Venue #12: Haybarn Theatre Goddard College

Address: 123 Pitkin Rd, Plainfield, VT

Shows at this venue: 5/17/86, 10/12/86, 5/16/87

Notable song debuts: Halley’s Comet, Golgi Apparatus, Wilson

Status: Still standing

Can you visit it? Yes. Goddard College campus is open to visitors.

On the back side of Goddard’s Community Center lies the Haybarn Theatre. Built in 1868, the space became a theater some time in the 1960s. While Phish’s early gigs are an important milestone, the venue is better known for hosting for Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet and Oscar-nominee and Emmy winner William H. Macy during their time as students there. It also hosted one of Black Sabbath’s first American tour dates. The venue has also been a home of Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater due to its proximity of their home in Glover.

Phish first played this venue at their 2nd SpringFest appearance in May 1986 This show had the first appearance of Richard “Nancy” Wright and the last performance with Jeff Holdsworth.

Photo Credit: Haybarn Theatre Facebook page. Interior of Haybarn Theatre (renovated)

Venue #11: 156 King Street

Photo Credit: Google Maps

Address: 156 King Street Burlington, VT

Shows at this venue: 12/13/1985

Notable song debuts: None

Status: Still standing

Can you visit it? Yes but only the exterior. Trey does so in the film Between Me and My Mind.

This is it. The little red house (now painted green.) Trey, Fish, and early fan Brian Long used to live in this house in Phish’s early days. Trey fondly remembers Fish sleeping in a pile of laundry instead of a bed and that his future wife Sue lived in the building to the left and he could see her balcony from his room. Across the street is the Hood plant, now condominiums, but at the time, it had a giant tank with H.P. Hood dairy mascot Harry Hood on it as pictured below inspiring the now famous lyrics. Phish played a kitchen party here. Garrett Mead later resident of this house, and member of Burlington band The Jones recalls Hood plant parking lot attendant Mr. Minor writing notes on cars stating “Thank You Mr. Minor.”

Photo Credit: Phish.com (h/t Mr. Miner)

Venue #10: Goddard College

Photo Credit: Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Address: 123 Pitkin Rd, Plainfield, VT

Shows at this venue: 4/21/85, 10/26/85 (Unable to play), 11/23/85, 3/6/87, 9/4/87, 9/19/87, 5/14/88

Notable song debuts: None (explained below)

Status: Still standing

Can you visit it? Yes. Goddard College campus is open to visitors.

Goddard College is unique because of the school’s approach to education. Founded on the former Martin family farm in Plainfield, Vermont, it was purchased by Tim Pitkin in 1938 to start a “college for living” where interacting with community would be the lessons. The current Adult Degree Program began in 1963. In lieu of structured classes and majors, students at Goddard are free to study whatever they choose working with faculty advisors to a final project through independent study.

Goddard College looms large in Phish lore. Its unique approach to education lured Page McConnell to transfer from Southern Methodist University. Page then made $50 each encouraging Trey and Fish to transfer in 1986. Only Mike finished at UVM. This allowed Trey, Page, and Fish to study Composition, Improvisation, and Drumming respectively at their own speed. Its art program was also the alma mater of Jim Pollock, who would become Phish’s most identifiable visual artist later on.

Trey’s work at Goddard is the most known. He worked with advisor Ernie Stires on learning composition, finishing with a rock opera as his senior project. This rock opera officially titled “The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday” and unofficially as Gamehendge. Ernie tight Trey ways to sneak the concepts of classical music into rock and roll to great effect. Page’s senior project is “The Art of Improvisation.” Fish had “A Self-Teaching Guide to Drumming in Retrospect.”

This entry focuses on the shows not linked to the two major venues played by Phish on campus. It focuses on the cafeteria, pictured above in the former silos. This is why Mike described the “fishbowl” and round room that the band played during his “epiphany” gig on 11/23/85. Mike had his 2nd peak experience during this show and knew that he wanted to make music for the rest of his life. Other shows don’t have many notes. Clearly, the more important shows took place in the Haybarn Theatre and the Sculpture Room

Show #105: 5/21/1989 320 Spear St. Burlington, VT

If you’re a Phish fan, you probably dreamed about Phish playing your backyard. Shows like The Ranch in 1987 and this one here are why people have that dream. Phish played probably in more backyards than we’ll ever know about because less ability for tapers to show up and the loss of the Del Martin tapes. At least with this show, we have a street address so we know exactly where it took place. 320 Spear Street is located on the small strip of Spear Street between UVM’s Redstone Campus and their Paul Miller research center, which is a working dairy farm and equine facility. It’s proximity to campus made it an ideal spot to have a party and also lead to some interesting show banter as Phish knew many of the people at this party.

320 Spear Street as it appears today. Notice how narrow the roadway is, causing all the cards to be towed. Gig was in backyard facing Interstate 89.
320 Spear Street as it appears today. Notice how narrow the roadway is, causing all the cards to be towed. Gig was in backyard facing Interstate 89.

We join the show in progress with a very solid “Harry Hood”. This “Hood” is fairly typical of 1989 but reaches its usual enjoyable peak with solid fills from Page and wonderful trills from Trey. Some banter about changing monitor levels or positions ensues with Trey asking about too much piano. Still forming the sound in these early days. Trey joking introduces the band as “Phish, from Burlington, Vermont” with a chuckle after hearing it from Mike before launching into “Foam”. The “Foam” is rough around the edges, especially Trey who messes up his part enough to deliver an “Aw Fuck” (not the secret language signal but actual words) midway through the intro. The band recovers fairly solidly but still working out the kinks. The song finishes and Trey informs them it’s about Mike McKnight’s like apparently. Mike then announces that all the cars on the road are going to be towed and they there’s a parking lot down the street. The parking lot is most likely that at Gutterson Field House, the UVM hockey rink. Spear Street is very narrow but often travelled road connecting Burlington to South Burlington and Shelburne and used as a substitute for the congested Shelburne Road. So clearly the city would want the road clear at all times. Fish says that it reminds him of a song and Mike and Trey concur, leading to a sublime performance of “Contact”. The “Contact” has “jump on it, son!” quotes from Mike but I have no idea what brought that…maybe a Jerry Reed reference? Trey tries to get the kids to sing the ending part. “Now that we’ve scared the 4 little kids away,” the band introduces the next song as being one they wrote that afternoon about Molly’s life. Trey asks to wear the hat and she declines. Trey then introduces “She No Are No Nice Gal” and someone brings the band a wallet that was found. Trey mentions “This is the kind of wallet I like, no identification, just cash.” Trey asks the crowd to bound joyously as they reach the trampoline section. After this long banter, they finally go into the song which is just “Mike’s Song”. The “Mike’s” gets super crunchy especially the 2:50 mark where Trey unleashes the first real true showing of his ability to sustain. He holds the note for almost a full minute while the rest of the band takes the opportunity. Fishman hits crazy fills and Page throws around organ riffs like it’s Dollar Draft Night at What Ales You. Tight little jam that I recommend. The Molly theme continues in the groove as Trey says “I Am Hydrogen” was written about Molly’s lighter side. It’s very nicely played except Trey botches the last note. The “Weekapaug” features a lot of fireworks from Trey but not a lot of movement; a lot of notes but no real development. “Split Open and Melt” is dedicated to the pig coming up at Ian McLean’s party on May 28th. We’ll have a lot more about that show soon. The “Melt” is still in its infancy and is nowhere near the heights the tune will reach. Trey attempts a “Mission: Impssible” tease but it doesn’t develop. Mike gets pretty loose with the bass line but seems to get out of step with Fishman at times. Page is barely audible. It’s very sloppy still. Trey notes he broke a B string during the jam. He meant to call someone to bring another one but forgot. Trey’s tone changes as I think he borrows a guitar from Alex. Trey uses this new overdriven tone to pound out the only known version of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” by Phish. It’s half serious/half joking but still worth a listen. They definitely captured the feel of the original. Page makes the announcement that cars are now actually being towed and it’s worth the walk to see if your car is being towed and that’s longer to walk to the Getty station on North Avenue that the car’s will be towed to. No doubt since North Ave. is the other side of town. A fan asks Trey about Tom Waits and Trey responds that he loves Rain Dogs, saying Fish has the bell for “Gun Street Girl” allegedly Trey’s favorite song from the album. They don’t play it though, busting into “You Enjoy Myself”. The “YEM” is a solid effort with odd tone from Trey’s borrowed guitar. The short bass and drums section is fun with solid work by Mike. The vocal jam becomes Zenzile, referencing the poet Phish played with back in 1986 and then evolves into Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla”. Trey’s tone seems to return to normal for the rest of the set, indicating that someone did run home and get Trey’s B string in time for “Ya Mar”. The rest of the set is pretty standard. Apparently we also miss guest vocals by Chris Kuroda on “Alumni Blues” and “Possum”. That would have been very fun to hear. All in all, a fun afternoon on Spear Street with Phish.

Show #102: 5/9/1989 The Front Burlington, VT

Tuesday, 05/09/1989
The Front, Burlington, VT

The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt's).
The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt’s).

Set 1: Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  Ya Mar,  Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  The Sloth,  Possum,  Divided Sky

Set 2: You Enjoy Myself,  La Grange,  If I Don’t Be There By Morning[1],  Slave to the Traffic Light >  Esther >  Run Like an Antelope,  I Didn’t Know[2] >  Nowhere Fast[3] ->  I’ve Turned Bad[3] >  I Didn’t Know,  The Lizards,  Bold As Love,  Harpua,  Whipping Post

[1] First known Phish performance.
[2] Fish on trombone.
[3] First known performance; Sofi Dillof and “Joe” on vocals.

If you’ve ever been in a rock band, the record release show is usually a big deal. You pester all your friends and acquaintances to show up so that it feels like a big deal and also in hopes that they buy a copy of your album. You also flyer the whole town, putting out the word that your band was focused enough to record the music you’ve been playing. This doesn’t feel like that. Sure Chris Kuroda and friend of the band Kiki Colgan spent the afternoon stuffing j-cards into cassette boxes to make sure they had enough copies on hand but, announcements aside, it doesn’t seem too different from any other night at The Front. Probably because Phish knows they have the fanbase who’ll pick up the new cassette handily.

The show kicks off with the “Wilson>Peaches” combo. Helpfully Trey shakes it soon because it’s starting to become stale. Trey takes the audience to the Bahamas, eliciting a single woo from the crowd, and Phish launches into “Ya Mar”. It’s a solid version. Trey then borrows a bit from 5/6/89 saying now “let’s take it away from the Bahamas and take it to Rhode Island!” launching into the “Mike’s>Groove”. The “Mike’s” is short but builds to a nice frenzy structured by Page’s organ layering. They like it so much that they play the ending chords twice with a real nice sustain by Trey in the middle. The “Weekapaug Groove” is excellent though with great bass work by Mike and very fluid playing from Trey ending with solid machine gunning. After the “Weekpaug”, Trey finally plugs the tape that you can now buy at the soundboard and Mike adds that “Junta has no meaning in Nicaraguan.” The “Sloth”/”Possum” combo is fun if not outstanding. The set closes with “The Divided Sky”, which is another solid whole band effort.

“Self!,” Trey calls out to start set two, calling for “You Enjoy Myself”. “This song’s from our first album! This next’s one’s from our first album, available at the soundboard,” says the band. “FOR FREE!,” replies an audience member jokingly. Trey also comments it’s Mike’s birthday, an audience member not Mike Gordon and then Page says later we’ll play something for Chris’ birthday. Trey counts it off and “YEM” begins. It’s solid but highlights are when Trey gets shred at 12:30 before the bass and drums section and a sucking a bone (?) vocal jam and ends with a Fishman bass drum solo brought on by fan and Trey’s encouragement. Mike also teases “Moby Dick” in a nod to Fishman’s drum solo, starting a trend that will last a career. A ripping “La Grange” follows. We get an odd cut and dump right into “Slave to the Traffic Light” in progress and with some quality issues, missing the Bob Dylan cover “If I Don’t Be There By Morning”. “Slave” isn’t very good and doesn’t peak. The non-reaction of the crowd is fitting. “Esther” comes next and has some interesting woodblock coloring from Fishman, keeping time with Page’s organ riff. This “Esther” also is played at a faster tempo than usual and hilarious ends with the rest of the band ending the song early on Trey who’s still soloing. A solid yet average “Antelope” comes next. Antics come to the front in “I Didn’t Know”. Out of Fishman’s trombone solo, he calls “Sing with me Sofi!” Brining Sofi Dillof, Page’s future first wife, and “Joe” who is believed to be a member of Ninja Custodian up to play two Ninja Custodian songs “Nowhere Fast” and “I’ve Turned Bad”. A little punk rock break in the middle? Why not. Phish brings the tempo back down with a nice slow closing reprise of “I Didn’t Know”  I didn’t know that I was that far gone takes on new meaning. Chris finally gets his birthday song in the form of “The Lizards” and it’s a solid version, again played at a faster tempo than usual, especially in the “If I Were a Dog” section. That section is also preceded by a tape cut and leads off with just Trey and Fish, which adds to the beauty. “Bold as Love” has Trey shredding but not over the top. It’s a very tasteful version with some hot licks. The well-loved story of “Harpua” follows. Trey begins the story and when introducing Harpua, Mike goes “Tell ’em about the ass.” recalling 4/20/89 when the band jammed on “non-shot ass”, and the band plays the defending riff that used for that version during Trey’s story. This time Harpua has the “twice shot ass”. The fight is underplayed by a jam on the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimmie Some Lovin'” ironically. It’s a good version but nowhere near as amazing as 4/20/89. The show closes with a meandering “Whipping Post”. For a show with some history, there’s not much here that’s historical but a solid effort.

Shows #95-96: 4/21-22 The Front Burlington, VT

The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt's).
The SkiRack (formerly The Front) looking up Main St. towards The Woodbury Armory (formerly Hunt’s).

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.

The official T-shirt of the WIZN Rock Rumble
The official T-shirt of the WIZN Rock Rumble. (Photo credit @JayCatVT)

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.

Show # 93: 4/15/1989 Billings Student Center The University of Vermont Burlington, VT

Saturday, 04/15/1989
Billings Lounge, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT

Soundcheck: Time Loves a Hero

Set 1: Mike’s Song >  I Am Hydrogen >  Weekapaug Groove,  Esther >  You Enjoy Myself > Wilson,  Peaches en Regalia,  On Your Way Down >  Alumni Blues[1] >  Letter to Jimmy Page>  Alumni Blues,  I Didn’t Know[2],  McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters[3] >  Foam, David Bowie

Set 2: Funky Bitch,  Golgi Apparatus >  Slave to the Traffic Light,  The Mango Song,  Divided Sky,  Split Open and Melt[4],  Suzy Greenberg >  Fluffhead >  Good Times Bad Times

[1] Additional lyrics.
[2] Fish on trombone; with sound effects from an electronic drum machine.
[3] With sound effects from an electronic drum machine.
[4] With drum solo.

Billings Library (formerly Billings Student Center)
Billings Library (formerly Billings Student Center)

Unlike the gig at Johnson State, this surprisingly would not be the band’s last gig at the University of Vermont. There are a few more left to document. It’s more interesting that the band wasn’t playing a larger space at UVM yet. Back in the cozy confines of the Billings Student Center, the band turns in a fine performance all for the benefit of VPIRG, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Set 1 is excellent audio quality. It’s interesting that we have the soundcheck in tact, more than likely the student center was just open and people could come in during the soundcheck. “Time Loves a Hero” continued to get better and better and it’s interesting it wasn’t played again until 1998 when it would have been a great cover staple. The opening “Mike’s Groove” is very tasty with Mike finally not straining on his vocal on “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug” played at the regular faster pace. It sounds gorgeous. The band welcomes the crowd to the VPIRG benefit and then Trey informs that someone lost their birth control pills at Johnson State and then band brought them to the next gig. A hilarious banter moment. “Esther” gets a much needed redemption after the previous night’s closer and here we get a near-perfect version. “You Enjoy Myself” is quite nice with Trey bringing the jam to a blistering peak before the bass and drums section. The “Wilson->Peaches” blat-boom transition returns nicely. After “Peaches”, we get some very nice banter from Page, again reinforcing why probably Page delivers so much of the banter now. He advises people to buy some cider and lemonade in the back and then plug their upcoming Pearl Street gig on May 1st. He says that if they sell enough tickets, they’ll move from the basement space to the main hall. We’ll see soon if that happened! They play “On Your Way Down” but I really think “Times Loves a Hero” is the better Little Feat cover for the band. Page does a nice job though. The song’s just too heavy for my taste I guess. We get a lightning fast “Alumni>Letter>Alumni” triplet. “I Didn’t Know” has the really odd mixture of Fish playing trombone and a new electronic drum machine on the tune, adding weird sound effects to the acapella lines. I hope the drum machine is NOT a permanent fixture. Yikes. Fish does add some nice woodblock textures to the opening of “McGrupp”. “Foam” is interesting because Trey tries to segue directly in it and you hear him picking out the notes solo and it takes a good couple of rounds before the rest of the band catches up. I like it because it shows there’s more work to do on some of these tunes and room for improvement; taking risks. The “Foam” itself is starting move at its signature tempo and meshing nicely. We get part of “David Bowie” but nothing noteworthy.

Set 2’s tape is less clean than set 1. It’s very rough in places so proceed at your own risk. The set kicks off with a dirty “Funky Bitch” though, setting the tone. “Golgi” and “Slave” offer some varied playing by Trey but otherwise have nothing outstanding. After “Slave”, there’s a fun bit of banter with Trey saying they’l play their newest number next. Trey then says Page will use a new synthesizer on the song but the synthesizer is broken already on its first time out. Trey then says Fish will use his new woodblocks and advises Fish to play the song he just learned. This pans into a “Name That Tune” bit where Fish plays the “Charge” riff on them and an audience member wins a date with Fish. Trey also says there’s a special way to dance to the next song with only your hips and body, keeping your head still. Trey also says that Paul puts feedback pack in the monitors and takes it out to trick the band in thinking he’s a great soundman. The band then busts into “The Mango Song”, playing a much-more polished version and follows it up with a strong “Divided Sky”. Then, we get our first recorded “Split Open and Melt” and I’m excited for this only to be let down. The song is played a little slower than most fans are used to, probably because of its infant stage, the band is not up to speed on the intricacy of its dissonance. In the middle before the “Steam Dream” breakdown, there’s a long drum solo by Fishman at just feels wrong. The jam also isn’t much but Trey wailing on sustain. There’s potential but I don’t see it yet here. The show ends in typical 1989 fashion with “Suzy”, “Fluffhead”, and “Good Times Bad Times”. All fun show for the UVM kids overall. At the end of “Fluffhead”, Trey plugs a couple of gigs, the all-ages gig in Northampton again (but with the wrong date of 4/15), Johnny B. Fishman Jazz Ensemble with Russell Remington at Noonie’s Deli on Mondays, and the Rock Rumble at the Front this weekend! Will Phish win the Rock Rumble? Find out on future installments of the Phishsonian.