Before we begin, I want to say upfront that I did not attend Magnaball. Due to other vacations and obligations this summer, I was forced to choose between Magnaball and Dick’s. I chose Dick’s because of the low risk of impacting rain, zero risk of crippling heat and humidity, preference for Colorado over upstate New York, and Dick’s stellar batting average. Along with Star Lake, Dick’s likely has the highest percentage of great shows out of any current venue. As we know now, I may have made a poor choice: Magnaball was blessed with perfect weather, and the band played three shows for the ages.
But were these three shows simply great for an era when the band members are in their fifties? Or, did Magnaball stack up to the great festivals of the 90s? Now, you may be saying to yourself, “How can someone who didn’t attend Magnaball properly rate it?” My response is that is precisely why I’m well-suited to write this. I’m basing this list on the replay value of the music alone – announced sets only – so no Storage Jam, Tower Jam, etc. It has nothing to do with the vibe, weather, traffic, your pimp RV, coming of age moments, or any other factors that can't be captured on the recording. It’s all about how well the music holds up after the festival is long over. Now that we’ve laid the ground rules, let’s run the numbers.
The first one, of the Clifford variety, was at the time the biggest marker in the band’s development as a cultural juggernaut. Now comes the tenth, at a time when the band seems to be looking back and looking forward. More than six years into the post-Coventry comeback, barging toward the finale of a tour that’s one of the best of this era (it jousts with fall 2013 for the distinction of best tour in 3.0), it was time for a family gathering of the sort that Phish hadn’t hosted since Superball IX in 2011.
In their more than thirty years as a band, Phish has made incredible music from coast to coast and beyond, from Toledo to Trento to Tokyo. But what sets a festival apart from any other concert I’ve seen, different from MSG or Halloween or any other celebrated event, is that the atmosphere is so overwhelmingly “home.” Magnaball, a tiny city of art and music, was created entirely for us. It’s a place for everyone to come meet and revel in all the myriad, unique ways that we express our joy and individuality. These expressions which may make us feel weird in “real” life, but in the context of a festival, with the music as our drawstring, we come together and feel unified. The experience was revelatory for me. But first, the afternoon set.
With a Phish festival and Dick’s in close proximity to each other, many fans had to choose one or the other. I – of course – made my usual call of both, but the trips so close to each other required some sacrifice. Rather than a sane trip, logistics required my flight to be a red-eye into Baltimore-Washington International.
While that sounds like an insane distance, it’s actually closer than most major northeastern cities (and only two hours further than Buffalo) as Baltimore is almost directly due south of Watkins Glen. As I learned driving from Charm City to Buffalo – well Orchard Park, NY – to see the Grateful Dead in 1989, US 15 is a straight shot from Harrisburg, PA to Corning, NY. Back then it was a winding road, pretty, but slowing down for many small towns. Now it’s largely a freeway. The southern section still retains much of its history, having the occasional town slowdown and plenty of “Gentlemen’s Clubs” and tourist traps sitting on the side of the parkway; but by the time you get past the home of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, it’s a freeway. It even branded in part as a disembodied section of the controversial Interstate 99* for 12 miles north of the New York state line.
What would a Phish festival be without The Bunny! It went live Thursday morning and will broadcast for the whole weekend of Magnaball. It will air its usual great mix of eclectic music, Magna-news, archival Phish tracks and of course, all of the live music sets of Phish music including sound checks. You can reach the Bunny in a few different ways:
[Editor’s note: after the celebratory revival of the “Mike’s Song” second jam on 8/4/15 in Nashville, the folks on the Mockingbird and phish.net teams wanted the whole scoop on what happened, since the instigator was one of our staff. We thought the story was simply too good not to share. Many of our readers will already know the basics of how Drew Hitz (professional musician, music business consultant, Mockingbird Foundation board member), with the assistance of his friend and colleague Don Hart (composer, arranger, orchestrator, collaborator with Trey on “Time Turns Elastic”), turned fan dreams into reality. If this story is new to you, check out the .net recap from that Nashville gig. -PZ]
Don Hart asked me if I was coming to Nashville for the show at the brand new Ascend Amphitheater. He ended up securing me a ticket which was DFC in the fourth row of seats behind the pit. I was hopeful that I would get into the soundcheck, but didn't find out that I would be going until that afternoon.
The soundcheck was fascinating for me. They played a bluesy jam to start, and then Fishman asked if they had time to run “Mercury.” After playing it once through, they then rehearsed and ended up rewriting parts of the second half of the tune. It was a fully democratic process. They focused on the transition getting out of Fishman's Marimba Lumina solo into the next section.
Welcome to the 196th edition of Phish.Net's Mystery Jam Monday. The winner will receive an MP3 download courtesy of our friends at LivePhish.com / Nugs.Net. To win, be the first person to identify the song and date of the mystery jam clip. Each person gets one guess per day, with the second “day” starting after I post the hint. A hint will be posted on Tuesday if necessary, with the answer to follow on Wednesday. Good luck!