Phish Fall 97: Remembering November 21st In Hampton
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Phish Fall Tour 1997, a seminal run in the band’s history. JamBase teamed with The Mockingbird Foundation to celebrate the historic tour. On the anniversary of each of the 21 shows JamBase will publish a remembrance of the concert penned by a variety of Phish.net team members, JamBase contributors and more. We continue with JamBase editorial director Scott Bernstein’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.
When Phish‘s music evolved with the advent of “cow funk,” more creative setlists and a propensity to jam throughout each show in 1997, I was all in. After the band announced plans for Fall Tour, I kept on hearing “Hampton Coliseum is so unlike any place you’ve ever seen Phish, you have to see a show there!” While at first I ignored those voices, I’m sure glad I wound up making the trip for an incredible two-night stand at the venue.
The Hampton shows weren’t in my plans until about a week before Phish took the stage. My friendships with a group of fellow Phish fans at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York had blossomed. They were all planning on piling into a 1986 conversion van dubbed “George” for the nine-hour trip down to “The Mothership.” Unfortunately, I thought I had waited too long to make the decision to join them as tickets were sold out and not easy to come by. I didn’t want to make such a long journey just to get shut out.
A few days before the Hampton run, one of my friends had something come up and all of the sudden a ticket to each of the two shows became available. I quickly grabbed them and I’m forever grateful to the friend who wound up giving me her tickets (Thanks, Stac!). The trip down itself was incredibly fun and quite an adventure. We left on Thursday night with a plan to stop at a dorm in Washington D.C., where a friend of a friend would put us up.
We wound up arriving around 2 a.m. and the 15 of us somehow snuck by security. Our host only knew a few of us and to this day it still blows my mind thinking about the sight of our huge crew spread out in this small living room. We took any available space to rest our weary bones. I could only imagine what our host’s suitemates thought of the scene to which they awoke. As an aside, our host became one of our best friends and still is to this day – god bless Phish tour!
My friends and I awoke around noon on Friday, grabbed some grub and made our way down to Hampton. One member of our traveling contingent is a twin and when we pulled into a spot in the parking lot, his twin (who came up from Boone, North Carolina) was in the car right beside us. This was certainly a great sign of what was to come.
Hampton Coliseum is a rare general admission arena. All 15 of us were able to sit together in our favorite spot, close to keyboardist Page McConnell’s side of the stage. People were friendly and courteous both inside the venue and out. Another wonderful surprise for me was the weather. Saratoga Springs was frigid and the Hampton area was anything but. I lapped up the 60 degree and sunny weather, as it was so nice to go to the shows without getting bundled up.
Phish came out of the gates with a stunning debut cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” It was an inspired choice on a number of levels. “Emotional Rescue” saw the quartet make fine use of bassist Mike Gordon’s vocal range, from his falsetto to deep “shining armor” tones. Not only did Phish nail the cover, but they used the title track from The Stones’ 1980 album as a springboard towards adventurous improvisation. A 17+ minute “Emotional Rescue” to kick off the run? No one saw that coming.
Next up was a deliciously evil “Split Open & Melt” before the recently debuted “Beauty Of My Dreams” and “Dog Stole Things” brought the crowd back down to earth. I’ll always remember the sight of the audience going wild along with the “Punch You In The Eye” that followed ahead of standard takes on “Lawn Boy” and “Chalk Dust Torture.” While I wasn’t a huge “Prince Caspian” fan, the version that ended the first set of the Hampton ’97 run was a winner complete with a tone clinic from guitarist Trey Anastasio.
The second set was a truly wild affair. We’re talking four songs in the span of just about an hour. It all began with a “Ghost” that made it clear to me the five-month old tune was the best of the more than a dozen originals Phish debuted the past summer. The foursome took “Ghost” deep and showed off the kickass cow funk that had become a hallmark of 1997 improv from the band. Yet, it was the “AC/DC Bag” that truly blew my mind. Phish explored multiple soundscapes over the course of the 25-minute “Bag” to the delight of the capacity crowd. One minute the band would be rocking oh so hard, while the next they would take the jam down to near silence. Just as I was trying to wrap my head around what I had witnessed, Phish pulled off a spot-on transition into “Slave To The Traffic Light.”
I was particularly impressed with how patiently the Vermonters built from the start of the “Slave To The Traffic Light” to the peak of the triumphant jam. Trey and Page played off each other so exquisitely. “Loving Cup” was a fun way to end the set as I’m not sure I’ve pumped my fists harder than I did as Phish played their second Stones cover of the night. A rare “Guyute” encore then brought the show to a close.
I’ll admit it, I may have shed a few tears as I was surrounded by these amazing friends at this amazing venue seeing this amazing band play these amazing songs. It was … amazing. All these years later, I’ve seen many of these fans I went to the Hampton ’97 shows get married and have children. There’s so much to the Phish experience beyond just the music and I can’t believe I nearly didn’t go to those concerts. I’m so thankful for the adventure we had and it’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since that fateful trip.
Thanks to ScottyB for sharing his memories from 20 years ago today. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.
Hampton Coliseum [See upcoming shows]
2 shows — 11/25/1995, 10/25/1996
13 songs / 10 originals / 3 covers
5.58 [Gap chart]
Emotional Rescue (Rolling Stones)
Emotional Rescue, Dog Stole Things, Lawn Boy, AC/DC Bag,
AC/DC Bag - 14 Shows (LTP - August 6, 1997)
AC/DC Bag 25:41
Beauty Of My Dreams 3:27
Lawn Boy - 2, A Picture of Nectar - 1, Billy Breathes - 1, Misc. - 6, Covers - 3
50 °F Mean Temperature
Capacity 13,656 Attendance 13,656 Ticket Price $22.50 as per Pharmers Almanac
Elsewhere On November 21, 1997:
- Gov’t Mule at Park West in Chicago, Illinois (Setlist)
- Blues Traveler at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois (Audio)
- Widespread Panic at Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas (Audio)
- moe. at the Music Farm in Charleston, South Carloina (Setlist)
- Zero at Maritime Hall in San Francisco, California (Audio)
- Los Lobos at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California (Setlist)
- Ween at PC69 in Bielefeld, Germany (Setlist)
- Yes at Louisville Palace Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky (Setlist)
- U2 at Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana (Setlist)
- The FDA Modernization Act of 1997 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (Video)
- The Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan scored 49 points in a regular season NBA double overtime win against the Los Angeles Clippers (Video Highlights)