In late Aug. 2015, Phish will be putting on, Magnaball--the band’s 10th festival--in Watkins Glen, N.Y. This three-day event (Aug. 21-23) will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the band’s summer 2015 tour, as every Phish festival has heralded another series of memorable performances in the band’s live catalog.
Over the course of Phish’s career, the band has hosted just nine other festivals, and true to the band’s legacy, these concerts have provided some amazing live sets. Look at our list of the best moments from these festivals as you prepare for the upcoming Magnaball showcase this summer.
The Clifford Ball - Aug. 16-17, 1996
Phish’s first festival, the Clifford Ball, took place in 1996 at New York’s defunct Plattsburgh Airport Base. The location was fitting, since the fest was named after a Pennyslvania aviation aficionado. There were plenty of highlights from the two-day event, including a guest appearance by fellow Vermont icons Ben and Jerry and a 4 a.m. parking lot jam on a flatbed truck.
Our pick for the best Phish festival moment from the Clifford Ball comes from the second day. Halfway through the first set, the band played “The Lizards,” complete with some exceptional solo work from Page.
The Great Went - Aug. 16-17, 1997
Exactly one year after the Clifford Ball, Phish tried its hand at another festival, but this time the action moved up north to Maine’s Loring Air Force Base. The Great Went--which took its name from David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” follow-up, “Fire Walk with Me”--had lots of goofy side events, like a late-night disco party and a giant fire truck hosing down attendees.
Musically, though, the Great Went introduced fans to one of the best versions of “Bathtub Gin” in Phish’s entire career, a designation the ’97 jam has held for almost a decade. Hear the second half of the affectionately dubbed “Went Gin” below:
Lemonwheel - Aug. 15-16, 1998
In ’98, Phish returned to Maine for its third festival, Lemonwheel. Sadly, we couldn’t find any video footage of the giant moving elephant sculpture that artist Lars Fisk made for the closer, “Baby Elephant Walk,” but the combination of “Gumbo” > “Sanity” has been hailed as one of the best musical moments of the festival.
Camp Oswego - July 17-18, 1999
Volney, N.Y., was the site of the fourth Phish festival, Camp Oswego. On the second and final night of the fest, the band played an electrifying “Piper” in its third set. Part of this live performance was used for the studio edition of the song featured on the 2000 album “Farmhouse.”
Big Cypress - Dec. 30-31, 1999
To celebrate the arrival of the new millennium, Phish played two New Year’s Eve shows at Florida’s Big Cypress Indian Reservation. The show on Dec. 31 was more than seven hours long, and one song from that set, “Heavy Things,” made it on to Peter Jennings’ national broadcast that night.
It Festival - Aug. 2-3, 2003
After nearly a four-year festival hiatus, Phish returned in 2003 with the It Festival at Maine’s Loring Air Force Base. The event was documented on film by PBS, who captured this 15-minute version of “Waves.” However, arguably the night’s most memorable moments didn’t take place on a typical stage. After the first night encore, Phish went to the top of a nearby air traffic control tower to perform accompanied by aerial dancers and a crazy light show.
Coventry - Aug. 13-15, 2004
2004’s Coventry was originally intended to mark the final shows of Phish’s career. Though the event was marred by heavy rain and muddy fields, thousands of devoted fans made their way to the farm venue to catch the final shows from this iconic band. Today, many of the performances are considered a bit off-target due to the emotional nature of the weekend, but the “Reba” jam (which starts at 6:20 in the Soundcloud clip below) is one of Coventry’s best moments.
Festival 8 - Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2009
In the spring of 2009, after a five-year hiatus, Phish reunited for three shows in Virginia. That fall, the band converged on Indio, Calif., for the three-day Festival 8. In addition to picking up the Phish festival tradition, the band reignited its Halloween musical costume by performing the Rolling Stones classic “Exile on Main Street” in full. Here’s their rendition of the album’s energetic lead track, “Rocks Off.”
Super Ball IX - July 1-3, 2011
Phish’s most recent festival, Super Ball IX, was staged four years ago at New York’s Watkins Glen International, the same site where Magnaball will be held this August. The hour-long Storage Jam (which can watch in full on YouTube) was a memorable point of the weekend, but one of the best visuals of Super Ball IX was the crowd’s giant beach ball war at the opening of the second show’s first set.
Additional research for this post was completed on phish.net, where you can find full setlists for each of the nine Phish festivals.