Before the Internet Age

Just now you logged onto your computer, clicked your trusty Phish Thoughts bookmark and bang– now you are reading.  Maybe you’ll grab the show for download today, or perhaps you’ll delve into the archives and download many gems of years past.  There is always the “Google spreadsheet,” BitTorrent, or to select virtually any show your heart desires.  Feeling ornery?  Hop over to Phantasy Tour to vent!  If you need a portal to all things Phishy, look no further than Gadiel’s legendary page or Scotty B.’s You Enjoy My Blog; for archives and setlists, click over to  Yup, the Internet has it all when it comes to Phish and our community was one of the first to utilize this great democratic tool to spread the word (and music) of our band.  These days, just log on and the entire Phish universe is at your fingertips.  But what was Phish life like before this crazy World Wide Web existed?  How the hell did we know what was going on?  Let’s reminisce.

Before gave us the official low down of what was up, the band used their hilarious and now defunct newsletter, Doniac Schvice. Initially titled “The Phish Update,” the newsletter was divided into the informational and the absurd.  The Schvice’s sections included the official scoop for tour dates, mail order tickets and festival info, but also included the tongue-in-cheek mail in questions and answers, “Fish’s Forum,” and the abstractly humorous “Mike’s Corner.”  Always fun to read for anticipatory excitement or straight entertainment, the Schvice was the band’s way of disseminating information– “from the tongue to the Schvice.”  There was nothing like looking at the upcoming tour mapped on the centerfold of the newsletter as you plotted and schemed your personal course of action.  Turn the page, and you’d enter the land of the absurd via comical musings of the band members themselves, as their personalities saturated the paper– something noticeably buried in their cookie-cutter website of today.  The Schvice made the entire Phish experience more personal; you were a part of this special community who got these crazy newsletters delivered right to your door.  And each time you got one, you were psyched!

One of the primary shots of adrenaline that came from the Schvice was the Tickets-By-Mail order form.  Having to follow exact specifications to ensure your request was both received and filled, the ordering process became a quarterly ritual for fans.  A separate postal money order for each show and one for the seven dollar Fed Ex fee, a self-addressed stamped envelope, the correct postmark, a properly labeled envelope with the dates of the requested shows in the lower left hand corner; these were the facets of the game.  Then there were those who decorated their envelopes meticulously, hoping to dazzle the eyes of the ticket fillers.  The beauty of this paper-heavy system was that everyone nearly always got their tickets!  Aside from Halloween and New Year’s Eve, the largest suspense was where your tickets would be located.  Ahh, the days…

If the Schvice was the tool that got us where we needed to go, The Pharmer’s Almanac “Tour Extra”s handed out on every lot was the tool that kept us abreast along the way.  Providing setlists and updates from the current tour, these “Extras” allowed anyone who just hopped on, to understand the context of the show they were about to see.  With the knowledge of what had been played over the tour, fans could better predict and guess what songs might be unveiled on the current night. Meanwhile, the Tour Extras helped fans keep track of what shows they’d seen and what shows they wanted to get on tape.  With advertisements for like-minded businesses and short articles of interest, the Tour Extras became a trusted source of information in the scene.  Thanks to Almanac co-founders Andy Bernstein and Larry Chasnoff, we were handed a new update every time we stepped out of our car on lot. Much like their book, the Tour Extra looked at Phish through the lens of a fan, keeping us updated on all the nerdy things we love.

Once shows were over, we all wanted the tapes!  Yet, without BitTorrent, LivePhish downloads or FTP technology, it was every man for themselves.  There was no listening to the show 24 hours later unless you taped it yourself.  Before we could shoot our tape lists across the nation via dial-up modems, first we were relegated to snail mail.  One of the main pre-Internet sources of tape trading was the back of Relix magazine where fans posted “classifieds” offering printed out tape lists and B & P (blanks and postage) for freshly spun analogs.  Tapers, the cornerstone of the trading community, were the ones to get the tapes out there and then we all spun generation after generation of copies.  One friend would simply approach tapers after shows, asking for their name and address to facilitate a B & P situation.  “Hey man, d’you get a tape of that?”  When successful, this was by far the most efficient way of procuring those sought after grey Maxells.

With every rumor, piece of information, and performance available at the click of a mouse today, it’s hard to remember the quaint paper-based era of the early to mid-’90’s.  With nothing but our own resourcefulness, we navigated the Phish scene, scored tickets, and hit the road– destiny unbound.  Believe it or not, all of this coordination happened not only without the computer, but even without cell phones!  How we ever found each other, I’ll never know.  But it did happen, and it was good.

What are your memories of “back then?”  Respond in Comments below!



6.30.99 Sandstone Pavilion, Bonner Springs, KS RMSTR < LINK

One of the best tour openers of the modern era, Phish annihilated Bonner Springs’ open-air amphitheatre to kick off the countdown to 2000.  With two sets of phenomenal improv, this night set the tone for what would be a legendary summer.  Thanks to Paul Gwynne Smith, we now have a spectacular sounding copy of this superb evening.  Wasting no time whatsoever, the band opened the tour with a 20+ minute standout excursion of “Bathtub Gin.”  Following up the statement-making opener, Phish threw down hot first set versions of “Tube,” “Maze,” and “Limb By Limb.”

One of history’s most colossal “Free”s came out of the second set opening, “Squirming Coil.”  With the stage flooded in red smoke, Phish created a militant incarnation of the jam that has stood the test of time.  A great summer combo of “Swept Away > Steep > Piper” continued the momentum, while the set came to a dark close with the debut of “My Left Toe” oozing out of “Bug” and leading into “Stash.”  Again, these are single song downloads, so create a folder and have at it!

I: Bathtub Gin, Farmhouse, Tube, Horn, Get Back On The Train, Maze, Limb by Limb, Golgi Apparatus

II: The Squirming Coil > Free, Birds of a Feather, Simple > Swept Away > Steep > Piper, Bug > My Left Toe, Stash

E: Bouncing Around the Room, Sample in a Jar

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