Unlike the legendary Fall 2013 venues like the Hampton Coliseum which has seen 15 memorable Phish shows, including the 2009 reunion run, or the Worcester Centrum Center/DCU arena which has had 14 shows, many notable like the 1993 New Year’s Eve show with the “aquarium” stage set and the 11/29/97 “Runaway Jim” marathon, the upcoming show on Wednesday, October 23rd at the Glens Falls Civic Center will only be the second Phish show at that venue.
Of course, the first show, on Halloween in 1994, is one of the most well-known and loved Phish shows, where the tradition of playing a “musical costume” in a three set show on Halloween, since repeated five more times (in 1995, 1996, 1998, 2009 and 2010), began.
The Glens Falls Civic Center (yes, it's GLENS Falls, no apostrophe, folks, not GLEN Falls)
It was during Labor Day weekend in 1994 that a new copy of the Phish newsletter brochure, the “Doniac Schvice”, landed in my mailbox in Glens Falls, New York, my hometown. As was the custom in those days, “the Schvice” had a calendar announcing the new upcoming tour dates and in the early days of the internet that was how most fans first learned about the upcoming tours and ticketing information. There was no Phish Tickets by Mail fan ticket lottery back then (that didn’t start until the Fall Tour of 1995) and the only way to get tickets was by Ticketmaster phone, a walk-up Ticketmaster outlet or the venue box office.
Turning quickly to the tour calendar for October, I was gobsmacked to see that Phish was going to play our little 5,000 seat hockey arena, the Glens Falls Civic Center, on Halloween. The Schvice also said something about the show being a three set show with the band playing a “musical costume”. Being that Glens Falls is a non-descript mill town far from any major cities in the Adirondack foothills of Upstate New York, I was amazed and thrilled that the band, which I’d been avidly following for a little over a year since my first show on 5/6/93 at Albany’s Palace Theatre, would be playing our hometown hockey rink.
The Civic Center is the typical small minor league hockey arena built in the late 1970s as home to the powerful, Calder Cup winning Detroit Red Wings’ AHL franchise, hockey being promoted as an economic development strategy at the City-owned venue. Over the years, the rink, a miniature version of sports arenas like the Times-Union Center in Albany or the Worcester Centrum, had hosted the occasional rock show, like the Dead three times in ‘79, ‘80 and ‘82, and a warm-up show for The Who’s North American tour in 1989, but it was clear early on that the Phish Halloween show could be the biggest rock show event ever for Glens Falls.
1994 marked a peculiar phase in Phish’s then meteoric rise in popularity, as the band moved from 2,000 seat theatres and obscure venues like county fairgrounds to the major arenas and sheds on their spring, summer and fall circuits. I’m sure most of the fans reading “the Schvice” that Labor Day weekend asked themselves “where the hell is GLEN Falls” (as most folks from outside the area incorrectly call our town), but it was obvious that this was going to be a tough place to get to on a Monday night in late October and a hard ticket to get from the Ticketmaster phone lines, because Phish was then quite capable of selling out a 5,000 seat arena very quickly for a special show like Halloween or New Years Eve (which was at the Worcester Centrum the previous NYE, a much bigger arena, and a quick sellout). Fortunately, for us Glens Fallsers, there was a line of several hundred people which formed outside the GFCC Box Office at the on-sale on September 24th, and if I recall correctly, everyone in line got tickets (pretty much like this year, though the 2013 also show sold out quickly on Ticketmaster owing to the retro small size of the venue, much like the “Guyutica” show on 10/20/10 in Utica, another similar size small arena in a small upstate NY city.
During the run up to the Halloween show, according to our local daily newspaper’s 1994 article, “the band conducted a vote on PhishNet, an electronic bulletin board [actually the r.m.p. Usenet discussion group, then referred to as Phish.net], to find out what album fans wanted to hear, but they kept the results secret until the concert.” (According to the Schvice article linked to this blog piece, fans could also mail in their suggestions).
Most fans are familiar with the details of the music played at the show, an incendiary first set kicking off with Frankenstein, a memorable Harpua with a long narration with Trey orating on the “vibrations of life and death”, the lengthy Beatles double LP “White Album” second set, and a third set with a wild Antelope, all having been memorialized on the pre- instant download Live Phish CD series (LivePhish Volume 13) so I wanted to mention a few personal memories about the atmosphere surrounding this unique moment in Phishtory that don’t show up on the setlist or recordings.
Halloween day 1994 was unusually warm and misty for late October in Glens Falls. Being a big deal because it was Halloween, which the band had skipped for a couple of years and this “musical costume” buzz, the show was an instant sellout. Moreover, at this point in Phish’s remarkable rise in popularity, this was probably one of the first shows to have thousands of fans from all over the country converge flash mob style to “destroy America” in a small town, along with (according to the daily newspaper) 5,000 “ticketless” fans who showed up at the small plaza in front of in the Civic Center hoping for a “miracle” with the rock show meme that you could somehow “always show up and score a last minute ticket” by raising your finger in the air. In other words, there were almost as many ticketless fans outside the venue as the number of people holding tickets.
As a result, security was overwhelmed at the entrances and more City police had to be called in to push back the crowds, arresting four people. At various points, the mobs rushed the doors in the hopes that they could pour in past the outgunned security crew and ticket takers, but they were rebuffed and the arena filled slower than usual. Those with floor GA tickets were ushered in the back entrance. At one point during the first set, some ticketless folks even clambered up on the arena roof and came in through the skylights, perched precariously on the steel I-beams above the crowd.
As the audience was trickling into the arena, the staff passed out chocolate candy “coins” (see photo below, repeated the following year) and selected the costume contest semifinalists by handing them a flyer (photo) telling them where to assemble during setbreak for a further selection. Costumed as a smarmy Armenian man with a doll in a bucket, I was thrilled to be approached and handed a flyer, but as it later turned out, the floor was so jam-packed that I was unable to make my way to the one aisle exit off of the floor and move more than several feet from my spot near the soundboard during setbreak. The arena was very small, crowded and hot, both on the floor and in the arena seats and narrow standing room aisles and corridors at the top.
Some other unique things about the Halloween '94 GFCC show, probably never to be repeated: this was probably one of the longest and latest Phish shows other than the Big Cypress “millenium” New Years Eve, beginning around 10 p.m. and wrapping after 3 a.m., about 3:20, if I recall correctly. The double Beatles “White Album” was about twice the length of the other single LP 45 minute sets when jammed out shows, with most of the songs only to be played once that night and never to enter the Phish rotation. (It seemed to go on forever, truth be told).
One special highlight was a nude Fishman cavorting for a few seconds at the end of the “costume” set surrounded by bubbles as the stage lights went dark. The show ended with the costume contest during the encore, with the band noodling as some guy in a giant cardboard box costume dressed as a “Mounds” bar won with the crowd cheering its “votes”. This was the last Halloween fan costume contest, the band having outgrown the ability to stage that sort of small venue thing easily anymore. The crowds then stumbled out into the warm foggy night, quiet and dazed.
I’m looking forward to the band’s second sojourn in Glens Falls, but like other first time shocks of sheer amazement like the Clifford Ball and the other festivals, the “Island Tour”, Big Cypress, the Radio City Music Hall shows, the “Tower Jam”, and the Hampton reunion shows, the 1994 Glens Falls Civic Center show was a really big deal for Phish Nation at a peculiar moment in Phish’s rise to fame, in a small town most fans had never heard of.