$5 Tickets To Paradise: Phish’s Momentous Big Night In Boston

A memorable night in the band’s history took place on this date in 1989.

By Andy Kahn Jan 26, 2024 1:43 pm PST

On January 26, 1989, Phish performed in front of a sold-out audience at The Paradise in Boston, marking what is considered the band’s first major Boston show. At the time still based out of Burlington, Vermont, where the band formed in 1983, Phish’s concert held on this date 35 years ago was momentous in the band’s history.

The synopsis on the Phish.com show page for the January 26, 1989 concert at The Paradise:

While they’d played the Boston Harbor in 1986 and a couple Alston shows in 1988, this was considered Phish’s first major Boston show. After running into problems booking a relatively unknown band into The Paradise (capacity 650), John Paluska and co-manager at the time Ben Hunter, rented the room for this show.

Tickets cost $5 and Trey designed the “Move Your Mind & Body with PHISH” flyer using stick-on letters added at Kinko’s. John and Ben promoted the show vigorously, but ultimately friends from Burlington Tom Baggott and “Brother Craig” saved the day.

Tom and Craig rented a Greyhound bus to bring Vermont fans from Burlington to Boston for the show. The gig completely sold out, reportedly leaving hundreds of confused fans shut out.

In 2021, Tom Baggott discussed his role in the now infamous Paradise show on an episode of the Osiris Media podcast Undermine. Baggott first saw Phish in the fall of 1987 when he was a freshman at the University of Vermont. By January 1989, he was a part of the early community of fans that formed around Phish and took the opportunity to ensure the Boston concert was well-attended.

After checking with Paluska and securing the necessary needed allotment of tickets, Baggott worked on getting folks from Burlington down to Boston. Clarifying the type of buses that were rented from the Phish.com description, Baggott told Undermine:

“I did something relatively simple: I rented a couple of classic Bluebird 47-seat buses with a friend of mine at the time, this guy a little older than me who went by Brother Craig. I don’t remember the details of who paid for the buses or who put the deposit down or who did what, but I remember a hell of a lot of phone calls and people coming up to me and looking for tickets and I think we charged like 20 bucks and it got you a ticket to the show and a bus ride there and back.

“The only rule was no glass bottles, and we tipped the hell out of the drivers, that’s for sure. But leading up to it, between Craig and I, we sold probably like 250 tickets or something like that. But there was also this community pride, like, we’re gonna show Boston, they don’t wanna give our boys a gig? We’re gonna sell this damn room out …

“It was a lot of organizing. Really just making sure people got their tickets, making sure that we actually were going to have a bus. I mean, until we got on the bus – we hadn’t done anything like this before – until we got on the bus, we weren’t 100% certain of anything.”


Before taking the stage for the first time at The Paradise, Ben Hunter gave a rousing introduction of the band from Vermont. Phish then proceeded to kick off the show with the ever-peculiar “I Didn’t Know.” Phish.com notes drummer Jon Fishman played a trombone solo within the somewhat obscure choice of opener. The show featured the first known “fast” arrangement of “Sanity.”

Guitarist Trey Anastasio mentioned from the stage that his mother Dina Anastasio traveled “all the way from Ireland” to attend The Paradise show. Bassist Mike Gordon’s mother Marjorie Minkin, who painted the backdrop that appeared behind the band, was also in attendance for the momentous occasion (the band teased their song “Minkin” during the show as well).

According to the Phish website, “Del Martin recorded this show as part of his work for Phish, although the tapes in the archives were from John Paluska and Joe Tonetti. Del’s notes called this ‘The Big Gig.’”

Phish played The Paradise five more times in 1989 and once more in 1990 before moving on to bigger rooms in Boston and beyond. The band’s most recent Boston concert occurred in 2019 at the 37,755 capacity historic Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox call home.

Give a listen to Phish’s January 26, 1989 concert at The Paradise capturing the historic night in Boston below:


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Setlist (via Phish.net)

Set 1: I Didn't Know [1], Golgi Apparatus, Alumni Blues [2] > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, You Enjoy Myself, The Lizards, Take the 'A' Train, Sanity [3], Divided Sky, Fee, Good Times Bad Times

Set 2: Suzy Greenberg, Icculus, Colonel Forbin's Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, The Sloth -> Possum, Contact, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Foam, David Bowie

Encore: AC/DC Bag, Fire

This was the band’s first major gig in Boston. The Paradise held around 650 people, they didn’t think the band could come close to selling out the room and so refused to book Phish. John Paluska and Ben Hunter, who were managing Phish at the time, therefore rented the room for the evening. John and Ben promoted the gig heavily, including via radio. Tickets were only $5. Tom Baggott, a fan of the band, helped get Burlington fans to the show by Greyhound bus. Not only did the gig sell out, but there were some 200 people shut out (mostly Boston University and Boston College students). I Didn't Know featured Fish on trombone. Alumni contained additional lyrics. Prior to YEM, Trey welcomed his mom, who had come "all the way from Ireland." After YEM, Trey said that they had a special guest that night for the person in the front row that kept requesting that they play Minkin. Trey mentioned that there was a Minkin hanging behind the band and that Minkin was also there that night. There was a subsequent brief Minkin vocal tease prior to Lizards. This version of Sanity was the fast version.


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