Phish’s Storied History of Generosity, Benefit Shows and What to Expect in Essex

What about full-on benefit shows?

The most well known of Phish’s benefit shows is certainly a May 16, 1995 performance in Lowell, Mass. benefiting “Voters for Choice” – a politically charged cause that became an even bigger hot button at the time with a recent murder of a family parenting doctor in the area. Security for the event was as tight as you will ever encounter at a Phish show. Tickets were strictly limited to two per person with the buyer needing to be in attendance. Wrist bands were sent prior to the event and there were extensive body searches, metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs at the entrance due to threats that had been received prior to the show. Despite the hurdles getting in, fans were rewarded with a slew of debuts including a couple never to reappear again and several that cemented themselves as classics in the Phish canon. Debuted at this benefit were Don’t You Want to Go, Spock’s Brain, Ha Ha Ha, Strange Design, Free, Theme from the Bottom, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Glide II, I’ll Come Running and Gloria. While Gloria was a nod to the host of the evening, Gloria Steinem, and understandable why that was a one-time performance, fans still scratch their head and wonder if Glide II will ever make another appearance.

Another well-known benefit show from Phish history is the band’s appearance at the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vermont on March 18, 1997. This show not only featured the debut of a couple of songs, but was a coming out party for Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. As the release party for Phish Food all attendees were treated to this new flavor before the show. Equally important and historic, was the fact that the show served as a benefit for the newly formed Waterwheel Foundation which was charged with overseeing all of the band’s charitable activities. Now an omnipresent member of Phish Tour, the Waterwheel table is well known to most fans. This show saw sit-ins from Dave “The Truth” Grippo, James Harvey and Tammy Fletcher. I Told You So and Love Me Like a Man – neither of which has ever been played again – were debuted that night. To the delight of the crowd, and after an absence one show short of 900, a cover of Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl opened the first set.

Another benefit show, also at the hometown Flynn, was the classic show from April 4, 1994. This show was a benefit for the Flynn itself which started hosting the band after they outgrew the environs of Hunt’s, Nectar’s and the Front. Debuts at this benefit show included Hoist tracks Scent of a Mule, If I Could, Wolfman’s Brother, Julius and Down With Disease as well as a Fishman-sung cover of I Wanna Be Like You from The Jungle Book. A fantastic show from start to finish, not only did the show have sit-ins by the Giant Country Horns, it also featured the long departed original lyrics to Cavern. Take a listen to this show if you haven’t, incendiary at moments, soulful at times, but fun all around.

There have certainly been other benefit shows especially in the late ’80s when a benefit show meant not much more than one of the band’s friends throwing up a table in the middle of the room with a banner hanging from it. Likewise, other shows like Sugarbush on July 2, 1995 were technically fundraisers. It is not certain how many people knew at the time that the show was supporting the King Street Youth Center. (Though this gig did see the return of Camel Walk after a 750+ show hiatus). Another example of a benefit performance that wasn’t high profile at the time was the Somerville Theatre show from November 21, 1991 which benefited organizations fighting the James Bay hydroelectric projects. Certainly the cause flying under the radar will not be the case for the Vermont benefit which has garnered attention not only from all the online music blogs and local Vermont media, but nationally on such outlets as CNN.

So come Wednesday evening in Essex, Phish will add yet another chapter to their storied history book.  It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the show is more than just another chance to catch Phish before a long fall and winter possibly devoid of further shows. This benefit is about helping many that have lost family members, homes, businesses and their way of life.  Regardless if it includes guests, bust-outs or debuts of songs that will become loved, it is clear that Phish will be helping Vermont recover from this horrific natural disaster of historic proportion. Music can change lives. Phish has proved that over the last 25+ years and will prove it once again next week.

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Stay tuned to Hidden Track for full coverage of this historic event.

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8 thoughts on “Phish’s Storied History of Generosity, Benefit Shows and What to Expect in Essex

  1. Reverend Justito Reply

    While I am aware the focus of this article is on Phish benefits, I would love to give a shout out to the band’s 98 Fall run of benefit gigs. Farm Aid and both nights of Bridge School were epic and I hope to see the boys return to both shows some day.

  2. Jake Reply

    Great overview, but, I must say, how could you mention 5/16/95 without mentioning that, in addition to all those debuts, it features possibly the GREATEST Reba ever? For many, this is the Reba to which all others must be compared, and to which almost all fall short.

  3. Kyle Reply

    I live on lake champlain and VT certainly needs help from everyone. Donate if you cant make the show!

  4. Vickers Reply

    I know it was Trey, but don’t forget 10/8/06 Webster Hall (Seven Below Arts)

  5. Lemuria Reply

    “While history dictates that you will have about as much success predicting winning lottery numbers as you will a Phish setlist…”

    Nyet. The Trey’s Notebook feature on Phish.net predicts 20-40% of most shows (45% of the most recent one). Here’s the link for predictions for the benefit show next week:
    http://phish.net/treys-notebook?basedate=2011-09-14

  6. Parker Reply

    Lemuria-

    True, good point Ellis, forgot about Trey’s Notebook. But then again, 20-40% ain’t going to win you any lottery. Maybe a couple bucks but no jackpot. In any event, everyone will come out a winner next week: great cause, good people, another dose of Phish before the summer ends, and certainly great tunes regardless of setlist choice if last several shows are any indication.

  7. Ryan D Reply

    Great stuff as always Parker!

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