A RunawayJim Retrospective Part 1: Phish 1.0

The following article is part 1 of a multi-part series on my life as a Phishhead.

I was introduced to a little known band from Vermont called Phish when I was in high school in 1993-97. Some of my friends had older brothers who were into the band. I took my first listen and was intrigued. I went out and bought A Picture of Nectar sometime around 1994-95 (best guess is summer of ’94). I soon started collecting their albums. I bought A Live One shortly after it was released. It was at that point that I was hooked. From that point on, I signed up for the Doniac Schvice, the Phish newsletter. I finished collecting the backlog of studio albums, Rift being the last one I purchased. I was now buying their new albums the day they went on sale or through their Dry Goods online store. I picked up a few bootlegs along the way from a kid who rode my bus to school. Yes, they were analog cassette tapes (remember the Maxell double L’s?). At the time, I was mostly interested in the older shows from the late ’80s and early ’90s. He kept pushing the current shows from ’95. I picked up a few of those along the way as well.

Fast forward a few years to 1997. I graduated high school and went on to the University of Connecticut (go Huskies!). I made friends with some fellow Phishheads and decided to go to my first show. It was November 26, the day before my first Thanksgiving as a college student, at the Hartford Civic Center. I bought the tickets without my mother even knowing. We had crappy seats behind the stage. We made it better by telling ourselves that rather than being in the light show, we could watch it. Little did I know that this would be one of the better shows of the Fall tour. They opened up with “Tweezer” and segued into a sick “Sparkle”. By “sick”, I mean that it was freakin’ awesome. The speed they reached towards the end of the song made us feel like we were about to take off. We got to hear some of my favorites, including “The Horse->Silent in the Morning”. They closed the first set with “Taste”, though being a total newbie, I went to the bathroom at this time. I bumped into a kid with whom I had worked at one of my summer jobs during the setbreak. It was then that I knew just how big Phish really is. The second set started with a great “Character Zero” and one of the best “2001”‘s ever. It was a killer show and we had an all around great time. I remember when we arrived we wandered around the outside of the Civic Center. It was my first experience with the community surrounding Phish and just how weird it can be. People were selling all sorts of stuff. I saw my first goo balls (though I still have yet to try them) and this dude selling what looked to be nasty donuts out of a black trash bag. I knew at that moment that I was completely hooked.

I then met a girl who was friends with some of my friends in the dorm. Our first phone conversation was me telling her she was wrong about Phish playing a huge festival in Lewiston, ME, that it was actually Limestone, ME. We soon started dating and she understood that she should never try to argue anything Phish with me again. She spent the following summer of 1998 in Houston, TX. I was planning a trip down there to visit her and planned it around the Phish tour. Her family bought us tickets for the Woodlands Pavilion on July 24. As an aside, this is one of the nicest venues I have seen. I don’t know if it still exists, but it was gorgeous with awesome parking lots and pathways from the lots to the venue. The lots had lots of trees, keeping them cooler in the hot Texas air. The band opened this show with “Moma Dance”. It wasn’t the first time it was played, but it was still a young song. People still thought the title was actually “The Moment Ends”, as Story of the Ghost would not be released until later in the year. The second song of the night, and I remember this vividly, was “Runaway Jim”. The reason I remember this is because my girlfriend told me that the moment the played the opening tune, my eyes just lit right up. I encountered my first “Loving Cup” and “Scent of a Mule” at this show. The Mule Duel from this show was awesome with a great “Russian dance” segment and an awe-inspiring solo from Page. The closed the second set with the classic closer “Chalkdust Torture”.

As college continued, I had a new roommate who knew Phish, but had really gotten into them once he lived with me. The 3 of us went to a show during the Fall tour of ’98 on November 28 at the Worcester Centrum. This show was full of fun with some great Phish classics, including “Timber (Jerry)”, a late second set “Tweezer”, “Down With Disease”, and “Gumbo”. They covered Cream’s “Crossroads” at this show and ended the second set with the normally seen in the encore “Cavern”. My rooommate at the time was super excited to see “Guyute” as he loved that song.

My love for the band continued to grow through the beginning of ’99. I didn’t get to any shows until the fall. I had started seeing another girl who went to school at Yale. We decided to go to a Phish show at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in my craptastic car that kept stalling. We drove down there and made it to the show on October 8. Little did I know that this would be a pretty special show. We got some serious tunes. They opened with “Piper” and ran through a short first set that included Page’s then wife Sofi Dillof leading us in the “Meatstick” dance. The second set opened with “Halley’s Comet”. It had a big “Tweezer” that segued into “My Left Toe” (one of the ambient tunes from The Siket Disc). After the sleeper song “Bug”, they busted out with “Fee” followed by an awesome “Harry Hood” which was followed by Tom Marshall coming out to sing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from The Who’s Tommy. He swung the microphone around, Trey played “windmill” style like Pete Townshend, and it was an all-around good time. We had an absolute blast. It was at this show that I finally learned to groove and dance to the music. Phish had taught me to break out of my shell, being a normally shy and introverted person.

We broke up a month or 2 later, but went to a show in Hartford during their winter tour that year. It was December 12. The show was kind of mellow, but felt very deep. Trey had announced before the setbreak that his grandfather had just died and the he had a lot of family at the show and would be dedicating it to his grandfather. The highlight of the show was a sick “Drowned” to open the second set, though as a whole, the show was still awesome (and for sake of saving space, I won’t go into it much more than this).

The band had announced their big New Year’s Eve 1999 at Big Cypress with the extended set from midnight until dawn. A friend and I had thought about going, but didn’t to spend time with our unphishy friends in Connecticut (though we should have just gone). The year 2000 came. I didn’t have a whole lot of money and couldn’t afford to go to too many shows, missing out on the summer shows at the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford. Then came the announcement on October 7 that they would be taking a break for an undetermined amount of time. The hiatus began.

In the next article in this series, I will discuss how I made it through the hiatus.

6 thoughts on “A RunawayJim Retrospective Part 1: Phish 1.0”

  1. I was at the 11/26/97 show behind the stage too! If you were facing the stage, we sat on the right side, upper level, literally watching from pretty much behind the band. I was also at the 11/28/98 Worcester show. In retrospect, that was one of my least favorite shows, not only because it was my first show where I had seen every song before, not only because it pales in comparison to the night before and after, but also because I don’t remember any stand out jams.

    Looking forward to the next part of the series.

  2. I don’t remember exactly, but I think we were just left of center behind the stage, behind Fishman.

    In retrospect, that Worcester show was probably one of my less favorite shows, but I still had a great time (I’ve never not had a great time at a Phish show).

  3. While I don’t prefer it, I highly recommend that everyone sit behind the stage at least once. It gives you such a unique perspective to the show IMHO. You are seeing what the band is seeing and I think you can hear things in the music that you miss when you are watching it from CK’s perspective. First time we sat back there was for 10-09-99 Albany. It was great a show. We even did it again for a Hampton show.

  4. I’m not sure I’d recommend sitting behind the stage. The sound isn’t quite as good. That being said, behind the stage is much better than not at the show. 🙂

  5. I resisted for so long to give the band a chance. Around 1994 a bunch of my friends in high school invited me to come to a show and, regretfully, I scoffed at them. Fast forward a few years to college, and I finally gave them a chance. The combination of being away from my punk high school friends at college and Story of a Ghost had me hooked. I have never been the same. Phish became this swift moving river that had me in its strong current. A fast moving yet gentle current, I flowed with it, and my life opened up in front of me.

    Then the hiatus came. I was crushed.

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