Over the past 24 years I’ve had mixed success when it comes to picking the “right” Phish shows to attend. I was so close to catching the bust out-filled night in Burgettstown in 2003, but decided to see a concert in Raleigh that was a real snoozer instead. Back in the Summer of 2000 I chose two nights in Columbus over what turned out to be a legendary run at Deer Creek to my dismay. However, I’m forever grateful that 20 years ago tonight I was in the house when Phish covered “Terrapin Station” in Virginia Beach at the tail of a weekend filled with special moments.
That summer I had an internship working for a company called Hamilton Projects that handled licensing for a new television show called South Park. It was a dream gig in which my daily duties included sharing my opinion on items various companies pitched using the logos and characters from the animated Comedy Central series, which like Phish is still going strong 20 years later. The only downside was I had to sit on the sidelines while Phish embarked on the “Jukebox Tour” filled with cover debuts at nearly every show.
My last day at the job was on Friday, August 7 and I planned to catch up with the quartet the next night at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. The band’s headlining debut at Merriweather remains one of my favorite Phish experiences. I had one single third row seat and it totally felt like Trey was looking at me the whole night (maaaaaaaan). This show had incredible flow featuring a setlist filled with songs I either hadn’t seen previously or hadn’t caught in years.
Yet, this was the Jukebox Tour and the two cover debuts in Maryland were ridiculously good. The Phish debut of “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground ended the first set. For my money, Trey’s solo is one of the more fluid and potent combination of riffs he’s ever played. Whenever I get down, I can put on that solo and by the end I’m ready to take on the world again. The show was already a winner by the time Phish returned for the encore. While there’s many moments from that weekend I’ll never forget, one of my favorites is the shit-eating grin Mike Gordon sported seconds before he kicked on a distortion pedal and lit into “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. The reaction from the crowd was a frenzied one with arms flailing into the air everywhere you looked. “Sabotage” was just about the last song anyone thought this crunchy band from Vermont would cover.
That night I gathered with some of my best friends at a motel in College Park to celebrate a buddy’s birthday. We laughed and laughed all night long basking in the afterglow of a wonderful Phish show and the comradery. The only issue I had is that I needed to be back at home in New Jersey on Monday for a family gathering. I looked for my buddy that was supposed to drive me home after Sunday’s show in Virginia Beach all night long at Merriweather with no success. Things were different before cell phones and I had no way of getting in touch with him. While I enjoyed that night so much, the thought of letting down my family by getting stuck in Virginia was in the back of my mind.
I did have a ride down to Virginia Beach, so I made my way to the venue for a night that would be one of the most special ones in Phish history. The quartet came out of the gates with the high-energy “Punch You In The Eye” and then played a “Bathtub Gin” that contained some of the fiercest piano work I had heard from Page McConnell up to that point. He was truly living up to his “The Chairman Of The Boards” nickname during what would turn out to be a 15-minute “Gin.” Just the second “The Lizards” of the summer followed before I finally had a chance to see my first “The Moma Dance.” My favorite moment of the set came shortly thereafter when Page started “Esther.” I had seen 75 Phish shows by this point and this was just the third time I caught the Junta classic. The band busted it out just about a week earlier at Alpine Valley and I thought my opportunity had passed, so I relished every second of “Esther.”
Shortly after the “David Bowie” set closer, I began the hunt for my ride to New Jersey. There were three points where I saw other friends who told me I had just missed my buddy. As each minute of the setbreak passed I became more desperate. I only had $20 left in my wallet, which didn’t help ease my mind. With the second set quickly approaching I felt a tap on my back and was extremely relieved when I turned around to find the guy I had spent the last two days looking for. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the lights went down less than a minute after we found each other.
The two of us settled in at the back of the pavilion with friends of his that were huge Deadheads. With all the anxiety behind me, I danced my ass off to the first cow funk jam of the weekend which came out of “AC/DC Bag.” After settling in on a groove, Phish ended the “Bag” with a balls-to-the-wall rocking finish. While “Sparkle” to follow might look odd on paper, the lyrics about tension building and then laughing and laughing and falling apart described my last hour perfectly. A surprising choice came next with a rare early second set “Run Like An Antelope.” The best versions of “Antelope,” that don’t go “Type II,” are filled with tension and a huge release. In Virginia Beach, Phish worked up so much tension I thought the roof was going to blow off the shed. They feasted so hard on the build-up it was hard for them to stop and they fudged the ending. I don’t think I was the only one who didn’t mind.
At this point it was late in the night and I thought we were approaching the end of the concert. Phish played a new-to-me song titled “Brian & Robert” that immediately made an impression before unleashing a “Waste” with one of the more intense solos Trey has played during that ballad. Anastasio was clearly feeling it and led from his “Waste” solo into a pretty instrumental rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I took a moment to look around and spotted a huge full moon rising over the back of the lawn. Goosebumps enveloped my arms as the guitarist made his way through “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
We still were far from done as a “You Enjoy Myself” with one of the scariest vocal jams ever came next. Phish light designer Chris Kuroda took his work to the next level throughout the vocal jam. I wasn’t far from his position and watched as he used an object similar to a trackball to move the lights in a circular direction along with the screeching of the band. Phish picked up from the vocal jam into an evil bit of improv that had me really confused about where they were going when all of the sudden they dropped into a cover of Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein.” It seemed like every song was played in an unusual way that night. Phish’s second set in Virginia Beach finally ended with a “Chalk Dust Torture” performed in double-time and the a capella number “Hello My Baby.”
While at various points through the night it hit me that Jerry Garcia had died three years prior, I never thought Phish covering the Grateful Dead was within the realm of possibilities. Yet, when the band returned to the stage Trey started up what still stands as the group’s only rendition of “Terrapin Station.” The crowd reaction was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever experienced as a live music fan. Audience members slowly but surely began to realize what was happening and a wave of appreciation grew with each passing second. By the time Trey sang the first lyric the response had reached a roar. Nearly everywhere I looked hugs were being shared and I saw more than a few tears shed. It was a perfect tribute played flawlessly.
My buddy’s Deadhead friends were beside themselves with glee. One had been keeping a setlist all night and I looked over and saw she had written “DAAAAAAAAARKSTAR!!!!!!!!!” I laughed, but we were all taken aback by what we were witnessing. The explosive roar from the crowd lasted well over a minute. Each time Phish made it through a section a new round of applause would ring out. At the end of “Terrapin” I shook my head in disbelief. Had I truly just witnessed Phish covering the Dead? And of all songs “Terrapin Station!?” The vibe leaving the venue was one of pure joy and happiness. I loved looking around to see the looks of bewilderment on other concert-goers’ faces as we stepped out into the night. The ride home took seven hours and I don’t think the smile left my face at any point.
Back in June, fans learned more of the backstory behind Phish’s lone cover of “Terrapin Station” via former tour manager Brad Sands’ appearance on the Under The Scales podcast. Sands explained the idea came out of a conversation he had with Trey earlier that day in Norfolk, Virginia. Brad brought up that Jerry had been gone for three years to which Anastasio responded, “We should play a Dead song tonight.” The guitarist decided on “Terrapin.”
Sands shared that Phish learned “Terrapin Station” off a DAT featuring the Dead’s version from Cobo Arena in Detroit on November 1, 1977. The quartet spent over three hours rehearsing the song that day according to Brad. Sadly, the video screens cut out shortly after Phish started “Terrapin,” so it appears video of the cover is lost forever. Thankfully, fans only had to wait a few days to hear an official audio recording as archivist Kevin Shapiro played Phish’s “Terrapin Station” during one of his “From The Archives” broadcasts at the Lemonwheel festival.
Listen to Phish’s version of “Terrapin Station” from 20 years ago today: