Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page, Fish (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty) and Mockingbird Staff
Last Update: 2013-09-06
At approximately 1400 UT on 4/7/97, a solar flare and coronal mass ejection (CME) were observed by the EIT and LASCO instruments on board NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Approximately three days later, the CME reached the Earth, inducing a geomagnetic storm that generated aurora borealis, also known as northern lights, throughout New England. This rare celestial spectacle, rendered exponentially so by the simultaneous presence of Comet Hale-Bopp in the heavens above, served as partial inspiration for the lyrics of “Farmhouse.” As detailed by Trey on Tom Marshall’s soundcloud page for “Farmhouse,” the rest of the lyrics came by way of a note from their weekend host; an ominous apology alerting Trey and Tom to the annual infestation of cluster flies that afflicted the structure.
The origin of the song is therefore best described by Trey himself:
In the nineties Tom and I began renting houses in the Stowe area of Vermont and disappearing for long weekends to hang out together and write. To be perfectly honest, the hanging out part was even more important to me than the writing. With Phish's exponential growth in the mid nineties came a whirlwind of confusion and frantic energy that I don't think any of us in the band were completely prepared for. Our quiet little scene in Burlington and on the road exploded. Suddenly the idea of hiding out alone for three days and nights on a farm with one of my oldest friends became a precious idea that I anxiously looked forward to for weeks in advance of our trips. At that time I had neither a cell phone nor a computer, so when we disappeared, we really disappeared.
Farmhouse was written and recorded in the first five minutes of one of those trips. I picked up Tom at the airport in this cool old 1970's RV that I had bought that had an eight track player in it, and we drove to the farmhouse we had rented. It was kind of late since Tom had left from work, and we pulled over for a second and jumped out next to a field. When we looked up at the sky, it was exploding with these deep greenish colors that we soon realized were the northern lights. We stood there and just stared in awe. We continued on, and found our house down a long secluded dirt road. We walked in and I ran over to the gear and picked up a guitar while Tom plugged in a Mic. there were some sliding glass doors that we opened, and though it wasn't as intense as it had been when we pulled over, we could still see traces of the northern lights thru the door. Mostly, we were both buzzing from that magical feeling of being completely alone, and knowing that we didn't have to talk to or see a single soul for three whole days and nights, which to both of us was heaven.
I started strumming and Tom started singing, and since he didn't have any lyrics, he reached over and grabbed the note that the owner of the house had left for us and began reading it, verbatim.
"Welcome! This is a farmhouse, we have cluster flies, alas, and this time of year is bad..." And on it went from there. I love the chorus, "I never ever saw the northern lights, I never really heard of cluster flies!" After that I quickly constructed all the instruments. I will always to this day believe that this version of Farmhouse is the perennial version, mostly because of the genuine joy in Tom's inspired and spontaneous vocal. Also, for the record, of course we immediately recognized that it sounded similar to "No woman no cry", and sort of threw that "be all right" thing in specifically for that reason, amidst the frenzy of laughing and singing. It felt like the perfect sentiment for our escape. "in the farmhouse things will be alright".
“Farmhouse” made its unofficial debut on the evening of 11/7/97, exactly seven months after the eruption of the solar flare that generated the auroral magic that was its inspiration. Earlier that day fans were abuzz with energy as they tried to figure out what Phish would play that night on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Most fans presumed it would be a cut from the October 1997 Slip, Stitch, and Pass release and as such “Taste” and “Cities” (the opening and closing tracks of the live album culled from a 3/1/97 performance) were the two most popular guesses on an internet poll. The band responded with the spontaneous ejection of some aural magic of their own by busting out “Farmhouse,” a song never before played for a live audience. When coupled with their rare full-band bearded appearance (not seen since circa 1986), the “This Band Can Do Anything” buzz that surrounded the fall 1997 tour that followed was ignited.
Phish, “Farmhouse” – 6/11/00, Tokyo, Japan
Following the Conan appearance, “Farmhouse” was played sparingly (three times) in the fall of 1997 and slightly more often (eight times) in 1998; predominantly as a mid first set breather. In 1999, “Farmhouse” moved into regular rotation (for both Phish and Trey’s solo performances), even opening several shows (see, for example, 7/26/99 and 9/28/99). While Trey was performing it solo acoustic, Phish continued to tinker with the song, as is evidenced by a new intro added in the summer of 1999 (see 7/9/99) and a slightly different arrangement that debuted on 12/2/99. This new arrangement featured a return to the chorus to conclude the song. The album version (released in May 2000) added a brief guitar-led break prior to the last chorus. The song remained in regular rotation throughout summer 2000 but was absent from the fall run that preceded the hiatus.
Trey and Tom released the original four-track recording of the tune on Trampled by Lambs and Pecked by the Dove only a month into the hiatus in November 2000. Although they performed it together during a 3/31/01 Amfibian show, it seems the time in the “Farmhouse” was both a figurative and literal afterthought for Trey during the chaotic times endemic to Phish 2.0, as the song appeared only twice, as the encore to shows on 2/24/03 and 7/29/03. Much like its protagonist, “Farmhouse” just wasn’t there when things got bad.
With Trey awoken by the stinging lash of his Whitehall encounter, the band and the song once again rose from the ash. Trey rekindled the embers with three solo performances in 2008 and when Phish finally returned to the stage on 3/6/09 “Farmhouse” returned to its regular mid first-set slot. Since that cathartic reunion “Farmhouse” has slowly migrated to a mid second-set position. Of the post-reunion performances the 8/5/11 Gorge version was perhaps the most heartwarming as it offered a stunning example to both the newer fans and those more grizzled veterans in attendance that Phish could still “Rock and Roll” and “everything is gonna be alright!”
That point was hammered home in the second set of the “F.U.C.K. Y.O.U.R. F.A.C.E.” show during the first of three nights at Dick’s to end Summer 2012. “Farmhouse” appeared as the “F” in “Face” as the band first spelled out, then played the White Tape classic to much rejoicing. As such, it was one of the tunes that was uncharacteristically extended during this jam-laden show. Although it could be argued the ambient construct that lay between “Farmhouse” and its successor was actually an “Also Sprach Zarathustra” head fake intro that plummeted at terminal velocity from an assumed ensuing space-funk fiesta quite jarringly earthward to the mangy moose infested land of “Alaska,” the Live Phish tracking tacked the “Jam” onto “Farmhouse” in order to preserve the set list spelling bee joke.
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That said, it doesn't even come close to the 3.0 versions. The Alpine 2012 version and Gorge 2011 are neck and neck if you ask me. Worcester 2010 is no slouch. Darien 2009 is no joke itself, and resembles earlier versions more. Trey's "whaley" tone sounds phenomenal on that version, but the end is sort of flubby. I'm not a Farmhouse completist, but I'm going to go ahead and assume that the other 3.0 versions are equally juiced up. Unfortunately, people didn't seem to remember how good short Phish songs can be until late 2011, so some Farmthusiast should try and return some of those from dust.