Phish Plays Festival 8 Acoustic Set On Fall Tour 2009

By Andy Kahn Nov 1, 2020 6:33 am PST

This year marks 25 years since Phish’s historic Fall Tour 1995. In recognition of that noteworthy tour and to make up for the lack of shows this fall, JamBase presents a daily retrospective highlighting a noteworthy moment from a Phish fall tour concert that took place on that date over the past 25 years (read a note on Fall 1997 here). The 25 Years Of Phish Fall Tour series runs each day between the start of Phish Fall Tour 1995 on September 27 through that tour’s finale on December 17.

Phish’s Fall Tour 2009 started in an atypical fashion as the band staged Festival 8 at Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California on October 30, 31 and November 1. The band’s aptly named eighth multi-day event, and lone West Coast festival, remains their only visit to the site best-known for hosting Coachella.

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As the July 24, 2009 announcement indicated, Festival 8 saw Phish “combine two of its most cherished traditions – a multi-day camping festival and performing on Halloween – in a glorious three-day celebration.” The announcement also revealed the band would revive their “musical costume” tradition of performing complete album covers. Phish covered The Rolling Stones’ double album, Exile On Main Street, for their Halloween musical costume, played during the second of three sets on October 31.

The Stones set on Halloween wasn’t the only first-time performance that went down at Festival 8. On September 24, 2009, an update from Phish revealed the Festival 8 schedule, which included the band’s first-ever all-acoustic set. The update contained this bit of info regarding ‘Phish’s first full-length acoustic set,” informing festival-goers that the set would start “ at the crack of noon on Sunday morning” and that “coffee and donuts will be served.”

Despite the late ending of the previous night’s three-set Halloween show, Empire Polo Grounds began to fill under the hot Southern California sun on Sunday morning. As advertised, coffee and donuts were served upon entering the venue. The donuts Phish handed out at Festival 8, long before the Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden in 2017, were special figure-8-shaped donuts.

Guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon played acoustic instruments, keyboardist Page McConnell played acoustic piano and drummer Jon Fishman was on a mini-drum kit. Trey and Mike sat on stools in each other’s normal location onstage and Fish and Page were on opposite sides of the stage from where they typically would set up. Before the set, Trey encouraged fans to sit under the warm sun if they wanted to. Anastasio and Gordon continued to mention the option to sit at other times during the set, with Trey noting he’d never played to a sitting down Phish crowd before. The sit-or-stand conundrum continued to perplex Trey, who paused during “Wilson” to explain someone told him to tell the audience to sit as the band was walking to the stage. After explaining that he asked several times if the person was certain Trey should give the instruction to sit, Trey realized he didn’t want to do it because he hates having to sit himself.

The acoustic set contained several highlights, beginning with “Water In The Sky” whose “everglades” lyrics recalled another matinee set played under a hot sun in Southern Florida at the Big Cypress New Year’s Eve 1999 festival. The set featured the band’s first and only performance of “Invisible,” the Mike Gordon and Leo Kottke song off Sixty Six Steps, not the song of the same name on Trey’s solo album, Shine. Also debuted was “Sleep Again,” which did appear on Shine and has only seen five more Phish performances and none since 2016. Other rarities given the acoustic treatment included “Mountains in the Mist,” “Army of One,” “Train Song” and the set-closing “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters.”

There were a few other particularly unexpected choices for the acoustic set, like the aforementioned, usually hard-rocking “Wilson” and the intricate, multi-part “The Curtain With” along with more likely contenders like “Back On The Train,” “Brian And Robert,” “My Sweet One,” “Strange Design” and “Bouncing Around The Room”

An unprecedented and unrepeated first set encore capped the first Phish acoustic set. The three-song add-on was made up of “Driver,” “Talk,” which hasn’t been played since, and “Secret Smile,” which has only been played twice since that afternoon in Indio.

Phish came back that evening and fully plugged in for the final two sets of Festival 8, capping the three-day event with the second three-song encore of the day. Watch Phish’s Festival 8 acoustic set below:

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