Looking Back At Phish’s Amy’s Farm Festival 25 Years Later

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Earlier this summer, Phish.net and The Mockingbird Foundation released the best book on Phish yet – the third edition of The Phish Companion: A Guide To The Band & Their Music (TPC3). The 898-page hardbound book on jam icons Phish is now available for purchase via PhishCompanion.com. TPC3 documents Phish history from the band’s formation in Vermont through the present with setlists, show reviews, tour capsules, fan prose and original photos. David “ZZYZX” Steinberg wrote an essay on the first Phish festival, Amy’s Farm, which took place 25 years ago today. Check out an excerpt from TPC3 and head here to download the actual pages:

Long before there were Ferris wheels, Mr. Sausage, and massive traffic jams, Phish threw a festival.

Set at the farm of first fan Amy Skelton, this was a free event – aside from the $5 parking charge to help restore the damage from cars – that pointed the direction for festivals to come.

This was the small, friendly version of a Phish festival. What it lacked in spectacle, it made up for in ease of access. Located just north of Portland, ME, the parts of the farm we could access had an upper and lower field. The upper one is where we all parked, set up camp, and otherwise hung out. When it came time to walk to the show, there was a path down the hill that led us to the stage. It was set up like a Phish festival in miniature: stage up front in a field with food vendors around the sides. However, there was one noticeable difference – the crowd was so much smaller and so laid back, that you could walk to the front whenever you wanted. If dealing with people around you would become too much, just a few feet Fish side gave you tons of room to enjoy the show more or less by yourself.

After a rambling speech by Fish about donating to an activist organization called 20/20 Vision, and a warning that smoking up front could lead to a fire – “If you’re going to start a fire, start it about 100 yards back there.” – the show was underway. Starting in the fall of ‘89, three set shows had become a rarity. My first Phish show was in late October ‘89 and this was only the third such creature since that date.

Between it being three sets, the laid back setting, and the way that the invitation specifically made it out to be a thank you for fan support, it really seemed like a family affair. Trey saw me before a show that summer and specifically invited me, because the event was aimed at fans who had been supporting them a lot. In case you thought that fans getting their hopes up way too high for rarities and different set structures was a modern thing, that most definitely was not the case – there was definitely an expectations game going on. I mean, they invited us!

One other fact about the event that amuses in retrospect, is that the fans wanted more and more. Amy’s Farm would be the longest show I would see Phish perform until the Halloween cover album concerts started up, and by a decent margin. Despite that, after the second encore ended and we all went up the hill to chill and party and sleep, a rumor started to float around.

Sometime late at night, maybe at 11, maybe at midnight, there would be a fourth set. They’d reopen the concert venue and we would get some more songs. Many stayed up late hoping for the set that never came; there might even be a few folks camped out there today, hoping that the fourth set will happen any minute now. People try to make a divide between newer and older fans, but one thing remains true: Phish fans really always were that obsessive.

At a quarter century removed, the perception of this event changes quite a bit. Musically, it’s a fun show, with an incredibly long sustained note in “Stash” and a first encore where The Dude of Life performs three songs, but Amy’s Farm is about much more than that. It was people who hung out in bars and clubs looking around at a field and noticing that there are a lot more of us than it appeared.

This Phish thing was going somewhere that could be quite interesting. Amy’s Farm is a statement of a particular era – the line, “Welcome to the ‘90s in “Self” is enough by itself to date it. The early days of figuring out what this band was were over, and we were experiencing a brief period of stability before the quick rise and all that accompanied that would transpire. This show captures Phish as a high-energy progressive rock band, one where improvisation was a relatively minimal aspect of who they were.

In a few months, Phish would start playing the Rift songs and then would have the “great speedup” of fall ‘91 when songs like “Foam” would be performed at a new tempo. Lyrics would focus more on their meaning than the sound they made; jamming would become important. But none of that was known at the time.

Listen to Phish’s Amy’s Farm performance via From The Aquarium:

Head to PhishCompanion.com to purchase your copy of TPC3 while supporting an incredible cause.

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