PHISH: 3/18/97 Flynn Theatre, Burlington, VT essay by Phish Archivist Kevin Shapiro (4/6/07)

Phish 3/18/97

The Flynn Theatre is a historic venue set on Main Street in Burlington, Vermont. It is an Art Deco theater in design and decor, built by J.J. Flynn and his associates and opened in 1930 for live performance and cinema. After a brief time as a movie theater only, the Flynn was re-configured for performing arts in 1974. A locally run, non-profit organization of community leaders purchased it from private hands and set about restoring the theater between 1985 and 1999 creating a world-class performing arts center in the hub of Vermont's cultural capital. While rock concerts are rarely a part of that mission, Phish performed at the Flynn a number of times through the years – in 1992, 1994 and finally in 1997 in conjunction with the launch of Phish Food.

 

When Ben and Jerry's approached Phish to license the band name for an ice cream flavor in 1996, the band's initial response was "no, thank you" respecting a pact they made early on not to license their name to anyone but a record label. At the same time, the band members were talking about how to consolidate and focus their corporate giving which, until then, had been as impromptu as their live setlists. All the suggestions shared a focus on children's and environmental causes in the State of Vermont. As talks continued, they learned that Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (at that time still directly at the helm of their creation) had a similar charitable vision. They were willing to collaborate directly with the band to develop a flavor that would help bring the band's charitable efforts to a new level.

After a summer that included Ben and Jerry's historic guest vocal slot with the band at The Clifford Ball, the visionary confectioners found common ground with the visionary band. They eventually agreed to create a flavor, with the final development being Fish's suggestion to make the marshmallow more correctly "marshmallow-y", unlike other rocky road type flavors of the past that had wispy, not-very-marshmallow-y ingredients. Ben and Jerry's Research and Development arm managed to bring that about and Phish Food was born earning frozen food awards and spin-offs that included Phish Sticks - a Phish Food chocolate covered ice-cream bar). The flavor became popular and the rest is history, with Phish Food consistently a top seller in pints and scoops sold worldwide. Ben and Jerry's has even created a special edition variation (with added chocolate cows) Phish Food 10th Anniversary Surf n' Turf Edition to celebrate this milestone. As Ben said during his introduction at The Flynn Theatre in 1997, the work between the band and Ben and Jerry was one of mutual respect and "a real spiritual connection" between them.

 

It was eventually agreed that the only appropriate way to kick off the release of the ice cream flavor and awareness of both companies' environmental efforts was to do what the band did best and play a live show. A special one-off U.S. theater show was booked for March 18th, 1997 at the Flynn. Tickets were placed on-sale on February 20th with procedures to ensure this special show would be attended only by the fans who bought the tickets, rather than scalpers who at that time routinely re-sold tickets to fans at top dollar against the band's wishes in spite of creative anti-scalping measures like mail order ticketing.

The band was already running their direct mail-order ticketing operation, Phish Tickets By Mail, through the Flynn Theatre Box Office where Shelly Culbertson (founder of PTBM) worked with Celia Asbell (who ran the Flynn Box Office) to fulfill orders from the faithful. This was done with surgical precision based on when the orders were received so the band could deliver the specially decorated tickets to fans in time for them to make a second attempt to buy elsewhere if their orders couldn't be filled due to too high demand. This was a challenge in a small town with very high ticket demand and fans who can be so dedicated to procuring tickets to see their band that they are sometimes difficult to placate.

It was decided that tickets for the Phish Food launch would be sold in pairs, first-come-first- serve only and that the purchasers, who bought their tickets in person at the Flynn, would have to be the attendees. To accomplish this, the on-sale was top secret until it was announced on local rock radio station and longtime Phish supporters WIZN FM the day of the on-sale at 8am. Purchasers were given vouchers that required them to return in person on March 18th for the show, produce their identification and enter with one person accompanying them if they bought a pair of tickets. This made it so even if a scalper heard the announcement and made it into the line in time to get a pair, the scalper him or herself would have to actually attend the show with whomever they sold to – an unlikely scenario which as far as we know never happened. Tickets sold out nearly instantly with local news coverage of fans buying tickets, Ben and Jerry's employees handing out free samples of Phish Food and announcing the Vermont partners' joint purpose of cleaning up Lake Champlain . Phish fans were especially excited about this small, one-off show in a year when every other U.S. gig was in a venue ten to fifty times the size of the Flynn.

Meanwhile, the band had released their latest studio album Billy Breathes in fall 1996 and toured Europe twice in less than a year to support it – once in summer opening for Santana with a few festival and headline dates and again as a headliner in 1997. On the second leg of that tour in Hamburg, they recorded the live album Slip Stitch and Pass. They also toured the United States twice in 1996 playing sold-out amphitheatres and arenas. Their last theater shows were special events even in 1995 when they happened, with a benefit for Voters For Choice at Lowell, MA in May and a three-night stand at Atlanta's Fox Theatre in November. Before that, it had been years since the band had played small venues. Their last show at the Flynn was nearly three years earlier in 1994 where they kicked off a tour supported by a horn section with a special gig (even then they were playing mostly college gymnasiums and arenas) at their hometown theater on April 4, 1994. That show was a benefit to help raise money to restore the building, so it was fitting that they returned in 1997 to christen the newly restored room.

On show day, March 18th, Ben and Jerry took the stage first that night to introduce the flavor and the band. Their introduction was remastered and provided for free download at livephish.com. The band opened their first hometown show since 1995 with their first ever rendition of Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl followed by a non-stop combination of NICU > Sample in a Jar > Punch You in the Eye. Punch had a specially developed introductory section with lots of work by Page on his Fender Rhodes. Two more covers followed before they dove into Harry Hood, which was drawn masterfully into a more-amazing-than-usual jam section now re-mastered for free download at livephish.com. Without stopping, longtime local collaborators Dave "The Truth" Grippo and James Harvey joined the band to add horns to a no-holds-barred Cars Trucks Buses with extended solos by everyone. Cars Trucks Buses was also remastered and is provided for free download. Two more songs with horns followed – the always-raucous Suzy Greenberg and Character Zero, during which Trey wished Ben a happy birthday as they ended the song and the set.

The band kicked off set two with over a half hour of continuous music with Taste > Drowned > Prince Caspian > David Bowie. Bowie blew up as expected and a short pause ensued while local blues singer Tammy Fletcher got up to join the band in an impromptu guest appearance for two of her songs, I Told You So and Love You Like a Man. After apologizing to her date for abandoning him to sing, she proceeded to blow the Flynn up with her big booming vocals, stage presence and Phish acting briefly as the best backing band in the business as they learned her songs onstage. I Told You So was especially powerful and was remastered for free download at livephish.com . The second set continued with Waste > Chalk Dust Torture and finally a dynamically soaring Slave to the Traffic Light to seal the deal. As they ended Slave Trey said "thank you very much for coming tonight to our ice cream bash" and proceeded to thank Ben and Jerry and everyone present for helping out Lake Champlain. For the encore, the band returned with Hello My Baby acapella before closing the night out with Funky B*tch, during which Grippo and Harvey re-joined to lend horns to the classic adopted by Phish from Chicago bluesman Son Seals.

As a one-off hometown theater show full of debuts and special guests, this show was an instant classic. The efficiently circulated FM broadcast that was blasted "live" during the show at local bars helped grow the legend for the past decade. Mastering engineer Fred Kevorkian brought out the very best in the soundboard reference tracks now at livephish.com. Soon after this show, Phish gave a name to their environmental efforts when they decided to funnel 100% of their royalties from the license of Phish Food into their non-profit organization called The Waterwheel Foundation. Waterwheel's primary mission is to fund efforts to clean up the Lake Champlain watershed from years of pollution from industrial, agricultural and urban runoff. Waterwheel also developed a touring leg that partnered with local charities wherever Phish played to support local communities where the shows happened and collect donations from fans to raise money and awareness for the local partners and the foundation. The Waterwheel Foundation's mission continues to this day.

Enjoy!

--ks

Published 19 October 2010 06:12 AM by admin

Essays by Kevin Shapiro

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