It was under the circus tents of Darien Lake that the Pranksters met the Phish. Psychedelic worlds collided eleven years ago today, as Acid Test pioneers Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs made their infamous appearance amidst “Colonel Forbin’s” looking for the Bozos. It was an odd night in Gamehendge, as the Colonel would not find the mighty Icculus, but rather, Uncle Sam in the form of Ken Kesey. For many young fans, this was merely an odd occurrence; but for those who understood the significance of the silly skit, it was a nod from the older generation that we, Phish and all of us, were carrying the psychedelic torch of the ’60s. And we were doing it right.
Amidst his foolery, Kesey said that the Bozos had been missing for two years (since Jerry died in 1995) but now they were found on Phish tour. Coming from the Merry Prankster, himself, the LSD pioneer who defined a generation and a movement- it was an amazing stamp of approval at a time when many Deadheads refused to give in to the power of the Phish. As absurd as the skit was, with Kesey calling up his friends the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and Frankenstein to help find the Bozos, and regardless of whether they stayed on stage a bit too long, it all bore so much significance in counter-culture history. The scenes which had stayed separate and segmented for so long had now symbolically come together in the most classic way. Phish were the modern day Pranksters, and on our way to Limestone, our ultimate psychedelic playground, for the first time- nothing could be have been so fitting.
This was all within a stellar Phish show on August the 14th, 1997, at the end of a long summer tour showcasing raw funk jams and adventurous improv. This summer was the onset of the the next stage in Phish’s musical evolution. Starting in June in Europe, and on the verge of culmination in Limestone, Phish’s funk revolution was almost complete. With expectations of The Great Went through the roof after The Clifford Ball had redefined what a concert could be just a summer earlier, some thought Darien might represent the calm before the storm. Yet, after witnessing a standout show amongst a summer full of standout shows, fans’ shit-eating grins could not have been bigger on the scenic drive up to Limestone.
The centerpiece of this show was the transcendent, then exploratory, mid-second set “Harry Hood.” Trey played original and surreal melodies from the opening lick of the Hood jam, as if he was delicately telling a fable to a young child. As the band provided the perfect improvisational chugging support, Trey really took this one to the top with non-repetitive soul-searching lead melodies that exploded at the peak of the jam. Yet, as the band sat in the post-lyrical peak, the song didn’t end. Instead, Mike began playing deep bass lines over the sonic residue, and Trey soon picked up with a completely new and complimentary guitar line. They were tapped in. And what resulted was one of the most unique and tight segments of Phish improvisation I have ever heard. Out of the peak of Hood?! That Hood!? This was bliss. The whole band dove head first into this post-Hood jam, and came up with something for the annals of Phish history.
The hugely heavy drop into “Colonel Forbin’s” immediately cemented this as a special show, and the Bozos hadn’t even arrived yet. As Kesey tried to lead the band into “Mockingbird” turning his rap to “a Bozo-bird,” Trey wouldn’t allow it, “the funk was too deep,” and the heavy slow funk they had been backing the skit with smoothly morphed into a rare appearance of “Camel Walk.” An immaculate Taste followed as a soaring end to the evening before Phish encored a classic show with a classic encore: Bouncin, Rocky Top.
At the end of a magical summer, this was a show that was bigger than the music. And the music was flawless. I haven’t even mentioned the first set, but you can see the setlist below; it was as good as it looks. As the sun peaked over the New England mountains, and our car trudged up the map to the corner of America, everything was in the right place.