10 Magical Musical Moments At Phish Magnaball Festival

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Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of Phish beginning their tenth major festival, Magnaball. In honor of the incredible weekend in Watkins Glen, here’s a list we put together a few days after the event looking at our favorite moments.

On August 21 – 23, 2015 30,000+ Phish fans descended upon Watkins Glen International race track in Watkins Glen, New York for the band’s Magnaball Festival. The quartet wound up performing eight sets over the course of the three-day event in addition to a Thursday soundcheck which was broadcast over the festival’s radio station.

There was so much more to the Magnaball experience than the music, but today we’re going to detail ten magical musical moments that took place at WGI between Thursday and Sunday. Phish was coming into the festival hot after arguably their best tour yet since returning from a five-year breakup in 2009, so expectations were high. Thankfully the band delivered in a big way.

1. Soundcheck – August 20

The quartet got off to an impressive start on the day before the festival officially began by laying down a wild, all-improvised soundcheck on Thursday afternoon. The folks at YEMblog (ie., me) came up with a setlist for the soundcheck which pretty much sums up its epicness.

2. Mock Song – August 21

One of the weekend’s biggest surprises came early on when Phish dusted off Mike Gordon’s “Mock Song” for just the second time ever. “Mock Song” appeared on the 2002 album Round Room and was played once the following summer on July 12, 2003. Three hundred and twenty shows later the quartet finally busted out “Mock Song” during the first set of Magnaball.

3. Bathtub Gin – August 21

Deep first set jams are few and far between in this era, so fans flipped when Phish ended Magnaball’s opening set with an insane, 23-minute “Bathtub Gin.”

4. Prince Caspian – August 22

When Phish segued into “Prince Caspian” after a 17+ minute “Tweezer” towards the end of Saturday’s second set it appeared fans were in for a breather. However the band had other plans. Guitarist Trey Anastasio’s usual solo quickly turned into a full band jam more reminiscent of “Tweezer” than any past version of “Prince Caspian.” Many jaws were on the floor for the duration of what is easily the best version of the ballad in Phish history.

5. Blaze On – August 22

Debuted on the opening night of 2015 tour “Blaze On” has turned into a true jam vehicle for Phish. The version from Phish’s third set on Saturday at Magnaball saw the band explore a number of different soundscapes with impressive results. Not only was Magnaball’s “Blaze On” filled with inventive improv it ended with an interesting segue into “Possum.”

6. Drive-In Jam – August 23

Phish continued a festival tradition by performing an unannounced, late-night set at Magnaball after Saturday’s three sets on the main stage. The all-improv set found the quartet performing behind a screen on one of the track’s grandstands that was converted into a “Drive-In Movie Theater” for the festival. Wally Holland summed it up well by writing, “The Drive-In Jam moves freely across meters, keys, and tempos (tempi?), but maintains depth, and never breaks its wee-hours mood.”

7. Down With Disease – August 23 (Starts Around 9-Minute Mark)

The final set of Magnaball was one giant, seamless “Martian Monster” sandwich. “Disease” emerged out of the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House track and scored on both the quality and quantity scales. The 15+ minute version featured a blissful peak out of dark, funky madness.

8. What’s The Use? – August 23 (Starts Around 9:55 Mark)

Smack dab in the middle of the final Magnaball set came the third “What’s The Use?” of the summer. At one point the band reached near silence as they delicately played the song’s head and you could hear a pin drop as fans hung on every note.

9. Twist – August 23 (Starts Around 59-Minute Mark)

“Twist” cemented its “MVP Song Of Summer 2015” status at Magnaball thanks to a short but incredibly sweet version. The “Twist” contained a deliciously weird ZZ Top like run at its chords which garnered huge applause from the crowd. Once Phish returned to the regular “Twist” pace, they embarked on a masterful segue into the “Weekapaug Groove” complete with a jam based on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”

10. Martian Monster Reprise – August 23 (Starts Around 1:14:00 Mark)

The final set of Magnaball ended the same way it began, with a quick romp through “Martian Monster.” Thankfully there was no roof at the race track or else it would’ve come off when “Martian Monster’s” reprise began.

Thanks to videographers MKDevo and LazyLightning55 for the majority of videos used in this post.

[Originally published: August 21, 2016]

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