Nineteen Years Ago: Phish @ The Beacon

[Originally Published: April 15, 2008]

Nineteen years ago today I experienced one of the most life changing events of my existence on this planet. On April 15, 1994, I went to the Beacon Theatre to see a quartet from Vermont. Little did I know that I’d spend the next 19 years following Phish to the ends of the earth, and wind up meeting nearly all of my best friends through a mutual love of this band.

Let’s first start with how I found the band. During the summer of 1993 I attended beautiful Camp Westmont in the hills of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Two of my Westmont bunkmates spent that whole summer turning me onto the Grateful Dead with little success. After a while they finally got sick of all their Dead CD’s and threw on Phish’s Lawn Boy. The minute Reba came on the boombox my interest was immediately piqued. I loved the quirky lyrics, crazy compositions and the intense guitar work of Trey Anastasio.

When I got home from camp I went out and bought myself a copy of Lawn Boy. I’ll never forget the moment I first pressed play and The Squirming Coil hit my ears. I remember the huge smile that spread across my face, as after many years of looking I finally found a band that hit every level of emotion in my soul.

Now, I was 16 years old, so I couldn’t exactly run off on Phish tour. I had to bide my time, and wait until April when Phish planned to play a three night run at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. As soon as the shows were announced I told my parents of my plan to hit all three nights. They were absolutely dumbfounded that I wanted to see a band play three nights in a row. I tried explaining to them that Phish switched up the setlist every night, but they explained to me that the first two nights were school nights. It clearly wasn’t happening, so I was content enough to see the final show of the run on a Friday night.

I called the Phish hotline and found out that the tickets went on sale while I had Gym class. In a move that I’ll never forget, my mother offered to go to the Ticketmaster outlet at the local West Coast Video and pick me up a pair of ducats. Luckily my mom doesn’t fuck around, because she got me tickets even though all of the shows sold out in 35 minutes. I finally had my tickets, and I was prepared to head to New York City.

Of course it wouldn’t be so easy. I got home from school the afternoon of April 15 to find my parents waiting for me at the door. It turns out my journalism teacher called and informed my folks that I hadn’t been turning in assignments. As you can probably tell, I still have problems making deadlines to this day. After reaming me out for a while my parents dropped the bombshell that I was grounded and couldn’t attend the concert. I was absolutely devastated. My parents saw the look of absolute terror in my eyes and just didn’t have it in them to follow through with the punishment they had just dished out. My folks saw how I had spent the last six months learning everything I possibly could and listening to every tape I could find of Phish. So after deciding to table my punishment until after the concert my mensch-y parents sent me on my way.

[Ticket Stub via Joe Madonna]

My buddy Andrew and I walked to the train station and boarded the first train for New York City. We got to the first stop when Andrew asked if I had the tickets. Panic set in as I realized that in all of the confusion I had left the tickets at my house. There weren’t cell phones back then so we had to get off the train at the next stop and call my folks. As if my mom and dad hadn’t done enough to help me make the show, they drove to the train station we were at to bring us the tickets. Do I have the best parents ever or what?

Andrew and I finally got into the city and headed towards the venue. After a brief trip to Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow we made our way to Manhattan’s Upper West Side. All of the sites and sounds from that day are still firmly embedded in my memory. I remember being extremely confused by a guy with a sign that said “Punch You In The Eye,” and from all of the people offering free hugs and veggie burritos. We quickly met up with the guys from summer camp who introduced me to Phish before making our way inside of the theater. The first thing that stood out to me were the gorgeous Minkin paintings that served as a backdrop.

After what felt like an eternity the lights went down and the members of Phish took the stage. Drummer Jon Fishman started Llama and the place exploded. The energy in that room was absolutely nuts, as the crowd burst into applause after each segment of the song. Of course I hardly knew anything Phish played that night, but luckily I was surrounded by friends who knew the songs and filled me in on the details.

The song Wilson was a revelation. As the song started my friend Brent started yelling “Wilson.” Once again I was confused, but I figured I’d just yell what Brent was yelling. Soon our whole crew was yelling “Wilson,” and everyone around us started joining in. Ten seconds later everyone in the whole venue continued the chant.

A few years ago I went back and listened to the ten versions of Wilson Phish played before my first show, and I confirmed that Brent did indeed start the “Wilson chant.” A chant that would begin every time the band played Wilson for the rest of their career. All I knew that night was that it was fun to yell things at the band. Listen to what went down…

Other highlights from that glorious first set include a nasty Harry Hood, a spirited albeit brief run through Down With Disease and a rockin’ version of Chalkdust Torture. Yet the biggest smile came to my face when the boys gave me my first Bouncin’ Around The Room. The vibe in the Beacon Theater as 2800 people bounced in sync with each other was simply joyous.

Andrew and I had seats towards the back of the orchestra, so we quickly jumped on two empty seats in the tenth row that had opened up near my summer camp friends. Just before the first set ended a beefy security grabbed the two of us by the scruff of our necks and quickly ushered us out of the row. As soon as we were out of the row two older people were directed into our old seats. I noticed they both had laminates that said “Phish Parent.” We crowded in with my camp friends as the band left the stage at the end of the set. I figured I had nothing to lose so I made small talk with these “Phish Parents.” It turns out we were sitting in seats that were reserved for bassist Mike Gordon’s father and stepmother. Both Mr. Gordon and his wife were more than happy to shoot the shit with me.

I was on cloud nine as the band returned to the stage for the second set. During the first set the energy in the room was light and bright, but as soon as drummer Jon Fishman started Maze things took a dark turn. Most of the concerts I had attended up until this point were one set affairs, so it was really crazy to see how different things can be between two sets by the band on the same night.

As Phish wound their way through Maze I started to focus in on what each musician was adding to the mix. I noticed how bassist Mike Gordon would carve a path for guitarist Trey Anastasio to expertly lay down frenetic runs of notes. Next, I watched as Page McConnell summoned intense swirling organ tones out of his setup. But the thing that stuck out to me most was how all four members of Phish communicated with each other without using words. Every member of the band was looking down, but just as Trey’s solo in Maze reached a boiling point the jam stopped on a dime. Up until then I didn’t realize a band could improvise AND be tight.

Towards the middle of the second set Phish started playing the Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, a song that usually segued into Suzy Greenberg. My mother was supportive of my love for Phish, even though she didn’t understand it for a while. The songs she loved were Lizards and Suzy Greenberg, so I was really hoping the band would play the tune. Not only did Phish play Suzy, but they brought out a six-piece horn section to accompany them. The song commenced and as the first verse was sung the Giant Country Horns started strutting onto stage in quite the choreographed manner. The crowd at the Beacon went as crazy as I’d ever seen the place go when the GCH played the horn line in Suzy for the first time. Check out how loud the reaction was…

Luckily, the horns didn’t go anywhere after Suzy, and stayed out for the rest of the set. I wound up seeing a second set jammed packed with songs I wouldn’t see again for years and years. Landlady, Alumni Blues, I Wanna Be Like You and Magilla would all fade into Phish’s massive repertoire in later years. Trey and Page were clearly excited to be playing with the horns, but I certainly couldn’t get a read of Mike Gordon. It took seeing one hundred Phish shows to finally see that guy smile during a show.

I may not have known many of the songs I heard at my first Phish show, but I knew I liked what I saw. From that night forward I always wanted to be there when Phish was playing. I felt so lucky to find a band that spoke to me like Phish did. If I could be anyplace in the world I’d be at a Phish show. I didn’t want to spend my vacations on a beautiful Caribbean beach or traveling to distant locales, I wanted to be stuck in a rundown arena watching my favorite band in the world with my best friends.

I left the show that night, and took a train home to Central Jersey. As I lied in bed I pondered what had happened that night. I thought about waking my parents up to drive me to the Amtrak station so that I could catch the next show in Amherst. While I decided that wasn’t such a good idea, I did make it to 159 more shows before the band called it quits in 2004 [Ed Note: Yes, Phish did get back together in 2009]. Tax day may not be a happy day for many people, but it will always be a joyous day for me.

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82 Responses

  1. Awesome story.

    I love the origin of the Wilson chant.

    Like you, I started in New York in 1994, met all my best friends through the band, and saw about 150 shows. Good times, eh?

    Although only one of us saw Alumni Blues, ya’ bastard. 😉

  2. thanks for sharing…I had similar eye-opening experiences at my first show…after hearing my first Harpua and not knowing what the hell was going on I knew I was in it for the long haul


  3. Here’s another story about Mom savin’ me.

    10 years later I was broke and unemployed. I begged Mom to send me to Vegas for the 10th anniversary show, and she laughed. If she would’ve sent me I would’ve paid thousands of dollars to see the worst run ever. Thanks mom!

  4. What do you mean Scotty? This killer set 2 opening from Vegas doesn’t do it for you? 😉

    Meatstick, Pebbles and Marbles > Prince Caspian -> Simple > Friday

  5. I can’t really recall 3 times in your lifetime that I said “NO” to you.Las Vegas was 1 of those times!
    What about how I set my alarm for 2a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday when you were in Skidmore College and you had a phone in talk show in the middle of the night? I always called to make sure there was never “dead air”
    Wasn’t I the only “50 something” year old at the then Garden State Arts Center at a “Phish” concert.
    And when I met Trey at an airport in Florida, didn’t I recognize him, and have him call you on my cell phone.
    Did I not put my brand new Mercedes on the railroad tracks so that the conductor couldn’t move when we were a minute late for the train that was taking you to a concert?
    As many memories that you have Scott, I have almost as many…your most wonderful. wonderful friends from all over who used to sleep over before, during and after tours.
    Waiting on line for tickets, wearing wrist bands, having kids recognize me.
    I loved the Phish days, even though I never really understood them. I only knew that if you put your body, mind, and soul in doing legitimate work… the way you organized your Phish tours, one day you would be rich and famous and buy me a condo.
    I love you Scott, Phrom the bottom of my heart!

  6. Scotty – Great story! Thanks for sharing!

    “And when I met Trey at an airport in Florida, didn’t I recognize him, and have him call you on my cell phone.”

    That’s fantastic, I wish my mom would have done that for me! 🙂

  7. scotty:

    i knew this would be a hidden track for the books. thanks for sharing your phish memories and for being a positive force in the scene. good luck with that well-deserved condo for mom.


  8. Scotty’s mom just made me cry! Seriously.

    My first show was May something in ’94, Cincinnati Music Hall. I was definitely changed after that… because I had soiled myself.

    I remember Trey running around the stage slinging his guitar over his head for BBFCFM, and of course the fire alarm during ‘Horse’. They returned with Hendrix’s ‘Fire’…and I couldn’t believe that a concert could be so good.

  9. B – sorry to hear about not being able to make it to Vegas in 04′

    you missed an awesome UM show 😉

  10. Nice work Scotty. I think everyone started on a similar note with Phish, in what could have been hundreds of different venues. My first show was November 22, 1995 at USAir Arena in DC and I will never forget that day. I had NO clue what the hell was going on and I it took me 9 more months of endlessly listening to tapes between that first show and my second show in Hershey PA to even begin to feel like I “got it”.

    What do you think? The Jammy’s gonna bring us a Phish reunion?

    The Weight

  11. Awesome read Bro!

    I can not beleive I never heard that brent started the wilson chant!

    –Another 100 show summer camp turn on

    PS. Mad love for your mom & all of our parents who knew enough to let us do our thing while it lasted.

  12. great westmont shoutout
    neg nord nud for life

    worst ph run ever: hampton 03 vs vegas 04 ?

    great read, i’ll b celebrating my 15 yr anniversery on 7/16

    make sure you give moms a big hug for making you miss the meatstick/yem meltdown

  13. Scott, great piece. More importantly, Scotty’s mom: You rock. Seriously, you’re the MVP of this post. Also, you were awesome on that TV show where Scotty’s sister gave birth to a beautiful baby. You stole the show.

  14. The extra funny part about the origins of the “wilson” chant is that when Brent and I played hockey together in high school, from like 92-94, he and other the other phish-loving players would chant “willlll-soooon” to me at pretty much all points during the games, practices, bus rides, etc….i had no idea what it was from until i really got into the music in like late 94…and i certainly didn’t realize that he was the first to chant it at a show…that’s good sleuthing there b.

    fwiw, the first wilson chants can be traced back to the locker room at mackay park arena, englewood nj, circa January 1993.

  15. Scotty – As I’ve probably said to you before, I was at those shows also. I’ll never forget that at the end of that strange song with the lyrics “Whatever you do, take care of your shoes” everyone in the front threw their stinky birks and Teva’s on to the stage! I thought it was hysterical. Little did I know that I’d be traveling to see that same band across the country and across the pond to far away countries.
    Thanks for bringing me back! (I can’t believe it was that long ago!)

  16. Scotty B took me to my 1st Phish show in 94′ @ Sunrise Musical Theater, it was amazing, we had great seats….I have been a fan since then…..Holla!

  17. Oh man, this post turned into an episode of “this is your life.” Yes, that’s really my mom above.

  18. Roberta Bernstein and Bev Jackwater are cut from the same cloth. My mom used to call Ticketron to buy my Dead tickets when I was in high school. She also made killer goo balls.

  19. great story Scotty.

    i have had this tape w/ Giant Country Horns in my tape selection for over 12 years. I’ts my favorite of all time, actually.

    The Suzy Greenberg w/ the GCHs is insane….so is the BBFCFM.

    sidenote, at the 20th anniversary show in Boston in 2003, I also had the immense pleasure of sitting immediately next to Gordon’s mother page_side. She was very kind @ setbreak and she even remembered you too Scotty. (haha)

    cheers on the great story.

  20. Thanks for sharing. I knew you were from central Jersey long before you mentioned it. Reading this was like refreshing my own memories. We were so lucky to have had Phish to grow up with.

  21. I met Mike’s stepmom that day, Mike’s actual mother and I had our moment about five years later. You’re gonna have to wait until July 12 to read about that one. Let’s just say Marj Minkin and I are very fond of our alma mater.

  22. man….


    that show wasn’t so great.

    I didn’t feel bad that I didn’t go.

    and I didn’t get to meet Scotty. Damn. thank goodness for Skidmore.

    Those Beacon shows were at the end of an era. no more theater shows after that.

  23. you cant tell if a show is good from a tape……especially at the beacon. this is phish 94 at the beacon brah…. think about that….although this might have been weakest of the three even with resurrection of alumni blues…..from what I remember, it was abbreviated version.

  24. Mrs. B, will you adopt me? My mom was cool growing up, but she never stopped a train so I could make a show on time. That is unconditional love!!!!

  25. thanks Scotty B! if anyone can point me to a subpar 94 show i will come cut your grass. and this Beacon show is meat and potatoes.

  26. For the record, in 1999 I called Roberta on her cell phone from Japan to try and convince her to send Scotty over to visit me near Tokyo where I had been living for a year and attend the Phish Japan run with me. She told me that there no way in hell that this was happening. While this shouldn’t necessarily count as having been a 4th time that Burba said no to Scotty, I felt this episode needed to be documented as a time that she said no to me on behalf on him.

  27. Scotty-

    Great read, everyone should be lucky enough to have memories like that. You’ve truly got some hip parents. I would imagine many of us that traveled to the ends of the earth following that band around owe similar debts of gratitude to our respective parents for allowing/supporting us even when they didn’t exactly understand why.

  28. STANCH, I’m cutting you out of my will and ripping up the beautiful letter you wrote me, thanking me for “catering” a 3 DAY “SLEEP-OVER” when you all went to the Phish concerts closest to New Jersey.
    And just for the record, saying NO to Japan was the 2ND TIME
    I ever said NO to Scott… NOT THE 4th! There was NO 4TH!!!!

  29. You are definitely my PHavorite nePHew and certainly the most talented. Your Uncle Jerry PHeels that way too!

    Posted by: Aunt Sherry | April 24, 2008 8:26 AM

  30. Nice post. Phish was a great band. Your words really bring out the thrill and wonder that can be found in music. Never lose feeling the music gave you.

    Nice writing.

    Matt White
    (Dead Head)

  31. I was also mesmorized by Lawn Boy after first hearing Fee during the summer of 1992…I managed to catch my first show that same summer at Great Woods when Phish was opening for Santana…the feeling I had during the Reba jam was one I had never experienced before…my jaw dropped upon hearing Fast Enough for You that following winter and my journey with the band was on in Earnest…no pun intended of course

  32. agreed^. one of my all time fave HT pieces. thanx again scotty for resurrecting. i still have that beacon tape with the GCHorns if you ever want it. Despite being my favorite, it would mean more to you.

  33. The question is did your mom enjoy the shows that she went to?

    I took my mom to a Dead show for many of the same things your mom did but she did not really enjoy it like I hoped. She did arrange my college interview at a Hobart for the weekend Phish played there in 1989. My first show and I ended up going there, eventuallly having dinner with the band when they came back in 1993. The things moms do….

  34. what a beautiful story……
    i had the same kind of love affair with them after i first saw them in 93′, but i was 28

  35. I can vouch for Scott’s new found love that summer as I was his counselor and had to listen to the damn album nonstop. Turned the kid into the laziest sack of Bernstein ever, but man was he a happy camper. Miss those days and trying to wake your arse up every morning!


  36. WOW!! I had the same experience with Phish at the same age and same time. Reba was the first song I “got”. Second, from further digging was YEM. Unfortunatly or fortunately my first show was the OJ Show. I didn’t have tix to the following night at the UIC (AWESOME Second Set), but sure enough, I was there. I ingested some treats and was scared out of my mind at one point in the second set. Very parallel experiences.

  37. Scotty gr8 story! We all have similar stories. My first show was lake Placid December 16-17 1995(i believe) I had no clue who phish was I actually thought I was going to see fish bone (no Joke) I make the 10 minute drive from home I was 16 and got there and had no idea what the hell was going on. Doses, fungus, nuggets whas this earth? We partaked in the nug part bought our tix at the door (20 bucks) and went in. From the first note I was hooked no phish pun intended. My 2nd show was just like yours. It was the clifford Ball and my parents found some green stuff in my pockets. They grounded me no ball that was early June I think and i already had the tickets. Well my parents were very cool and loved live music so they gave me the tickets back and let me borrow the car. Just b4 my 1st show in 95 in lake placid I saw green day and boy did it suck. They played one 90 minute set and i was so upset I said if this is live music it is not for me. a few months later I saw phish and 15 years or so later I have seen over 70 shows and met the best friends of my life including my girl friend. Oh also they helped shape my future and today I am currently a financial advisor wit a large bank. Who says phish fans are no good. Also thank you to my parents bc they waited in lines, on hold and hit the refresh button at least a hundred times. Thanks Scotty for bringing back the great memories!

  38. My first time seeing this, thanks for posting again. Great story.

    Lawn Boy was also my first album.

    My older sister took me 10/27/95 and 10/28/95. My first two shows were her last two shows.

  39. What train stop did you get on the train in Jersey. It was my 3rd show and i was near the wilson chants….

  40. what a wonderful write-up! i totally get what you mean…i remember all the little details of my first show so well too

  41. You have inspired me to relive this show myself today!
    This was my 6th Phish show and I had front row center of the first balcony this night. The Hood is just off the cuff!! Wow is all I can say!

  42. A great read and one that I am totally connected to. sent me a Happy 17th Anniversary on April 6th for the exact same anniversary. I got (and called) a Llama opener on my very first show in Toronto. The venue they played that night is now MTV Canada studios. Every time I pass it I think of that night and every moment that transpired. My life has NEVER been the same since.

    I also saw my very first Lizards that night even though I didn’t know the song at the time. It remains my all-time favorite track to this day. There’s just something about those piano jams…

    Thanks for sharing. I just hope I have the same understanding your parents did when my little girl wants to hit the road in 15 1/2/ years from now.

    Happy travels.

  43. My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  44. thank you for that read. though i did not see the band til 98, that was exactly how i felt when i went to my first show. keep up the awesome writing!!

  45. This year marks the 19th anniversary of my first show 10-15. My mom also bought my first tickets for me as well. What a band. Nice article.

  46. I also was 16 years old and caught all 3. So many first time Hoist tunes that run. I was on Balcony for night 3, which was the most packed. The other nights weren’t as bad and I had good orchestra seats. I will never forget how much the balcony shook for that third night. Still some of my favorites..

  47. I was 16 as well but mine came December 16th and 17th 1995 in Lake Placid New York. Ah if only the A Holes of LP would allow them to come back.. Thats where Mike Brought them to end the first Hiatus. It was funny watching the 4 of them walk around town. Everyone was cool and no one bothered them. It was printed in Rolling Stone that Mike brought them to a nice hotel in LP. They played in 95 and 96 bc they had signed a contract but after the fiasco of 95 LP did not want them back but had to honor the contract. Lp is in great need of business and the Olympic center sits empty mayne 300 days out of the year. I would love to try and get them back. The “center” is amazing but there is a drug free school zone right next door but ive been to plent of shows with no lot scene and had a blast. I wish other phans could respect places that dont allow vending so phish wouldnt get banned from beautiful places like LP in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains

  48. “After a brief trip to Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow,” Says nothing and everything at the same time. Bigfoot, R.I.P.

  49. I call BS.
    Brent did not invent it – though it did happen at this show.
    Only with Advent of the interwebs was I able to confirm it. But I have known for 25 years that I started the chant from 3rd row orchestra with a bro, I believe named Scott, to whom I sold my extra for face and some LSD. My buddy Eric on the train said to sell it to him cause he had good acid. The guy was younger than me, and hyped up through the roof from beginning to end of the show, knowing the horns were coming out. Literally was peaking at Wilson and we started falling over ourselves in anticipation for Wilson even before the E chord, but with the tune up and drums. We felt tribal and started to chant, my boy turned around to encourage those around us, I eventually turned around shocked to see it being chanted by everyone and I grabbed him by the shirt and said you started this!! By the time Trey launches into the riff we were basically moshing down front.
    Done. Over. Don’t pass Go, don’t collect $200. The Suzy & horns were the highlight though.

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