Phish headlined their first Vermont show since Coventry at Essex Junction, VT’s Champlain Valley Exposition last night. Not only was the show Phish’s first Vermont performance since 2004 but it was also the group’s closest show to their Burlington, VT hometown since a 1997 benefit at the Flynn Theater.
All proceeds from last night’s benefit were directed to The WaterWheel Foundation and The Vermont Community Foundation’s flood recovery efforts following Hurricane Irene. Thanks to underwriting support from several local organizations, most of the money raised will go directly to those in need.
The benefit—held at the site of an annual state fair—had a decidedly local feel. Before the group’s first set, Mike Gordon and Governor Peter Shumlin thanked the crowd for their support, and Shumlin name-checked all four members of Phish. In reference to the band’s time away from the Green Mountain State, he also asked, “It’s been 7 years…was it worth the wait?” His question was met with overwhelming applause.
Later in the night, Trey Anastasio mentioned that the band’s former drum tech/engineer Pete Carini and his wife were two of the only local friends they had not seen at the show, and the band promptly busted into “Carini.” Jon Fishman also referenced the recent hurricane during his regular “Suzy Greenberg” rap. Like some of Phish’s multi-band festival performances—where the band is playing to a higher percentage of prospective fans—last night’s set focused on the group’s classic songs, including a show-opening “Chalkdust Torture,” a slightly jammed out “Wolfman’s Brother” and “Possum.” An unfinished version of “Down with Disease” was the show’s improvisational centerpiece, while “Cavern” was an appropriate choice given the venue’s proximity to the establishment it references, Nectar’s. In what may have been a record, Phish’s soundcheck was also bootlegged and distributed through fan circles before band’s first set.
The band’s only other performances in the Greater Burlington, VT area in the past 14 years were stealth appearances at events like the Higher Ground closing run in 2004 and a Committee on Temporary Shelter benefit at the Flynn Theater in 1999. Though last night was Phish’s first time at the Champlain Valley Exposition, Trey Anastasio Band appeared at the venue in 2002. Anastasio, Gordon and the Benevento-Russo Duo also co-headlined the Expo with Phil Lesh & Friends in 2006. A mini-reunion almost occurred at the latter gig when Page McConnell sat in with Anastasio and Gordon during their set.
Here’s a look at last night’s setlist as it appears in the Jambands.com Box Scores section
Champlain Valley Exposition, Essex Junction, VT
Set I: Chalk Dust Torture, The Moma Dance > NICU, Funky Bitch, Sample in a Jar, Cavern, Bathtub Gin, Alaska > Possum, Wolfman’s Brother > Julius
Set II: Carini* > Down with Disease^ > Slave to the Traffic Light > Rock and Roll > Twist > Backwards Down the Number Line, Theme From the Bottom > Suzy Greenberg > Character Zero
Enc: Loving Cup
Notes: Before the show Mike Gordon and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin thanked the crowd for their support *Unfinished, dedicated to Pete and Tara Carini ^Unfinished