Phish has a long history of giving back to not only the communities that they play in, but also to causes that are near and dear to many a fan’s heart. Though full blown benefit shows are few and far between, Phish philanthropy is well known. While history dictates that you will have about as much success predicting winning lottery numbers as you will a Phish setlist, it is nonetheless interesting to look back at previous benefit shows. Regardless of what goes down next week at the Champlain Valley Exposition, it is clear that the fans are in for a treat and that the state will benefit extraordinarily from another Phish philanthropic effort.
[Aerial View of Champlain Valley Exposition from Google Earth]
There are plenty of examples of Phish’s on-going charity such as the band’s donation of proceeds from all Live Phish downloads to The Mockingbird Foundation, which supports music education for children. Similarly, the band’s own Waterwheel Foundation has made profound impacts on the localities that Phish visit on tour by supporting non-profits in every city the band visits. Recently, full shows have been released with proceeds benefiting relief efforts in Haiti (1992-11-19), New Orleans (1991-11-7) and Japan (1999-7-31). Single tracks have been donated for worthwhile causes like Simple from August 6, 1996 for Carved in Stone, a Red Rocks preservation effort or the phenomenal 50-minute Headphones Jam that benefited a safe haven for youths in New Jersey. Likewise, countless sit-ins and one-off performances have been made for different charities over the years.
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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.