The weekend of August 16-17 is staring at us on the calendar once again. One cannot help but reminisce when even casually glancing at the date. There’s just too many big memories. The Ball, The Went, The Lemonwheel, and Coventry all happened on this historic weekend. Throughout all twenty four sets listed above, when I think of the enormity and feeling of summer Phish festivals, I think of the music provided by the Great Went’s Halley’s > Cities. It is this jam sequence that comes closet to musically defining the feeling that Phish festivals gave me .
What am I talking about, right? I mean being surrounded by colorful molasses, vibrant slow moving thickness- with the supernatural ability to navigate that color with freedom and ease. Being overpowered by the hugeness of the sound bellowing from the speaker towers. The elephant-like slowness of the music. Being dominated by the gigantic spaces in the music just as easily as by the piercing notes. This is what I am talking about. Maybe you know the feeling? Just being lost in the sheer magnitude of what was in front of you; the sound, the chunky, crunchy grooves; “it.”
This is where Halley’s > Cities comes in. This segment is most likely my favorite festival Phish experience ever. I don’t want to begin ranking music, there is too much that is the “best ever.” Well, Halley”s > Cities falls squarely into that category. This jam is just so colossal. The Halley’s is like a swanky ride down Broadway morphing into deep slow Phish-funk that is best characterized as a Brontosaurus plodding through a swamp, questing for leaf after rhythmic leaf.
The pace of this Halley’s, as they begin the opening verse and drumbeat, holds an aura of potential greatness. So methodical and patient, with enough space to hear every note that each of them played cooperatively. This is what Summer ’97 was all about, and it had built for months to this point. Every piano note, bass note, kick, cymbal, snare and guitar lick rang clear as crystal in your ears and through your imagination. Even as they move into the notoriously ripping jam, the pace remains the same as Phish begins to dig in. If this first part of this Halley’s brings you to the central part of town, with Trey unleashing some nasty licks; the second part takes you straight off the grid, with daring whole group improv. Throughout this time and many different beats, Fishman never speeds up, and it is one of the keys to the jam’s intrigue and success. In fact when the tempo does change, it is a down-shift into murkier territory.
Trudging into that murk, the music reaches a point of “barely moving” reminiscent of so many jams that summer. Like Raleigh’s DWD>Mike’s segue, the band similarly sets up and teases a transition for minutes, with music crawling along with as much empty space as there are notes. This is where the Brontosaurus funk kicks in. Yet, as they slide into Cities, they never speed up, and our dinosaur continues romping through the jungles of our brain for another ten minutes before picking up steam progressing towards Llama. With all the room in the world to dance as hard as a you wanted, under the stars, with the greatest dance music of all time; this was truly massive. And the enormity of this all is where we got started.
So, Halley’s > Cities defines what a Phish festival is all about. I hope I make more sense now. There are some other jams that could stake a claim to this title, for sure- but not for me. That’s why Phish is so great, it’s a communal experience that is so personally intimate. Few things replicate such a dynamic. We all have our own Halley’s > Cities. On such a memorable weekend as we have upon us, go back to your own greatest summer festival memory and relive it. You will find the power is still there.1997, Festivals, Jams