The period of the late 90s brings up many things for Phish fans: patchwork pants, heady nugs, wooly sweaters, The Clifford Ball, The Great Went, Oswego, lot shirts, Great Woods, Europe, Lemonwheel, cow funk, Worcester, CK5, Andy Gadiel’s Phish page, and the list goes on and on. But perhaps the venue that most purely defined Phish during this era is the spaceship-like Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, VA. Maybe it’s the free-for-all seating arrangements, the old school big gymnasium feel of the interior (minus luxury suites and large corporate signs) that make for a big sound and reckless abandon from previous setlist rules and even once encouraged Phish frontman Trey Anastasio to name Hampton as his favorite place to play during a 1996 show there.
Although the music from their late 90s shows there (1995, 1996, 1997 (2 shows), 1998 (2 shows) and 1999 (2 shows) are epic in themselves, for fans it’s the stories aside from the music have become that of legend. Two nights devoted to Phish allows for an escape from reality with friends and newly made friends in the lot and surrounding hotels of the Coliseum. Some are pure bliss and others are tales of survival. Pete Pidgeon’s Hampton ’98 is a story of survival that also happens to be the most insightful account of the late 90s Phish scene and the people, sounds, landscapes and scenarios that inundated our journeys. We all have our own stories and histories, but Pidgeon’s is one that we all can relate to, and his vivid re-creation of the economics of selling lot beer to hunting down an extra ticket to staying awake in a public hotel lobby are things you can’t make up. And for those that love the music side of things, Hampton 98 contains some of the most in-depth musical recaps of a weekend so special that the band released it as an official two album set. With the holidays upon us, we felt it was no better time than now to chat with the author about this entertaining read that will make you thirsty for the “mothership” one more time…
You’re a full time musician with Pete Pidgeon and Arcoda and have established a credible musical identity outside the Phish scene. Obviously Phish has played a large part of your life and who you are today – why did you decide to author a book when you have such musical avenues to express yourself?
The book, in its inception, was simply an extremely long letter to a girl I was sweet on at the time. I wrote it all down by hand in my journal and tore out the dozens of pages and sent them along. I photocopied them before mailing them and around 2000 decided to type them up so I could turn it into a book. I had no idea how long it would take to properly write and edit a 300-page piece of non-fiction. Fourteen years later, I finally got it finished. I felt like I had something really invaluable on my hands in terms of the experiences and documentation of that segment of time from 1994 – 1998 so I put in the work to get it out to the public. I took it really seriously and poured over every word until I felt like it couldn’t get any tighter. I’m a perfectionist at heart…
This particular Hampton run might seem like a lifetime ago to most Phish fans but took place during an era that might hold some of their most fond tour memories. Why did you feel now was the appropriate time to release Hampton 98?
Well, it wasn’t really about choosing now as the appropriate time to release it so much as this is how long it took to finish it [laughter]. I tried really hard to release it in conjunction with the 2009 reunion shows in Hampton and went so far as to take out a full-page ad in the front of the Relix Magazine reunion issue but I significantly underestimated the amount of time it would take to edit it to my high standards. It could possibly be the only book I ever write so it had better be the very best I can do.
I think what is most remarkable of the book is how vividly you remember and recount every minute of this run from your numerous encounters to the waning minutes trying to find a ticket before show time- how did you so vividly capture the moment by moment happenings in Hampton 98? Obviously with the release of Hampton Comes Alive you can relive the sounds of the concerts- but what about everything else?
As soon as I awoke from my seventeen-hour coma, I literally went right to my journal and began writing down absolutely everything I could remember in as much detail as possible. During the run, I had my journal in my bag and jotted down notes as often as I could. Given I was awake for sixty-seven hours, I had some extra time to make more journal entries than normal…
One of my favorite parts was when you monetarily broke down the economic scale of selling beer and grilled cheese in the lot to the dos and don’ts of looking for an extra ticket. There really hasn’t been anything that insightful in this respect prior- how do you feel that your book is truly the “dephintive experience”?
I think that’s a big part of it. I really went the extra mile to include all the facets of the scene in an articulate fashion rather than just mention things in passing. I wanted to elucidate every aspect of the tour experience so that it encompassed everything from the grilled cheese economy to pushers swinging weight. I had no interest in holding back what actually went down in order to pacify a governing body. I had no publisher telling me I had to cut out the part about scoping out a coke dealer or hallucinating on drugs. I wanted it to be raw and honest like the Hunter S. Thompson-style adventure it was. I really leaned on the experience rather than statistics and song analyses to make it as exhilarating and engaging as possible for non-fans or people unfamiliar with the band. It’s the real story of all the positive and negative.
There is a book from 2001 that might be a similar narrative titled Run Like an Antelope: On the Road with Phish by Sean Gibbon. I’m sure you’ve read that book but how is Hampton 98 most different?
Sean was hired by a publisher to go out and gather a story for a book on Phish. He wasn’t really familiar with the band before heading out. Therefore, his book is an outsider’s look in. My book, Hampton 98, is an insider’s look out. I was one hundred percent submerged in the scene in those years of 1994 to 1998 and lived and breathed the experiences as a part of my daily life. It takes years before you can see into all the crevices of the scene – light and dark. There is an honesty to Hampton 98 that is apparent – like the difference between an autobiography and a biography.
I noticed throughout you dropped lyrics from Phish verses very secretly when describing your actions of the run “I took my time approaching the angry mob,” or “I stepped back into the freezer” – was this intentional?
Absolutely. It’s a nod to the diehard fans who will read the book and get the inside jokes. True Phish fans obsessively know every single lyric and every note of every song. Little winks here and there are my way of connecting with these fans and letting them know that I am one of them and not some distant writer.
Your review of the shows are spot on and some of the most thorough and technically descriptive I’ve ever read particularly when you break down the compositional elements of “Foam.” Have you considered doing more show reviews and such outside of this? I think from a technical standpoint you’d be far ahead of the pack of most reviewers.
Thank you for the compliment – especially coming from Glide! I am also a full-time musician with my band Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda. I have a Jazz Studies degree from State University of New York at New Paltz and was a Music Performance Major at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers College. Therefore, I hear music in a more analytical fashion than the casual listener. I am cognizant of the music’s construction as well as its emotional effects. It’s very interesting to look at the anatomy of a song in the same way as human biology. I wrote about the songs in layman’s terms and break them down for anyone who has absolutely no musical theory knowledge. I am also a guitar teacher and have to do that on a weekly basis for my new students. Only four of the forty-two chapters in Hampton 98 really dissect the songs from the Hampton ’98 run so I went in hard on them. I focused the majority of the book on the experiences.
I understand you have other connections with the Phish scene that even involve you introducing Page (McConnell) to his current wife. Did you want to elaborate on that and maybe some other roles or accomplishments you might have participated in?
That’s true. She was a good friend and I brought her backstage where she met Page and the rest was history. In the book I talk about meeting Trey for the first time and how I should have handled it much better. The first time I met Jon Fishman, I interrupted his dinner at Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA in his dressing room before a Pork Tornado show in an attempt to give him my demo tape. I’ve met Mike Gordon on a number of occasions which have all been pretty mellow. Improperly introducing myself to these musicians I’ve looked up to over the years has really helped educate me on how to properly introduce myself to famous people since then [laughter]. I definitely learned the hard way. As far as other notable experiences, I’m featured in the wedding scene of the MTV Clifford Ball TV Special. I’m the guy without a shirt on blowing bubbles. I also caught the garter that was thrown and painted the bird with the Earth in its talons on the back of the Clifford Ball statue. I’m in the 2000 Hard Rock Live VH1 Special at Roseland wearing my full cap and gown that I had graduated in earlier in the day. There’s a photo of me from Red Rock ’96 in the purple edition of the Pharmer’s Almanac. I’ve contributed edits and setlists to Phish.net too as Adam Scheinberg and I went to high school together.
The Phish scene has changed immensely since 1998 – (pre cell phones, social media/postal mail order) the happenings and circumstances in Hampton 98 couldn’t have been written now mainly cause of the modern conveniences that wouldn’t allow you to get in the predicament you ended up in. Do you feel the Phish scene/tape trading and the parking lot scene in general has lost a sense of its community and core values over the course of the past decade since Coventry?
I think what’s it’s lost, more than anything, is its sense of mystery. When I first visited The Rhombus, around 1996, I had to do some heavy duty investigative research and make contact with people in the area who both knew where it was and were willing to divulge the secret of its whereabouts. There was no Google Maps or Wikipedia. You had to go direct to the source. The same was true with tape trading. If you wanted a juicy 1985 Finbar’s show you had to hunt it down and literally beg the person to copy it for you, especially if you didn’t yet have anything of comparable value to trade. People were very guarded about everything Phish back then. You literally had to prove your worthiness and earn your respect in the community. Now, you can download the entirely of everything ever recorded in the history of the band from a single easily-accessible website. The curtain has been pulled back. Wikipedia alone has more info on it about Phish than you could dig up in a year’s time back in the day. Phish still isn’t a mainstream band but after the Clifford Ball, and especially Big Cypress, it was no longer an invitation-only club.
I found it interesting that contrary to the popular opinion of most fans, in your book you weren’t particularly fond of the musical changes that took place 1997 and the growth of looser funk into the set versus more tightly composed compositions. Do you concur and why?
Yeah, that will be a hot topic for sure! The reason for my opinion is that I came into the band listening to bootlegs from 1993 and prior; Rift and prior albums. I was turned on by the progressive nature of their compositions and they were my bridge from progressive rock and guitar shred to improvisational music. Phish’s music had all the direct elements of bands like Yes and Genesis but they would go on tangents and indefinitely solo as a group. For the first three years I seriously followed to the band – from 1994 – 1996 – Phish was still heavily into the outside-the-box unique originality that piqued my interest. When the cow funk of 1997 came along, many of the older, more elaborate tunes in their repertoire were dropped and replaced with very simple motifs that bored my more-intellectual interests. Cow funk was not as hard-hitting as Maceo Parker and James Brown whom I was concurrently listening to. As a musician, I fully appreciated a band who was pushing themselves to go into unknown territory and challenge themselves to learn new styles – as Phish has done over and over again from barbershop quartets to bluegrass. Combined with the increased influx of heroin, other narcotics, and the “dirt lot kidz” that came with them in the 1997 era, I felt like the discontinuation of some of their classic material was in conjunction with a deteriorating scene as a whole. 1998 seemed like a rebound which is one thing that made it so exciting. For fans who saw their first show in 1997 or after, they would not have had the same experience of feeling like something had been lost as opposed to things having been that way since their introduction.
What era of Phish do you consider their most definitive and how do you feel how they play today stands up against their best in the 1.0 era?
Honestly, 1998 might be Phish’s most definitive era because they had all the musical elements going for them at that point. They were a year into cow funk and had found a way to seamlessly incorporate it into the set rather than liberally drench it. 1998 was a huge year for cover songs like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and the magical one-off of the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station.” There were so many highlight shows like Alpine Valley, Lemonwheel, and New Years. It was a last gasp of awesomness before everything hit the fan and deteriorated on a slow ugly decline leading up to the first hiatus and eventual breakup six years later. After Phish’s December 2013 New Years run at Madison Square Garden, I was awed that for the first time they were playing as well as they had in 1998. It was the type of run where I could have retired from seeing shows and been happy that it ended on such a high note. The summer 2014 shows were very strong as well with one of the best tour openers I’ve seen in years and impressive shows at Randall’s Island and Saratoga. It’s amazing what a resurgence they are having right now. It’s a great time to be seeing them.
Phish recently played one of their most adventurous and musically rewarding shows this past Halloween when they covered Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House into something utterly original and instrumentally thirsted for years by their fan base. What are your thoughts on that set in particular and what the future holds for Phish.
It goes back to the band’s penchant for not being satisfied with routine and always pushing themselves for something fresh and exciting. That’s one of the core elements of Phish – expect the unexpected and be cool with it. They were the torch bearers of the album cover Halloween set. Now it seems like every jam band has mimicked that gimmick. Always ahead of the curve, Phish diverged from the norm and played a brand new album of their own previously-unreleased material on Halloween in 2013 and this year took it a step further. As with their New Years shows, you go to be surprised. A fan seeing their first show has the same expectations as the most weathered veteran and that unifies everyone. There’s no hierarchy for those destination shows. As long as they continue to try new things and be daring, they will always be interesting enough to draw the fans back for more.
You’re living in the Denver area now correct and just played in part of the Last Waltz re-creation in the Denver area? Where can we see you play and what musical adventures can we expect to see?
Yeah, that was one of the peak experiences of my career. I am indebted to CR Gruver for adding me to the Last Waltz Revisited roster. We sold out the Boulder Theater (1000+ capacity) and drew 3000 at the Fillmore in Denver. The love from the crowd and the other 60 musicians was overwhelming. My tour dates are listed at www.PetePidgeon.com and the best way to stay up on my music career is to “Like” my Facebook Page. I’m recording my next album All the Little Things as we speak which features a track with Levon Helm (The Band, Bob Dylan) on drums, bassist Catherine Popper (Jack White, Ryan Adams, Grace Potter), keyboardist Glenn Patscha (Sheryl Crow, Marc Cohn), and drummer Justin Guip (Levon Helm Band) which I’m aiming to have out in mid-2015. If anyone wants to come on as an Executive Producer to finance the mixing sessions, please message me via the Facebook Page.
Hampton 98 is currently available exclusively at www.Hampton98.com