One Musician Remembers: The Night I Opened For Phish

Yesterday I came across the image below of a settlement from Phish’s March 29, 1990 performance at The Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio. You’ll notice that the club reported only 16 paid attendees for this Midwest gig far from the band’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

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When I came across the document, I noticed the name “JIM” and it triggered a memory of my early days as a Phish fan. Back in 1993, as I was first starting to get into the band, I met a friend of my sister’s named Brandon Milner who was an outstanding musician. I talked to Brandon about Phish and not only did he kindly provide two of the first bootleg tapes I ever owned, but he also revealed that a band he was in a few years prior had opened for Phish. For some reason, when I looked at the document above, it hit me that JIM might have been Brandon’s band! I reached out to my sister, who is still in touch with Brandon, and she promised she’d ask him about whether JIM was his band.

This morning I received a response from Brandon that offers an interesting perspective on the early days of Phish and what went down at The Canal Street Tavern on a show from March 29, 1990 for which both and don’t have a setlist.

Here’s Brandon Milner’s, who currently plays in the band Campfire Ok, remembrance:

I’m flabbergasted at the randomness of that. That show was in Dayton in 1990. I was in an avant garde noise improv band called JIM that opened up for Phish. They only had their first album on cassette available then and as you can see from the bar tally, a whopping 16 people showed up, total, between both bands.

I remember basically no one attending but all the 16 in attendance were there to see Phish, some having driven from neighboring states enthusiastically. A few were turned away at the door for being underage in spite of their trek.

We did our thing (playing virtually unlistenable skronky, free jazz, Zappa-rock-meets-Grateful Dead meandering with two female lead singers who were half blues singers, half performance artists…At best) creating sheets of modern classical self indulgence and then Phish came on and blew our minds. We loved them and were thrilled when they asked us to join them on stage for a 20-minute version of David Bowie. All of us. I played some floor tom (I was a drummer who was playing bass in JIM) and others sang and made noise.

After the show we hung out a bit. They were all as nice as could be and after nerding out on gear a little (they had the nicest guitars and amps of any band we’d ever seen play to so few people), Trey informed us we were the second most entertaining band he’d ever played with. The first had been a band that played speed metal while the guitarist did tricks on a skateboard with a wireless setup. Sounded genius to us.

On a personal ego gratifying note, I remember Mike, their bassist, asking me how to do this certain double slap/pop combo I was doing a lot back then. I’d stolen it from Thomas Dolby’s bassist from the Aliens Ate My Buick album and Mike wanted a little lesson. I showed him and damn if he didn’t start doing it on bootlegs I heard soon thereafter!

Phish were cool, warm-hearted guys. We stayed in touch for a while and they backstaged us for a show some months later at the local “enormodome” (they got popular *fast*). I haven’t spoken to them since!

Thanks to Brandon for sharing his memories of that evening with us! Brandon’s take confirms the account of a commenter named Rasoup on the page for this show who says, “I attended this show. I do not have a setlist, but do know that the Encore was David Bowie with backing vocals/screams from the two ladies from the warm up band. I believe the name of the warm up band was Gem and they were from Yellow Springs, OH.” Well Rasoup, the name of that band was JIM and it was more than just the two ladies who sat in on that David Bowie!

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20 Responses

  1. It’s not every day that someone unearths new info regarding one of the most cataloged bands in history. Love it!

  2. The investigative, inquisitive Detective Scotty B strikes again! Journalism at its finest, man. Awesome read all the way around.

  3. Trippy. My first show was also in 1991, at a forer bowling alley turned music club called The Sting, they played their twice. Not sure which show I went to, but the opening band was also a really weird, noizy loud, sort of like Death Metal band that came out and played amongst a whole bunch of their own fans on the floor – then, those fans left the venue and out came the Phans. Anyhow was a great experience and I’ve been hooked ever since.

  4. Cool post and story. One thing I’ve always loved about rock and roll is that pretty much every single band,w ith very few exceptions – no matter how world-famously huge they become – had to go through years of gigs like this: playing to 16 people and getting paid 100 bucks (or less).

    I did notice years ago that in the liner notes to A Live One that Phish thanks “Jim (the band)”. I always thought it was the [fantastic] band Jim… from Lake Placid, NY. But maybe it was this band.

    1. It was most definitely Brandon’s band! I remember talking to him after A Live One was released and him mentioning Phish thanked all the bands that opened for them including JIM.

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Brandon here the guy from the post… we got thanked on a Live One!? Wow, I had no idea. Yes, we were called, in full, “JIM (the band)” and we named the band that because we had a 1st gig yet no name. Our guitarist Jim Steffan was the only fellow NOT to show up to the band naming sessio so we named the band after him and surprised him with the flyers.

    Regarding playing to 16 people for a $100… that was a GREAT guarantee for back then. I mean, getting a guarantee at all in an unknown market is tricky. And we got paid $16… I would have killed for that $100! 🙂

  6. That was a treat. Long ago one of my favorite phish pictures was that one where one of them is walking across a dusty Colorado street with gear on his back as they bounced across the street for gigs… or whatever the story was… anyway, that image was clear in my mind throughout this read.

  7. This is the band JIM from Antioch, right? I went to school with them and totally forgot about this.

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