[UPDATE 12/8/19: In an interview with SiriusXM Phish Radio, Trey Anastasio and Jon Fishman refuted the widespread belief that Phish was billed as Blackwood Convention at their first show. During the conversation about the band’s earliest days, Anastasio interjected, “Can I just say something? Is this just like Blackwood Convention? Which everybody like, you look on Wikipedia and everybody is like, ‘oh yeah at their first gig they were called Blackwood Convention. This is complete bullshit. I don’t know where that came from.” Watch a clip of the interview here.
So the story goes, billed as Blackwood Convention and using hockey sticks for mic stands, Phish was born 36 years ago tonight at a Christmas semi-formal at the University of Vermont. The band that so many have grown to know and love for their tongue-in-cheek humor, insane on-stage antics, and incredible improvisational prowess, got their start with very humble beginnings.
Comprised of Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Jon Fishman, and second guitarist Jeff Holdsworth at the time, the band had to battle with the house music of Michael Jackson’s Thriller being turned up over them, as Trey and Fishman so comically point out in the 2000 documentary, Bittersweet Motel. No matter—the band had already been paid and ramped up the volume. “You paid us!”
Fans can watch Trey and Fishman discuss their first-ever performance in an amusing interview from Bittersweet Motel at the 09:55 mark in the video below–or watch the full documentary, since there’s really never a bad time.
Phish Talks About Their First Gig – Bittersweet Motel
[Video: Jason Putz]
The band later paid tribute to their fateful first show, and their early days as a whole, with a special New Year’s Eve performance in celebration of their 30th anniversary on 12/31/13 using their old equipment, a stripped-down stage setup, and of course, their hockey stick mic stands.
Watch video from the band’s JEMP Truck New Year’s set below.
Phish – JEMP Truck Set – 12/31/13
Over three-and-a-half decades, two extended breaks, and hundreds of shows later, Phish is playing as well now as they have at any point in their history. The band continues to pack venues all across the country and play the music they want to play. The 3.0 era has provided Trey, Mike, Fish, and Page with the proverbial “shot in the arm,” propelling them to places few could have predicted three and a half decades ago.
Listen to some 17 minutes’ worth of audio from the first gig in 1983 below.
Phish (Blackwood Convention) – 12/2/83
Setlist: Phish (Blackwood Convention) | Harris-Millis Cafeteria | University of Vermont | Burlington, VT | 12/2/83
Set: Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, Proud Mary, In the Midnight Hour, Squeeze Box, Roadhouse Blues, Happy Birthday to You, Scarlet Begonias > Fire On the Mountain
*Setlist is incomplete
Notes: Trey, Mike, Fish, and Jeff Holdsworth recall being billed as “Blackwood Convention” for this show (though no one is certain what band name was used), which is believed to be their first public gig together. The band was short on equipment, so a hockey stick was used as a microphone stand. Between sets, the DJ spun some Michael Jackson and Trey drummed along to the album. The house music (which included more Michael Jackson) was presumably turned up after Fire to drown out the band. The setlist may be incomplete, though, as the master recording contains nothing after Trey’s sarcastic comments about Michael Jackson following Fire. All songs were, of course, Phish debuts. Back in Black was teased before Scarlet Begonias. While this show is often billed as an ROTC Halloween Dance that took place on October 30, 1983, this is incorrect. The master copy of the recording of this show, as unearthed by Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro, contains a handwritten note that pegs the date as December 2, 1983. In discussions with Kevin, band members confirmed that they recall rehearsing for this show over the Thanksgiving Break, and that the show was a Christmas semi-formal. Also, it was not an ROTC-sponsored event; it was a dorm dance in a predominantly ROTC dorm (Mike’s dorm at the time).