Phish Plays Nectar’s For 1st Time On This Date In 1984

“There would be no Phish without Nectar’s,” Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio.

By Andy Kahn Dec 1, 2023 3:12 pm PST

On December 1, 1984, Phish performed at Nectar’s in Burlington, Vermont for the first known time (the cover was $1). According to Phish.net, the band went on to play Nectar’s a total of 47 times, through a final appearance on March 14, 1989.

Phish’s gigs at Nectar’s proved pivotal in the band’s musical development. Their 1992 studio album was titled A Picture Of Nectar and its cover art depicted the venue’s namesake Nectar Rorris. The album also featured Phish’s song “Cavern,” which references a “picture of Nectar.”

Included with the album is a note that read:

Eight and a half years ago, we played our first bar gig at Nectar’s in Burlington. Nectar Rorris, the proprietor, was happy to give us a gig despite our lack of experience, organization, or a song list long enough to last two sets. The night went well enough and soon we were playing a series of monthly three night stands – three sets a night on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Like countless other bands in Burlington’s diverse music scene, those nights at Nectar’s taught us how to play. We dedicate this album to Nectar Rorris for 16 years of bringing Burlington live music every night of the week with no cover, and the best fries this side of…France.

“For five years we had Nectar’s and other places around town to play from 9 until 2 in the morning,” drummer Jon Fishman said in Parke Puterbaugh’s book Phish: The Biography. “We’d get three-night stands, so we didn’t even have to move our equipment. Basically, the crowd was our guinea pig. We’d have up to five hours to do whatever the hell we wanted.”

Despite the fact Phish played other venues in Burlington like The Front more times than are documented of them playing at Nectar’s, the gigs – first upstairs and later moved to the larger main stage – at Nectar’s had a lasting impact. The band went so far as to get Rorris to approve t-shirts that read “Nectar’s Home Of Phish.”

“There would be no Phish without Nectar’s,” Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio told Puterbaugh. “Usually there wouldn’t be that many people at the beginning of the night. People would come and go, and would just kind of swell. Eventually, it started getting really packed, which is why we had to stop playing there. But for a long time, it wasn’t. We really took things out at Nectar’s.”

Along with Anastasio and Fishman, Phish’s lineup on December 1, 1984 was rounded out by bassist Mike Gordon and former guitarist Jeff Holdsworth. Keyboardist Page McConnell would join the group the following year, precipitating Holdsworth’s departure.

The documented setlist from December 1, 1984, featured covers of several songs by the Grateful Dead, “Bertha,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Fire On The Mountain” and the encore “Eyes Of The World.” Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” (played between “Scarlet” and “Fire On The Mountain”) and Talking Heads’ “Cities,” two songs that remained in Phish’s repertoire, were also played that night at Nectar’s.

Lesser played covers, Lou Reed’s “Wild Child,” The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” Spencer Davis Group’s “Don’t Want You No More,” Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” and the lone known attempt at Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea,” were also part of the original Nectar’s setlist.

Between the covers, Phish worked in originals that remain part of their shows, including the first known performances of “Slave to the Traffic Light” and “Fluffhead,” as well as “Camel Walk” and “Makisupa Policeman.” The short-lived “Skippy The Wondermouse,” which evolved into “McGrupp,” was debuted that night as well.

Phish cohort and frequent early-day collaborator the Dude Of Life sang “Skippy” and “Fluffhead.” Another collaborator from the band’s early days, Marc Daubert contributed to a “Drums” jam during the single-set show.

Listen to an audio recording of Phish’s December 1, 1984 debut at Nectar’s (beginning at “Scarlet Begonias”) below:

Setlist (via Phish.net)

Set 1: Jam, Wild Child > Bertha, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, Camel Walk, Jam, In the Midnight Hour, Scarlet Begonias > Fire [1] > Fire on the Mountain > Makisupa Policeman, Slave to the Traffic Light [2], Spanish Flea [3], Don't Want You No More [4] -> Cities [5] -> Drums [6] -> Skippy the Wondermouse [7], Fluffhead [8]

Encore: Eyes of the World

Skippy and Fluffhead featured The Dude of Life on vocals. The jam after Camel Walk may have been Back Porch Boogie Blues. Spanish Flea included an introduction of the band members. Don’t Want You No More was not performed in its entirety, as it lacked the final lyrics. The lengthy percussion jam featured a guest appearance from Marc Daubert. Mike recalls that there were approximately 200 people in the audience. This gig featured the first known version of Slave to the Traffic Light and Fluffhead, the first known Phish versions of Fire, Don't Want You No More, Cities, and Skippy the Wondermouse, and the only known Phish version of Spanish Flea. This performance was on the upstairs level of Nectar's.

Tomorrow, Phish marks the 40th anniversary of their first known public performance, which occurred on December 2, 1983. The band heads to Madison Square Garden for another New Year’s Eve Run in New York City at the end of the month. Next year, Phish will return to Mexico for another destination event, make their debut and play four shows at the Las Vegas Sphere and host a festival in Delaware.

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