Many moments in Phish history need to be heard to be believed, but there are far less for which a visual is needed in addition to audio. One of those moments took place 20 years ago today at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Darien, New York; when The Merry Pranksters performed a skit in the middle of a Phish show.
The Merry Pranksters, a troupe formed around Ken Kesey, were as much as symbol of the psychedelic ’60s as the Grateful Dead. On August 14, 1997, the Phish scene met up with The Merry Pranksters in a big way, when the foursome turned a portion of its show over to Kesey and his gang. Towards the end of an already impressive performance, Phish began “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent.” Guitarist Trey Anastasio usually tells a Gamehendge-related story between “Forbin’s” and “Fly Famous Mockingbird” in which the Colonel tries to find Icculus, but on this night Trey says Col. Forbin found Ken “Uncle Sam Bozo Easy” Kesey. Ken comes out and relays a story about finding the “Bozos” who have been lost for two years, which happens to be the time between Jerry’s death and the Phish show where this ridiculousness was taking place.
Kesey in a sing-songy way, tells his tale with musical backing by Phish who work in teases of “If I Only Had A Brain,” “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Frankenstein” as Ken brings out Pranksters dressed as the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and Frankenstein. The band members seem to be having the time of their lives providing a score for the wild skit. Eventually, Phish lands on a funk groove and once Kesey et. al finish and leave the stage, Trey explains this is where the band would usually play “Fly Famous Mockingbird” but “the funk’s too deep!” With that, they began just the third “Camel Walk” since 1989. Thankfully, footage of “The Merry Prankster’s Jam” was shown on big screens during a From The Archives video presentation at Super Ball in 2011, allowing us to witness the craziness that went down on this date in 1997. Sadly, Kesey would die just a few years later leaving this as the only Phish/Pranksters interaction.
Videos (Captured off screens at Super Ball by Jon Kendall)
[Originally Published: August 14, 2016]