Time machines and memories can sometimes go hand in hand. Once something is stored in your memory bank, when it occurred can often feel irrelevant. Did this happen last month? Last year? Last decade? You see it in your mind almost like it was yesterday. Because to your memory bank, it very well could be. Once it’s stored, your mind can play tricks on you like that. Therefore, in a way, your memory bank *is* a time machine that you can access anytime.
That’s why we as humans want to create experiences that translate to memories. Sitting back and taking in the wondrous glow of memories with smiles on our faces is part what this is all about; part of what *life* is all about! We can then recap those memories like pages in a photo album or clips of a film. The memories themselves can act like our very own show of life.
But anyway, let’s get back to the task at a hand. A time machine recap of a past Phish show. This one happens to be 8-13-96 Deer Creek. Now, I’m not a believer in perfection, but to my ears, this show is about as close to perfect as it gets. And because it was officially released, we can all have an even clearer insight into what occurred this night while creating our own new memories as we listen.
August of 1996 was a pivotal time in my life. I was just about to start my Senior year in high school and was looking at colleges in earnest. A good friend of mine lived in Dayton so I stayed with him while visiting the Ohio college circuit. He mentioned Phish was playing nearby that week (the days before tour dates were at our fingertips) and we should drive over. He didn’t have an extra ticket I could use and it was sold out, but we weren’t particularly worried. I remember the vast stretches of cornfields set against the beautiful blue sky on the way out there. Sometimes we didn’t see another human for miles. We stopped at a gas station close to the venue and asked some people there if they had any extras. They did! We grabbed one and off we went to my 4th Phish show.
My previous shows – 12-28-94 / 6-28-95 / 12-30-95 – were all excellent in their own right. But it was this night where it all clicked for me on a new level. It was this night where I realized that I wanted this band and this community to be a greater part of my life.
As we were strolling up to the venue gate, we could hear the opening chords of "Divided Sky." While walking along the concourse separating the lawn and seats, the quiet part of the song began. But even as the music volume was lower, the crowd was just as engaged. People were swaying and spinning all around us even while minimal music was present. That was the first “something is happening here that is bigger me” moment I can recall at a Phish show. I can still see it clearly in my mind. I also remember hearing Mike’s distinctive bass bouncing around the inside of the pavilion. Did I know at the time this was one of the finest versions of one of their most classic and beloved songs? No, I did not. But I knew it was fantastic.
We quickly got settled onto the lawn mid-way up on Mike’s side with a small group. Another stand out memory came next when at the beginning of "Tube," a guy a few feet away began jumping up and down and screaming in delight. I had no idea what song it was, but that guy sure as heck knew a rarity when he encountered one. The rest of the first set is as picture perfect a setlist as you can get from that era. Everything was extremely well played with the Slave a particular highlight. Trey’s guitar seemed to build into this morphing, liquid wall of sound before our eyes.
A friend in our small group had access to people in the pavilion so we’d try and get closer if we could. We all got stubbed down during the opening "AC/DC Bag." I can’t recall exactly how close, but probably around 12th row close to the center. It was the closest I had yet been to the stage in a big venue which helped make things even more impactful. We settled into our seats just before "Lizards" began which was just exactly perfect. But the real fireworks began with the "Mike’s Song." I can only recall so much at the time, but I do remember that this version felt BIG. That certainly translates to tape where it has to be one of the top second jams in "Mike’s" alongside some of the famous December '95 and Gorge '98 versions. It’s arguably the most cosmic version they’ve played to date. The whole band is reaching and searching for something else out there.
And then it eased its way into a gorgeous "Lifeboy." I had never heard this song before, but was entranced. I clearly remember feeling in the back of my mind that there were long-armed monkeys gently swaying between chandeliers up in the rafters in time to the music---and all while sober! The "Weekpaug" that came next was its usual solid self, but more unique fun was in store.
As "Weekapaug" began to wind down, Page came out with, well, something. 17-year-old me had never seen a Theremin before, but I did know "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Odd quirky Phish is always good Phish and this was no exception. But the stage was also shuffling around behind Page. And then acoustic instruments came onstage. Now *this* seemed special. As they began to sit and play, it felt like we were all being privileged to such a treat. Yes, they had done it before (and would do it again that tour), but not many of us knew about that in the moment. The acoustic music sounded and felt wonderful. Like a gentle breeze of fresh air. It also enhanced the connection between the audience and the band to do something so intimate in nature.
It was back to business with a strong "Bowie" to close out the set. They came out for the encore with pristine versions of "Sleeping Monkey" and "Rocky Top." It was during "Rocky Top" where I started to get the sense that this was beginning to feel like a second home for me.
Little did I know just how much that feeling would grow over the next 25+ years. We’ve all been swimming alongside each other in this very real thing for decades. As the band has aged, so have we. As the music has evolved, so have we. And we all do it together in our own unique ways that become part of the fabric in this ever-expanding tapestry.
Thank you for the memories, Phish! It’s always wonderful to access our own time machines.
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