The Timeline of Phish Festivals

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    The Timeline of Phish Festivals
    Published: July 1, 2024

    Phish will host their 11th festival, Mondegreen, August 15-18th in Dover, DE.

    Even after a career spanning over 40 years, Phish continue to break new creative ground both for themselves and for the entire music industry. In April they completed their first four-night run at the brand new Sphere in Las Vegas. Phish brought the Sphere to another planet, as confirmed by many accounts, including Drew Carey’s.

    Now, we are temporarily back on Earth in anticipation of summer tour and the anticipated Mondegreen Festival, happening August 15-18th in Dover, DE. The eleventh Phish festival, and the first in almost a decade.

    In preparation for Mondegreen, I’m exploring the timeline of Phish festivals leading up to it, with background info, legendary tales, and music from each one.

    The Clifford Ball (1996)

    August 16-17, 1996 – Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Plattsburgh, NY

    Clifford Ball Poster

    The first-ever Phish festival was the capstone of their summer tour in 1996, thus beginning a long tradition of immersive festival experiences that go beyond the music. There were 70,000 people in attendance, making it the largest concert in North America that year. Tickets were only $25.

    A 1998 Phish.net article mentions the many cameras at Clifford Ball, anticipating an official documentary (which was released in 2009). The venue, an active military base from 1954 to 1995, hosted Phish as the only artist to ever perform there. Plattsburgh did not allow them to come back the next year.

    Both days were streamed live in November of 2021 as part of the Dinner & A Movie series. They aren’t on YouTube anymore, but you can still find them on Facebook. (8/16 / 8/17)

    Flatbed Jam

    The Flatbed Jam was the first of what has become a long history of unique surprise sets at Phish festivals. After three sets of music on Friday, fans returned to the campgrounds to “unwind” for the night. Phish returned around 3am to perform an ethereal jam from the back of a flatbed truck that rolled through the campgrounds. The truck sped up little by little until the then-running fans could no longer keep up, and Phish sped off into the night.

    Phish Clifford Ball MTV Special

    A mini-documentary that aired twice on MTV in the months following the event.

    The Great Went (1997)

    August 16-17, 1997 – Loring Air Force Base, Limestone, ME

    Great Went poster by Modern Dog

    After not being welcome back in Plattsburgh, Phish found a different former Air Force base that would allow them — the Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine. Limestone is notably located in the Northeastern tip of the United States, just south and west of the Canadian border.

    There are many fans who consider 1997 to be the peak of Phish, musically. The second set on August 17th is a highlight of summer tour and the whole year. The Great Went prompted a post-event writeup in the Washington Post, where it was described as an overall positive event for the city of Limestone.

    Phish – 8/17/97 – The Great Went (Full Show)

    Named After a Scene from Twin Peaks

    The Great Went was named after a scene from the 1992 David Lynch horror masterpiece, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Specifically, it is named after a disorienting bar scene with red disco lights and loud music, where the bar owner refers to himself as “The Great Went.”

    Late Night Disco Set

    The Great Went included a special “disco set,” in which the members of Phish set up on a side stage and played synthesizers instead of their regular instruments. This lasted for about an hour, starting around 2 a.m. The Disco Set was advertised via small flyers that circulated throughout the event on Saturday.

    Lemonwheel (1998)

    August 15-16, 1998 – Loring Air Force Base, Limestone, ME

    Lemonwheel poster by Dan Sharp

    The summer of 1998 brought Lemonwheel, back at the Loring Airforce Base, the far-northern site of the Great Went. The event featured three sets per day and a fourth set late night on Saturday, known as the “Ambient Jam.”

    Here is a quote from the Phish.net article about Lemonwheel, which sums up how I feel about the concept of a Phish festival in general:

    These three recent multi-day festival events put the experience in overdrive. In case you’ve missed all three, and in case there are further events in this series, be advised that (a) it will be a religious experience, (b) there will be more going on than you will remember, and (c) you should come prepared to be happy and healthy in an enormous (circa 65K) group, a virtual (and practical) city. 

    Phish.net post after Lemonwheel, 1998.

    Ambient Jam

    Full Show – 8/16/98

    The Pharcive captured a video of the whole show on Friday from the audience and uploaded it to YouTube with a soundboard recording.

    Camp Oswego (1999)

    July 17-18, 1999 – Oswego County Airport, Volney, NY

    Camp Oswego poster by Pete Tschudy.

    Camp Oswego, held on July 17-18, 1999, was a two-day camping festival that took place during the 1999 summer tour. The weather was notoriously hot, and while the band delivered strong performances, these shows are less frequently discussed in the overall timeline of Phish festivals. Most fans remember the oppressive summer heat, with some saying that it was “too hot for shenanigans.”

    Phish were joined by bluegrass legends the Del McCoury Band for a portion of the first set on Sunday, adding a unique flavor to the festival.

    A Trip to Oswego (Fan Video)

    Here is an old video from Camp Oswego that YouTuber thegreatboognish found in their attic.

    Big Cypress (1999 NYE)

    December 30th 1999 – January 1st, 2000 – Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, Florida Everglades

    Big Cypress poster by Eric Hanson

    Big Cypress is the most legendary Phish festival, and the NYE show in particular is often cited among the best the band has played. It was a three day festival celebrating the turn of the century. The second set on New Year’s Eve lasted from midnight until sunrise.

    Everything I’ve ever read about Big Cypress recalls a wild time. The location alone, the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, is located in the heart of the Florida everglades, a beautiful natural setting noted for its swampiness.

    NYE 2000 was also a weird time because people were worried that the world was going to end due to a computer glitch. It did not, but Phish played “After Midnight” to close out the year 1999, and it was awesome. Then… setbreak happened, and Phish returned inside of a hotdog to open the new millennium with “Meatstick.”

    Phish – “After Midnight” (12/31/99)

    Watch Phish’s iconic performance of “After Midnight” during their legendary NYE set at Big Cypress.

    Big Cypress VHS Footage

    5 hours worth of the 7 hour set on 01/01/00 is on YouTube, with video.

    Big Cypress Firsthand Accounts

    Rather than regurgitate things I’ve found on the web about Big Cypress, I will direct you to a few resources where people are giving firsthand accounts.

    1. Can anyone go into detail about their experience at Big Cypress? (Reddit, 2018)
    2. Tell a Big Cypress story (Phantasy Tour, 2013)
    3. Green dust @ Cypress? (Phantasy Tour, 2010)

    The green dust thread is particularly interesting, as it discusses a mystery drug that was circulating in great quantities at the event, which many fans recall ingesting.

    Overall, Big Cypress is a rabbit hole in and of itself, especially given the fact that you have to dedicate an entire day-plus to listen to the music played. 7 hours is a very long time for a band to be on stage, and that is just one set of four (though the rest were of normal length).

    It (2003)

    August 2-3, 2003 – Loring Commerce Center, Limestone, MN

    IT poster by Nathan Fox

    After their fall tour in 2000, Phish took a hiatus that lasted almost two full years. They returned on New Years Eve in 2002, and toured for two more years before their breakup following Coventry in 2004. Fans refer to this period as the 2.0 era of Phish. This was a dark period for the band, due to guitarist Trey Anastasio’s drug addiction, but it produced some excellent music.

    At the peak of the party that was 2.0 Phish, Phish returned to Limestone for their third festival at the Loring Air Force Base (now Loring Commerce Center). The event featured three sets of Phish each day, plus a special late night instrumental night set on top of an air traffic control tower, known as the Tower Jam.

    Aside from the Tower Jam being one of the most notorious sets of music the band has played, the whole festival is musically worth checking out, especially the first night.

    Tower Jam – 8/2/03

    “Mike says no” – 8/3/03

    Phish did not play one of their most popular and oldest songs, “Fluffhead” at all from 9/29/00 until 3/6/09, at their first show back from the breakup. The crowd at IT was chanting for “Fluffhead” after “Wilson” during the first set on Saturday night. Trey told the audience, “Mike says no,” and they went into “Mike’s Song” instead.

    This segment helped contribute to the hype when Phish opened with “Fluffhead” in Hampton in 2009, thus beginning the 3.0 era of Phish.

    Overall, IT marks a special moment in Phish history. Not long after this things would take a turn for the worse.

    Coventry (2004)

    August 13-16, 2004 – Newport State Airport, Newport, RI

    Coventry poster by Jim Pollock

    On May 25th, 2004, Trey announced via the Phish website that Coventry would be the final Phish show, after 21 years as a band. His reasons stated that Phish had run its course and they wanted to step away rather than become a nostalgia act.

    Musically, Coventry is a difficult listen. It is clear that the band was not in a good place. Some fans have compared the experience to that of a funeral.

    This was the low point in Phish’s career. They did not play another show for almost five full years. In December 2006, Trey was arrested for DWI with a bunch of pills in his car. After this, he got sober, and has been sober ever since.

    Coventry Firsthand Accounts

    Some readers may want to go down this rabbit hole. If you don’t, just move on to Festival 8. Here are some links to firsthand accounts from Coventry, followed by some videos.

    1. How bad was Coventry, really? (Phantasy Tour, 2022)
    2. What was it like to actually be at Coventry? (Reddit, 2019)

    Coventry “Glide” (8/15/04)

    “Glide” from Coventry in particular gets passed around a lot because the whole band speaks to the audience afterwards, and Trey breaks down and cries.

    Coventry “Split Open and Melt” (8/15/04)

    At the end of Trey’s speech, he says they are going to blow off some steam. Then they launched into “Split Open and Melt,” perhaps the musical high point of the weekend. The music is dark, and Trey is visibly messed up, but the jam gets really out there.

    Festival 8 (2009)

    October 30 – November 1, 2009 – Empire Polo Club, Indio, California

    Festival 8 poster by Jim Pollock

    Thankfully, Coventry was not truly the end for Phish. Trey made a powerful recovery, and their return in 2009 was exciting to say the least. The eighth Phish festival was simply called Festival 8, a three-day event at the site of the famed Coachella Festival in Indio, California. It was the first Phish festival in five years, and the first Phish festival on the West Coast. It was also the first time a single artist played consecutive dates at the Coachella venue.

    All of Phish’s previous festivals took place during the summer, but Festival 8 was a giant Halloween party at one of the most beautiful concert venues in the country. Fans recall Chris Kuroda’s lighting of the entire festival grounds to transform it into a psychedelic wonderland for the nighttime sets.

    Exile on Main St. (10/31/09)

    On Halloween night, Phish donned a “musical costume” for the second set and performed the Rolling Stones’ famous 1972 album Exile on Main St. in its entirety.

    Acoustic Set (11/01/09)

    On Sunday at noon, Phish performed a full-length acoustic set for the first time since 1998. This was the first of three sets of music for the day, and they have not performed a full acoustic set since.

    Super Ball IX (2011)

    July 1-3, 2011 – Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY

    Super Ball IX poster by Ames Bros

    Super Ball IX featured eight sets of music across three days at the Watkins Glen International Raceway. The festival also featured a surprise late night secret set inside of a storage building on the festival grounds. The grounds also featured a drive-in movie theater that showed various films throughout the festival.

    All fan accounts from the weekend recall outrageous fun and shenanigans, as seen in this 2011 thread on Phish.net and this Reddit post from 2021. Like most Phish festivals, Super Ball musically represents some of the strongest music of the summer. One fan notes that it was the second longest Phish show ever (the longest being Big Cypress).

    Super Ball IX Montage Video

    YouTuber 0619Sean shares a video featuring collected clips and photos from the event.

    Beachball War (7/02/11)

    Phish opened their first set on Saturday with “Tube” and “Kill Devil Falls” during which fans started a beachball war. YouTuber Lisa Shiroff captured the experience from the crowd.

    Storage Jam (07/02/11)

    Here is the full storage jam, plus a review published on The News House that documents the buildup to, and discovery of, the Storage Jam.

    Magnaball (2015)

    August 21st – 23rd, 2015 – Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY

    Magnaball poster by Jim Pollock

    In 2015, Phish returned to Watkins Glen to host a second festival on the Watkins Glen International speedway. The summer of 2015 is highly regarded by Phish fans for producing some excellent material, and Magnaball is seen as a highlight of the tour.

    Friday night brought a “Bathtub Gin” for the ages. Saturday featured three scheduled sets of music plus the fabled Drive-In Jam, which featured an hour of improvised, exploratory jamming at the drive-in movie theater on the festival grounds.

    “Bathtub Gin” (8/21/15)

    “Tweezer” -> “Prince Caspian” (8/22/15)

    Drive-In Jam (8/22/15)

    The Drive-In Jam in particular is very interesting, and provides the element of surprise that we all hope to find at a Phish concert.

    Curveball (2018, cancelled)

    August 17-19, 2018 – Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, NY

    Curveball poster by Jim Pollock

    Phish’s Curveball Festival was planned for a return to the Watkins Glen International Raceway in 2018, but mother nature had other plans. The three day festival was cancelled the day before it was set to begin due to the torrential downpours on Thursday, June 16th which led to contaminated water supply in Watkins Glen. The local government had no choice but to cancel the event, despite some fans already being on site. Here’s a 2018 news article in Variety that documents it.

    Trey Anastasio Talks About Curveball – Smith Opera House – Geneva, NY (10/15/19)

    During a solo performance in 2019, Trey told some humorous stories about Curveball, its cancellation, and some of what they had planned for the festival, including a field of mimes blocking the shortest path between the campground and the stage.

    Mondegreen (2024)

    August 15-18, 2024 – The Woodlands, Dover, DE

    The four-day festival Mondegreen takes place on August 15th-18th, 2024 at The Woodlands in Dover, Delaware, the former site of Firefly Music Festival. This event is highly anticipated in the Phish community, given the circumstances of the recent Sphere run and it being their first festival since 2015.

    Extra Chill shares this excitement and we are making plans to attend Mondegreen in August. It will be my first Phish festival. I will come back and update this post with my experience after I get home from Delaware. Thanks for reading!

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