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Performances Song History

White Rabbit

Music/Lyrics: Grace Slick

Vocals: Instrumental

Original Artist: Jefferson Airplane

Original Album: Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

Debut: 1995-09-30

Historian: Mark Toscano

Toward the beginning of the fall ‘95 tour, Phish decided to challenge their collective audience to a game of chess. Over the course of this tour, a large chessboard hung behind the band, and fans were invited to communicate their chess strategies at the Greenpeace table during the setbreak of each show. At the beginning of each second set, the fans’ and band’s respective moves would be made, pushing the game forward for the next show.

It all began at the Shoreline on 9/30/95, where the first sight of the chessboard confused but intrigued the entire audience. After a couple of opening songs, Trey addressed this justified confusion, explaining how the band are great fans of the game, and over the years have enjoyed engaging various fans in playing. They decided that it would be fun to challenge the entire audience to a game, and to let the result unfold over the course of the tour. So, before the sold-out crowd at Shoreline, a single fan referred to as “Pooh” arrived on the stage, representing the fan contingent. Meanwhile, Page mounted a ladder in front of the chessboard to access the band’s half of the game board. The two then exchanged about three sets of moves as the rest of the band played “a little chess music.” Said chess music was, appropriately enough, Jefferson Airplane’s classic of surrealist psychedelia, “White Rabbit.” Based on Lewis Carroll’s various adventures of Alice, the song references, among other things, Alice’s interaction with the live chess pieces of the Red Queen’s humongous chessboard. Although they didn’t actually play the full song or even sing any of its lyrics, Trey, Mike, and Fish laid down enough of the classic tune to provide an adequate soundtrack to the cheesy musings occupying the back portion of the stage.

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