Phish debut; Neil Young on guitar.
 Phish debut; Neil Young and Willie Nelson on guitar and Paul Schaffer on keyboards.
 Neil Young on guitar.
This single set performance was part of the annual Farm Aid benefit concert which also included Hootie and the Blowfish, The Del McCoury Band, Brian Wilson, Wilco, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. The set featured the Phish debuts of Arc, Down By the River, Moonlight in Vermont, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Uncloudy Day (although Will the Circle Be Unbroken was also played during the November 19, 1994 “Parking Lot Jam”). Trey teased Dave's Energy Guide in Runaway Jim. Neil Young sat in from Runaway Jim through the end of the set; Willie Nelson and Paul Shaffer sat in during Moonlight in Vermont. Four Native American dancers came onstage before Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Circle featured Willie Nelson on vocals. Amazing Grace was performed for the first time since December 31, 1996 (115 shows) and included instrumental accompaniment. This set was broadcast live on Country Music Television, though the beginning of Runaway Jim was cut from the broadcast.
I remember watching and taping this Farm Aid show from country music television onto a VHS cassette and then onto a maxell tape so I could listen to this down by the river with Neil Young! Birds of a Feather through Moma Dance are pretty straight forward being a TV appearance and all. About halfway through Jim Neil Young begins to saunter out onto the stage, and if memory serves me correctly, I believe he was playing a Languedoc guitar! This 19 minute Down by the River is worth obtaining this set if for nothing else. After Down by the River Willie Nelson comes out onstage and they begin a beautiful Moonlight in VT. The Willie Nelson songs were short and sweet with Nelson doing the primary vocals. The set was short and sweet but man does that Down by the River smoke. The look on Trey's face while him and Young were jamming it out said everything that needed to be said. Here i am with our band jamming with Neil Young! The recording here on the spreadsheet isn't that bad seeing how I read in the tapers notes that it was recorded from the TV as well. I had forgotten about this set and stumbled across it by accident the other night. Phish doesn't have too many guest appearances, but Willie Nelson and Neil Young are two pretty awesome ones!
I feel like this show is often forgotten when discussions of the best shows of 1998 come up, but do yourself a favor and check it out. It starts out with very well played versions of Birds of a Feather, Farmhouse and Moma Dance. The Runaway Jim is 20 minutes long (including the "Arc" noise jam with Neil Young at the end). Great version! This segues monumentally into the only Phish version of Young's "Down By The River." The interplay between Neil and Trey is really fantastic. You should watch this on Youtube to get the full effect. I remember reading that Neil asked the boys to become his touring band after this performance, but they had to respectfully decline. The rest of the set, with Willie Nelson, et al. is more of a curio and shows what it would be like if Phish was simply a backing band. I come back to this tape (sourced from the Farm Aid TV broadcast) time and time again, and you should too. Just another reason that 1998 stands out as a peak year for Phish.
This was a classic "Hey we should go" show. Two days before Farm Aid 98, we assembled a car of 5 people and set off for Chicago. My roommate at the time had a high school friend who lived in the city and offered to put us up for a couple nights. After a great summer tour we were all in for a road trip to see the boys, even if it wasn't going to be a full show. There obviously wasn't much of a lot scene as most of the people in attendance weren't there to see Phish. Upon walking into the venue it was clear that phans were a true minority of the vast audience. Weather is always tricky when you travel to a show. Although we had planned accordingly, we weren't quite prepared for just how cold it was that day. We had made the trip thinking that besides seeing phish we'd also get to check out Neil Young, Wilco and Brian Wilson (I was in a huge Beach Boys phase at this point, which was a bonus). What we hadn't counted on was, an entire day and evening in extremely frigid conditions. Huddled in the lawn among other people there to see Phish, we waited it out. Everyone was talking sit ins and it seemed likely we'd have at least one guest during the set. The consensus was on Neil, and the excitement grew as the lights dimmed. The band started out with a crisp and tight Birds that gave way to a slower more restrained moma. When farmhouse filled the 3 spot it began to feel like we were in for a "greatest hits" set. The band is well known for delivering a song heavy show at festivals, and Farm Aid 98 began that way. It wasn't until they made their way past the structured part of Jim that things took a turn past the expected.
As this evening's performance was broadcast on CMT, most people were either watching at home or have seen a recorded copy of this show. For most folks,the go to moment from Farm Aid is obviously the guitar duel between Trey and Neil Young on his classic track "Down by the River". One listen to the jam and it's easy to see why. More than just a "had to be there" moment. This jam stands the test of time. What's often overlooked however, is Trey's great work in the middle of Jim. Though not an all time great version the band builds a compelling frame for Trey to solo over and Neil to work his way in. By the time they finished the feedback transition into Down by the River, we were dead center in the lower pavilion and ready to go. Well worth the trip at this point Trey and Neil weaved leads back and forth and up and down as the band built up and tore down behind them. When Willie walked on stage 20 minutes later, it was all icing.
There were other acts following Phish but the one I remember best was John Mellencamp. For some reason he broke out a rap version of "Jack and Diana" and at that point we were headed for the doors.
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