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Phish and Friends

  Phish and Friends A music Festival’s Lasting Legacy By Zachary Jackson Clifford Ball, the first of many festivals put on by the Burlington based jam band Phish, was held in Plattsburgh just over 20 years ago. The festival took place on August 16 and 17, 1996, at the former Air Force Base in Plattsburgh and attracted more than 70,000 Phish Phans. Since Phish’s formation in 1983, the group has become one of the front runners in the jam band world following Jerry Garcia’s death, disbanding the Grateful Dead in August of 1995. Starting from humble beginnings at the small…

 

Phish and Friends

A music Festival’s Lasting Legacy

By Zachary Jackson

Clifford Ball, the first of many festivals put on by the Burlington based jam band Phish, was held in Plattsburgh just over 20 years ago. The festival took place on August 16 and 17, 1996, at the former Air Force Base in Plattsburgh and attracted more than 70,000 Phish Phans.

Since Phish’s formation in 1983, the group has become one of the front runners in the jam band world following Jerry Garcia’s death, disbanding the Grateful Dead in August of 1995.

Starting from humble beginnings at the small venue Nectars in Burlington, Phish now sells out massive venues like Madison Square Garden and still manages to bring tens of thousands of fans to their festivals.

The 1996 festival was named after aviation pioneer Clifford Ball. The band found the name of the 2-day party after seeing a plaque in the Pittsburgh airport that read, “Clifford Ball: A beacon of light in the world of flight.” The band loved the expression and thought it would be a good name for a show. It was an inside joke between the members, who thought if they didn’t tell someone, nobody would know who Clifford Ball is. But there was a resonance.

Ball often held air shows for the public to make a living. Phish wanted to pay homage to Ball so they had their own aerial show with bombers, fighters and gliders cruising above the former Air Force Base.

Phish is known for their on-stage gags, zany antics and strange sense of humor. The band surely didn’t disappoint their cult-like fanbase, some of which traveled hundreds of miles to see the 2-day show. Followed by a flock of fans the first night, the band then pulled one of their signature gags and played on the back of a flatbed truck that drove through the camping area. The gag has since gone down in Phish folklore as the legendary “truck bed jam.”

Phish played six sets, 36 songs in total, that weekend, closing the festival with the song “Harpua,” a staple of early Phish shows, that is rarely unshelved in today’s day of Phish.

Paul Tracy of Binghamton, New York, traveled five hours to the festival with his friend Jennifer just to wait in line for an additional two hours to enter once they arrived at the venue. Tracy has been actively following the band since 1992. He even worked with a collection of volunteers that helped keep parking lots and entryways at Phish shows clean on all of Phish’s 1995 summer tour.

Tracy recalls the camaraderie among the fans who all knew that this was the start of something special in the Phish world. “At Clifford Ball, the main experience was that everyone knew this was going to be the future with the band. Every now and then, once every few years, they were going to throw one of these festivals.”

Twenty-three years have passed since Clifford Ball. Phish still tours regularly and puts on festivals for their fans every few years. Although Phish hasn’t returned to Plattsburgh since Clifford Ball, they will always be a part of the city’s history.

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