Phish has performed across the world and throughout the country countless times over. But as fans of the seminal four-piece know, the phenomenon that is Phish can be traced back to Burlington, VT and, in particular, a local bar called Nectar’s. Phish’s connection to the venue and appreciation for its role in their success has been widely documented. The band named their 1992 album, A Picture of Nectar, in honor of the venue’s then-proprietor Nectar Rorris, and their time playing long residencies in the Burlington room was discussed by members of the band as the main inspiration behind last summer’s 13-night Baker’s Dozen residency at Madison Square Garden. As guitarist Trey Anastasio explained to Rolling Stone last summer:
“When we started the band, for all intents and purposes, we had a residency. We used to play at the same place.” The guitarist is referring to Nectar’s – the club in Burlington, Vermont, Phish’s hometown, where the group established and advanced its unique blend of jamming, knotty composition, conceptual adventure and audience-participation jest. “We played long, multiple nights there” in the Eighties, a workload made easier because “we lived about 600 yards from Nectar’s, so it was very comfortable and homegrown.”
Phish played regular gigs at the restaurant/music hall throughout the mid-to-late ’80’s, honing their musical craft as the local music scene steadily started to take notice. Phish’s Nectar’s shows began to earn them a devoted local audience by the end of 1988. In early 1989, as the band began to spread outward from Vermont, they attempted to book a gig at Boston’s roughly 650-capacity Paradise Rock Club. The owners hadn’t heard of them and refused to book them, so the band’s management rented the club out instead, taking on all the financial risk for the show. The risk proved to be a smart one: the show sold out (and then some) thanks in large part to devoted fans following the band down from Vermont to see them. That Paradise gig marked a turning point for the band, as they began to spread out to bigger venues and bigger cities–often with their hard-earned Nectar’s faithful in tow. Even when they would come back to Vermont, they would play bigger venues, now too big for the cozy confines of the bar that gave them their start.
The band was aware that their Nectar’s era was behind them when they booked their final run there, beginning on March 12, 1989. As Phish.net notes, the third and final night of this run two was the last Phish show at Nectar’s, and “the master copy of sets II and III is specifically labeled as such.” While the circulated recording and setlist from the band’s 3/12/89 Nectar’s performance are incomplete (and, by various accounts, not all that exciting musically) what does exist shows the band showcasing the amusing antics and spontaneity they had sharpened during their time at the local venue.
The best example of that came in the form of the Phish debut of “If I Only Had A Brain”. In appropriately bizarre Henrietta fashion, Jon Fishman delivered a deranged reading of the Scarecrow’s theme from The Wizard of Oz, complete with a meandering trombone solo, that’s worth listening back to if only just to laugh about young, mischevious Fish. The antics continued with “Alumni Blues”, which featured a slew of alternate and additional lyrics. Then, during the customary pause in the song’s “Letter To Jimmy Page” interlude, the band gave local band Eyeburn a brief spotlight, as they performed a theatrical punk rock ode about being a rock star (and plugged their own upcoming show at The Front) before Phish resumed where they had left off.
You can listen to the portion of the performance that circulates online for an amusing taste of Phish’s final stand at Nectar’s here.
Setlist: Phish | Nectar’s | Burlington, VT | 3/12/89
Set One: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, If I Only Had a Brain, Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Golgi Apparatus, Bold As Love, Foam
 Phish debut; Fish on trombone.
 Additional lyrics.
 Eyeburn (a local band) traded off punk rock jams during the pause in LTJP.
This show featured the Phish debut of If I Only Had a Brain, which featured Fish on trombone. Alumni contained additional lyrics. During the pause in Letter to Jimmy Page, a local band, Eyeburn, traded off punk rock jams.
This setlist is incomplete.