Today I want to talk about two important shows that we don’t have much of a setlist or any recordings from. I know what you’re thinking, “How can you write up shows that you don’t know much about?” The fact is these two shows were extremely important in the history of Phish that our lack of first-hand accounts can’t be reason alone to skip them.
Much of the mythos of the Phish story is Phish rose to be the kings of live music without radio, MTV, or album sales. While on a national front this is true, at home, Phish was all supported by local radio stations. Most notably here at the Rock Rumble at the Front. WIZN was a major player in the Vermont radio scene alongside WNCS out of Montpelier, a station we’ll cover later in this series. Starting out in 1983 in Vergennes, the same year as Phish, with Arty LaVigne as general manager, the station would become a champion of local radio with a popular local morning show, Corm and the Coach, and a focus on Vermont artists. The station would become the predominant rock and roll radio station for the town until 1997 when it added 99.9 The Buzz as its “younger-focused” sister station. As a kid, I used to listen to these three stations ad-nauseum. I still remember listening to Rich Haskell and Arty LaVigne riding down Shelburne Road with my parents in the summer, usually talking about some promotions at the Chickenbone Cafe. On all these stations, around 1992-94, there was always room for Phish between Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton. I probably heard Phish over the airwaves long before I knew exactly who they were. Also, a WIZN DJ gave me a copy of Hoist in June 1994, my first conscious moment with the band and one that clearly changed my life forever.
Part of that was these two shows. The shows were hosted by WIZN’s own Arty LaVigne, who had just bought that station outright in June 1988. Nighttime drive DJ Mike Luoma was also believed to be a judge that evening. The only known fact is Phish pulled out the theatrical stops, climaxing their one set on April 21st by lowering Fishman naked from the rafters for his “I Didn’t Know” vacuum solo. The vacuum, however, was not plugged in. Fish did play a naked trombone solo though. The band also played Contact. Mike’s lone notes from the show are they played “loud and hard”. The band obviously brought it enough to be named a finalist. All the finalists performed with Phish winning the whole thing on April 22nd. Phish used the Archer Studios time won to record “Split Open and Melt” and “Bathtub Gin” for the forthcoming Lawn Boy. Phish were now officially the kings of Burlington’s music scene. Now on the radar of local radio, the band could continue to grow outside of the city of Burlington and college scenes.