Phish Jams With Buddy Miles & Merl Saunders And Unleashes ‘Freakapaug’ In 1996

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Vermont jam act Phish had a yearly tradition going by playing Madison Square Garden in New York City each year between 1994 and 1998. 1996 was the lone time in that span the band’s visit came outside of their New Year’s Run, as Phish performed at The Garden on October 21 and 22 that year. Today marks the anniversary of the foursome’s October 22, 1996 concert at the famed venue and it’s memorable for a number of reasons including guest spots from rock legends Merl Saunders and Buddy Miles.

Phish opened with “The Curtain” at MSG on that night for the first time in well over two years. “The Curtain” led into a short and sweet “Runaway Jim.” Highlights of the frame also included a typically evil “Split Open & Melt,” keyboardist Page McConnell’s work on the “It’s Ice” jam and a welcomed set-closing “You Enjoy Myself.” The second set began with a “2001” > “Down With Disease” pairing in the days before both songs were used as adventurous jam vehicles. A rare mid-second set “The Mango Song” came soon after as well as a “Scent Of A Mule” featuring a “Mule Duel” that had Aquarium Rescue Unit bassist Oteil Burbridge “laughing uncontrollably” on the side of the stage.

The closing stanza on night two of Phish’s 1996 MSG run ended with an awe-inspiring suite of “Mike’s Song” > “Swept Away” > “Steep” > “Weekapaug Groove.” Phish had recently debuted “Swept Away” > “Steep” just a week earlier and surprised many fans with the end of the latter, which saw the band scream as loud as they could at the capacity crowd. Drummer Jon Fishman then kicked into “Weekapaug Groove” and soon at least 11 dancers took the stage. The wildly-dressed dancers vogued and strutted around while the quartet pounded away at “Weekapaug.” Guitarist Trey Anastasio played hundreds of notes in the span of just a few minutes to bring what would be called the “Freakpaug” to its climactic conclusion. Soundboard audio of the “Mike’s Groove” including the “Freakapaug” recently surfaced as part of Live Bait Vol. 13.

When Phish returned for the encore they were joined by Miles and Saunders for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” played in the style of Buddy’s old Band Of Gypsys band mate Jimi Hendrix. Miles was a true showman, introducing the band to the crowd and hamming it up throughout his appearance. Phish had performed “Watchtower” once prior, in 1994 with the Dave Matthews Band, but has yet to cover the song again. Sadly, both Buddy Miles and Merl Saunders died in 2008.

Back in 2013 video footage documenting Buddy Miles’ experience on that memorable night surfaced on YouTube. The six-part playlist below starts with Buddy talking to Phish’s manager at the time, John Paluska about Trey’s love of Hendrix. Part Two finds Buddy heading to the stage and then talking with the band during setbreak and discussing song selection. For the third part, we see Fishman talk about how much meeting Buddy means to him and Buddy pitching Trey on a hip-hop version of “Watchtower.” Next, we get a peek into Phish’s practice room where Buddy is teaching the quartet and Merl his version of the Dylan cover. Part Five puts us right on the tip of the stage for an interesting view of the performance itself, while the finale includes a backstage chat between Buddy Miles, Trey and bassist Mike Gordon.

Watch the six-part mini-doc about Buddy Miles’ Phish experience via Larry Blumenstein:

Listen to soundboard audio of “Mike’s” > “Swept Away” > “Steep” > “Weekapaug Groove” from Live Bait 13:

Here’s fan-shot video of the “Mike’s Groove” including “Freakapaug” shared by FieryBill:

Setlist

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