine.
See also: Plattsburgh, NY's site.
"It's like we weren't even there! Which feels really good to me, to be the band that is ignored by the media, and meanwhile to be putting on the biggest concert in North America." - Trey, 22/1/96 Entertainment Weekly