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Catching Phish in Maine: A look back

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As Phish prepares for the first show of their summer 2013 tour, at Darlings Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor on July 3, a look back at some of the legendary band's Maine visits is in order.   

Although details surrounding many of Phish's early shows remain sketchy, most authoritative accounts agree that the band's first three Maine appearances took place in January 1989 with an initial stop in Bar Harbor at College of the Atlantic's Gates Center Auditorium on January 20th.  

On the following evening, Phish headed up route 1A for a show in Orono at the now defunct Oronoka restaurant and motel, famous for their "Food You'll Remember" and meals that were seemingly never-ending.  It is believed that the group spent the night upstairs at this venue where they returned for another show almost exactly one year later.

Phish had a few days off in the greater Bangor area before playing their next January '89 show in Old Town at The Penny Post, a coffee house that is the current home of Old Town Subway.   It is known that the group played originals "Fee" and "Fluffhead" during that show, two songs that would appear four months later on their self-released debut album, "Junta."  The rest of the night's set list is lost to the mists of time, unless a tape resides in Phish's archive - a distinct possibility.  

GREAT-WENTPOSTERAs often as possible, Phish wisely focused on playing college towns during these formative years.  After all, they were a college band first, formed at the University of Vermont, thirty years ago.   It's interesting to note that, even then, they played predominately original music.  So committed were they to a belief in their own music, the notion of playing mostly cover songs had been abandoned as early as 1984.  

From the beginning, Phish knew that "word of mouth" would be the key to building an audience and have always allowed fans to record their shows.  In the early years, they even allowed audience members to patch a recording rig into the band's sound board for best quality.   With the "you've gotta see these guys" buzz around Phish, their audience and territory quickly expanded

Fans raved about the foursome's musicianship, energy and unpredictability.  The songs and shows became fodder for analysis as tapes were traded and new fans promised themselves they would be there the next time Phish pulled into town. 

There were songs about dogs, sloths, possums, antelopes, lizards, camels and weasels.   The songs may have been about a deadly doll or an airhead named Suzy no subject was too esoteric yet the music remained accessible.  

They had tightly structured songs about a mysterious land called Gamehendge, its hero, Col. Forbin, and his antagonist, the evil king Wilson.   Phish arrived armed with a catalog of unforgettable original material within which all of the band's collective influences intersected.  There were elements of classic rock, jazz, classical, country, bluegrass, heavy metal, folk, reggae, a cappella harmony, comedy, drama and performance art.  

Every show was unique and the audience soon realized that they were part of something that could never be repeated in quite the same way.  The next night in the next town would different.  

As they continued to reach new parts of the country, Phish always managed to find a way to get back to Maine.  Tour stops in the 1990s included college shows at UMaine, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and USM.   There were shows in Portland clubs Thunderbird's and Tree Caf as well as the Portland Performing Arts Center and Portland Expo. 

The most significant Maine show from those early years took place in Auburn on August 3, 1991, on a 255 acre horse ranch owned by Amy Skelton, an early fan who  spent more than a decade in the group's employ.   Postcards were sent to fans on the Phish mailing list with an invitation from the band to attend a free show "to thank everyone for all of the good times."   More than 2,000 fans found their way to Amy's farm in near triple-digit heat for an extended three-set show that served as a prototype for later multi-day festivals like those staged in Aroostook County at the site of the former Loring Air Force Base in 1997, 1998 and 2003.

It was at that those festivals when, at least for a weekend, Limestone became the largest city in Maine as Phish fans from all over the world converged for three days of music, camping and surprises.   It was a community built in honor of the faithful by their favorite band.   The Limestone shows have attained near-mythological status in the minds of many fans and are fondly remembered by locals for the boost in the economy.  An estimated $75 million was spent by the band and the 200,000 combined fans who attended the three festivals.  

Phish-1997 Great Went T-shirtPhish performed two memorable shows at Bangor Auditorium, in May 1993 and November 1994 respectively.   At the first, during a hilarious version of "Great Gig in the Sky," with drummer, Jon Fishman, performing a "solo" on a 1967 Electrolux vacuum, an inflatable pig was lowered from the rafters as a satirical homage to Pink Floyd.  At that moment, guitarist Trey Anastasio's dog, Marley, a golden retriever mix who toured with the band and acted as unofficial head of security, stormed the stage to sniff the pig.  

A dream set list and a perfect performance (the Bangor "Tweezer" was selected for Phish's first live album, "A Live One" in 1995) combined to make the November 2nd 1994 Bangor Auditorium show one of the all-time classics.  The version of "Foam" from this show has been selected for "Live Bait 9", a sampler of live performances taken from past cities and venues where the band will play on their upcoming tour.   The collection is available now for free download at .

Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland has hosted several stellar Phish performances.  December 30th 1993 is widely regarded as a fan favorite.       

In December 1999, they played back to back nights in Portland and treated fans to many of the songs that would appear on the following year's "Farmhouse" album.  Nearly ten years later, in November 2009, they returned to this venue for a show featuring several rarely played songs.  

The band most recently played in Maine on October 19 2010 at Augusta Civic Center and delivered, arguably, a superior performance to that of the following night in Utica, NY, later selected for release on DVD.  

Phish has consistently delivered the goods when playing shows in Maine and it's obvious that the band enjoys playing here.  Who knows what surprises are in store on July 3 when the band opens their summer tour in Bangor at Darlings Waterfront Pavilion?  Judging by the quality of past performances by Phish in Maine, we're in for a doozy.  

At the time of writing, tickets are still available for Phish on July 3 at Darlings Waterfront Pavilion at  or in person at the Maine Trailer Box Office (daily after 12:00 noon) and at Mark's Music in Brewer.  

Mike Dow can be heard each morning on "The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow" on Big 104 FM, airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast) 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor).  "The Biggest Hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s."


Last modified on Friday, 28 June 2013 08:32


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