11.16.97: A Personal Memoir

Part of the greatness of Phish tour is that mixed with all the majestic music, there were inevitably absurd episodes and hilarious experiences that live on to this day.  Combine the use of psychedelics, massive crowds of people, and the ambitious mission of getting to every show on time, and you had the recipe for some serious shenanigans.  Each year on the anniversary of that surreal weekend that was Denver ’97, I am always reminded of one such tale.

phish-denver-97The day after the E Center introduced the new concept of the four song second set with “Wolfman’s > Simple, Twist > Slave,” I set out for Denver.  The west coasters I did the first two shows with were headed home, and I was driving to Boulder to stay with a good friend I knew from growing up.  My friend- let’s call him “Leaguer”- was at school in Boulder and decided to come to the shows with me having never seen Phish.  Leaguer was the classic high school stoner- think Slater from Dazed and Confused with curly hair- but never got into any facet of “the scene.”  A sports fan through and through, live music just wasn’t his thing.  But a lover of any good time, it was not hard to convince him to test the waters of the Phish.

In order to fully appreciate this story, you need to fully appreciate Leaguer.  Basically, he is a total clown.  Someone who makes you laugh consistently with his witty and unique humor, he has even spent a stint as a stand up comedian.  He went to school at Boulder more to see the football team than for the mountains.  Distinctly an indoorsman, I’m not sure he ever skied in all his years at Boulder.  He is someone I knew from junior high and high school and was a second younger brother to me.  One of my best friends, the dude is straight comedy, and I was psyched to introduce him to my other world.  With him having now progressed into a hip, weight-lifting New York City metrosexual, we always think back on this night and laugh heartily.


Denver 1997 - photo: nugs.net

We got to the show in time to find him a ticket and chill a bit before going in.  Leaguer had dabbled in psychedelics in his high school years, and we both figured that it would be fun to be elevated for his first Phish experience.  Not knowing their music at all or what he was in for, Leaguer was game- what the heck- you can’t have a bad time on mushrooms. Or so he thought.  We each crafted our one-eighth sandwich and chowed down.  Having just come from Vegas and Utah, I was bursting with enthusiastic anticipation to witness what would unfold over the next two nights.  And Leaguer was just psyched to join the ride.

db_phish41Before stubbing him down to the floor, we picked a spot to meet after the set in the random case that he got booted back to his section.  As we sat in our seats before the show, those eighths were beginning to overwhelmingly engage our minds.  In what seemed like an never-ending flash, the building was full and the lights went down.  I knew that Leaguer, having never been to a show, was nervous about not having a floor stub.  I told him to take my actual seat, as I was going to rage in the aisles.  We both thought that was a perfect plan, since no one would come claim his seat.  So Phish comes out and the show begins. “NICU,” “My Soul” and then boom- the second ever drop of “Black-Eyed Katy.”  As I was going huge, I glanced over at Leaguer and our plan had worked out and the rest of the row had filled in.

I can never quite understand the next event.  As the band chilled out with “Farmhouse,” a mustached security guard came down to clear the aisles on the floor.  As I used my Jedi Phish skills to slide over, pretend not to notice him, and reclaim my space in the aisle, I saw him look down Leaguer’s row.  Maybe Leaguer really looked like he didn’t belong there, because as we were beginning to trip balls and he was doing absolutely nothing, the security shined his light at him and asked him for his ticket.  No one else- just him- like a suspect picked out of a police line up.  As Leaguer visibly panicked, I was helpless to fix the situation.  Just before the guard escorted Leaguer off the floor, I made eye-contact with him, signifying we’d meet at our chosen point at set break.

photo - Antelope

photo: antelope

After a string of random songs ended the set, including two with a guest banjo player, I thought to myself, “Not the best ‘first set ever’ for Leaguer to see.  Apparently I didn’t know the half of it.  As I got to the seats in the lower bowl where we meeting, I spotted him and he didn’t look good.  Contradictorily, I was euphorically faced and ready for what would certainly be a huge second set.  As I approached him, he was clearly bugging- tripping far too hard in a totally foreign, overwhelming environment.  While it’s always fun to teeter, its no fun to fall off the the other side.  As I tried to calm him down, reminding him we were just at a concert on mushrooms, he was completely inconsolable.  I felt bad about the situation at hand, but also knew that he was totally fine in the scheme of things, giving the entire episode a certain comedic aspect.  As he sat there rocking back and forth, he peered up at me more than once asking, “Can we go home now?”  As I laughed at his propositions, he was too enraptured by his maddening world to hear any reason or logic.  The mere fact that it was Leaguer, and he had finally had come to see Phish, just made it the funniest thing to me.

The guys behind us noticed what was happening, and a dreaded hippie reached over and handed him a crystal, saying,”Hold this for a while.  It will help you.”  Without even knowing it, Leaguer grabbed it and continued rocking back and forth, desperately trying to gain control of an uncontrollable situation.  After a few minutes of my attempting to bring him back, he looked at the crystal in his hand with disdain and exclaimed, “What the fuck is this?” and handed it over to me knowing not where it came from.

tripping_ballsObviously staying with him for the second set, I settled in to watch from the seats.  Nothing i said could convince Leaguer that what was about to happen was going to change his reality into an Edenic state.  As the lights went down, I hopped into the aisle, and Leaguer stayed rocking in his seat as they opened up with “Timber Ho!.”  Transcending the song’s darker territory, the band took the music out into a blissfully symphonic place of melody and harmony- but it didn’t pull Leaguer out of his seat.  The roar of the crowd as the jam creatively segued into “Simple” caught his attention and he stood up for the first time since I’d seen him.  Remaining standing, he leaned over to me in the middle of the “Simple” jam, again asking if we could leave yet. I explained to him that we’d go home when the show was over, and that he should try to focus on the music.  Unable to focus on anything at all, he continued on in his discombobulated state.

Meanwhile, the band was creating a magnificent second set that would see a mid-set “Wilson”give way to a powerful, magical and driving twenty-minute “Harry Hood.”  As heavenly hallucinations flooded my mind, this set had me hooked, I was in the music and it was paradise.  Following the brilliant peak of the Hood jam, the band ended with the set with the screaming Hendrix textures of “Izabella.”  I am pretty sure that I saw Leaguer calming down for at least a few seconds during this one.

photo - wergert

photo: wergert

After the set, he still was out of sorts.  Explaining that there was only one more song, he dug in to make it through a huge and rare Bowie encore.  About halfway into the extended Bowie jam, Leaguer tapped me on the shoulder, pulling me out of my subconscious state.  He looked at me and said, “This is pretty good!”  Bursting with laughter, I gave him a nod and he ironically enjoyed and swayed to the second half of the jam.

As we drove the short way back to Boulder, Leaguer reclaimed his former identity and we discussed the events of the evening.  Confirming that he missed a really good show and laughing about everything, but mostly his reaction to the crystal, he kept saying that he couldn’t believe the amount of energy there was in the arena.  Having been to every sporting event in the book, he said it was incomparable.  Unfortunately, he decided to skip the next night, and never made it back to the Phish.  As I said before, it just wasn’t his thing.  But he will never forget his one Phishy evening in McNichols Arena.

Share your own absurdities in Comments below!



11.16.97 McNichols Arena, Denver, CO < LINK

McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

The “other” Denver show, as the next night would become historic- this second set is a dark horse of Fall ’97.  It is outstanding.  Check it out.

I: NICU, My Soul, Black-Eyed Katy, Farmhouse, The Old Home Place, Billy Breathes, Cars Trucks Buses, Scent of a Mule*,  Poor Heart*, Taste, Hello My Baby

II: Timber Ho! > Simple, Wilson > Harry Hood, Izabella

E: David Bowie

*With Pete Wernick, aka “Dr. Banjo” on banjo

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26 Responses to “11.16.97: A Personal Memoir”

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  1. Brian T. Bowman Says:

    I enjoyed reading today’s post. I think we’ve all had a friend like that. I took my buddy JR to a Phish show in Cincinnati for a 2 night run at US Bank Arena back in 2003 (i think?).

    He said the exact same things as your buddy. With stuff like “I have no idea how they do that” and “are you sure they are making this up as they go?”

    Like your friend, it wasn’t really his thing, although he calls Farmhouse his favorite album and he’s said even to this day that he’s never seen anything like a Phish show. I catch him all the time listening to the jam station on SIRIUS in his car. He moved to Colorado a couple months ago. I still think there’s hope!

    Thanks for the post.

  2. jerrydamule Says:

    poor leauger. Though great advice, miner. As Jerry used to say, “if u get confused, listen to the music play.”

  3. cason Says:

    dude i feel sorry for your boy. that shit was fucked up. i wold be interested to hear his side of the story.

  4. themanatee Says:

    oh leaguer….the crystal part of this story is just priceless….

  5. Lamb Says:

    your picture is of the pepsi center, not Nichols Arena. Good story though

  6. Jacob Says:

    I guess you had to be there, but 12.4.99 in Cincinnati was an interesting evening for myself and partners. We combined mushrooms, ecstacy, Skyline Chilli and cold Sam Adams all while trying to fend off incredibly ugly (and persistent) prostitutes. Not the Cincinnati kind, the Northern Kentucky kind. You don’t want those girls, even with a head full of molly.

  7. rb Says:

    I took a buddy to big cypress for his first show!!. while waiting for the band to take the stage for the afternoon set 12.30. he decided to try some acid with us, for his first time. Shortly thereafter he disappeared. Ironically, his nickmane was Waldo. I stood up around everbody sitting in circles yelling “WALDO….WALDO’, some hippie goes to me “dude, are you really looking for somebdoy named Waldo or are you trying to be hilarious?” At that point, i realized how funny it was and just figured he’d find us. Well, he never came back. As we made it back to our camp, it was now dark and COLD, after the third set. As we approached the camp, there’s Waldo. He had about 30 glow rings around his neck, and he had build a raging fire in the bbg, basically using all of our charcoal for his entertainment. It was quite funny. He doesn’t really know what he did for those 8 hours!! Good stuff..

  8. Jacob Says:

    Sorry, one other thing about 12.4.99 in Cincinnati. Before the show, we were hanging around downtown, and met Mike Gordon, and saw Ricky Martin get off his tour bus, and saw the 1999 edition of the San Francisco 49ers, in town to play the Bungles. We decided after that hilarious afternoon, mushrooms and Phish would make for a great evening.

  9. Mr.Miner Says:

    Lamb- Pepsi Center is just the new name for the McNichols Arena. Same venue

  10. z Says:

    never been to either but per wikipedia –

    Before the construction of Pepsi Center, the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche played in McNichols Sports Arena, a building that has since been torn down to serve as a parking lot for nearby Invesco Field.

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ interesting and true! I just figured that like every other arena, when we went back the following year, they had just changed sponsorships! Funny- good looking out Lamb and Z!

  12. Charley Says:

    I met Mike Gordon with a head full of acid and thanked him for all the illusions. He responded: “What?”

  13. Liam Says:

    Mr. Miner,

    The best part about this site is that you’re actually a pretty good writer so you don’t come off as a jackass when reviewing or telling stories. I really appreciate that. Thanks

  14. Jeff Says:

    My 4th show – 10/28/95 – I took the Flying Pyramid for the 1st and last time. My three prior shows had been harmless, smaller venues, but the vastness of The Palace created a whole new beast in my early Phish “career”. I didn’ start to lose my face until intermission, although I did get scared during the Timber Ho!. The 2nd set of this show was my first time being introduced to the dark and evil Phish. Maze, Theme>Mule, Y.E.M.>scary vocal jam, all coordinated along with CK5 adding some dark blues and purples created a VERY dark set. I was literally running out of the venue during the vocal jam as I could no longer discern if music was actually being played, or just evil sounds chasing me down. I spent the rest of the show curled in the back of my friends truck sobbing like a baby, convinced I would have to return home to tell my parents I went crazy. I learned a valuable lesson that day, look out for Evil Trey, becasue he’s real and he will take you to a dark place. Of course had I stuck around, Page would have brought me back with the Strange Design. Live and learn.

  15. Uncle Jam Says:

    “I learned a valuable lesson that day, look out for Evil Trey, becasue he’s real and he will take you to a dark place.”

    haha, thats awesome

  16. JD Says:

    MSG NYE 97. Headed down to NYC from Btown, picked up a high school buddy in CT and took a bus to a friends just outside the city. Got to my friends and his mom had tons of food and a Keg of Sam Adams. Drank like champs for a few hours, filled up 2 liter soda bottles of Sammy and took the train into MSG. (on the train the 6 of us ate lots of mushrooms). Suddenly we’re outside MSG in the madness and my buddy loses his ticket. Next, we lose my buddy. No cell’s for us yet so we headed in and figured we meet him at the spot after the show. The rest of us had a sicky time inside but while we were jamming my buddy was having a not so fun adventure. Tripping balls he buys a fake ticket and gets pinched by security who show him the street. He walks around MSG, picks the wrong alley and gets mugged. Cops were near and helped him…then detained him realizing he was on drugs. Somehow he convinces them to let him go. The rest of us get done with the show and are looking for him. Eventually it’s very late and we take the last train back to my buddy’s place where we were all staying. We hoped for the best and figured he took his return bus ticket and headed back to CT. No dice……at 4AM the phone rings and it’s my buddy. For some reason he remembered the telephone number where we were staying….he read this number to me at a stop on the way down to the show earlier in the day when I called my buddy to let him know where we were. A private town car ride and $150 later he was back!!

  17. Vermont Says:

    you should have given Leaguer some LSD, oh well, next time!

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ always the call. At the time he felt more comfortable with mushrooms:)

  19. R1 Says:

    aw, such a shame for the league. the L def would have worked out better, but alas. let’s be honest – league was never gonna really dig on the phish . . . right?

  20. themanatee Says:

    i think you are right R1….but ya never know…..>?!!

  21. Tadcaster Says:

    My best friend in College and I planned the Summer ’98 Tour and found ourselves settling into the Gorge camping scene for two days. It would be the first Acid trip of the summer for us. We dropped and then baked on that pavement in front of the stage. It was Gorge hot, there was no breeze, it probably dehydrated us just as the drugs took hold. The first set was fantastic – you know – the sun finally relenting on a hot July day leaving us tripping into a Gorge Sunset. I believe Antelope closed the first set and it was then that Jim give me the Look. He had gotten the Fear and I said, “Oh Shit” to myself.

    Jim made a B-line for the water fountain when the set ended. This is a guy who ended up getting to 100+ shows, a real pro, and a veteran of psychadelics. But as Jerry also said, Sometimes you don’t have a choice in the matter. Just hold on tight. So Jim went for the water fountain like a man possesed (which he was!). Normally quite reserved, he pushed through the throng of people and took to the fountain like a St. Bernard. He came up for air and walked towards me with crazy eyes, whispering that I should get in there because, “this place is running out of water, everyone here is going to be dying of thirst soon.”

    Oh Shit! Jim is fucked up! We were selling T-shirts on the tour and as we walked back up towards the lawn he got it into his head that the shirts had Acid in them and we were dosing every customer! I was wearing a shirt and he got Real nervous, started seething at me to take off the shirt (lest I get caught). I was obviously trying to calm him down, explaining the situation, reassuring him…nothing helped.

    I looked back towards the campground area and suggested we go back to the car, skip the second set and chill out for a while. Jim took a peek over there, but instead of seeing a safe place, saw patrol cars with lights flashing. “You’re with the Cops!” he said, pointing at me. “You’re trying to get me back there, where the fucking cops are waiting!”

    “Duuuuuude”, I said with a big smile.

    We went back up to the lawn and just as quickly as it came on, he looked at me with a big smile and we both started dying laughing. He was himself again and of course it comes up whenever these stories are told (I have some skeletons myself….don’t we all?). God Damn, I can’t wait for Phish to come back. I miss my friends.

  22. alex Says:

    We need a definitive language lesson download

  23. pd Says:

    there’s so much humor in this story but nothing can top the juxtaposition of the crystal part of the story and the tripping balls graphic. is that he-man?

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ Hilarious pd. And yes, that is he-man 🙂

  25. adriuntz Says:

    very good story

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