Phish Festivals: A Look Back Into The Band’s Legendary Fest History

When Phish announces a new festival, you’d best believe it’s going to be an event to remember. As someone who didn’t “get” Phish until a friend dragged me kinging and screaming to the 2019 New Year’s run (shout out to Jordan for my crippling new addiction), being able to experience a Phish Festival was something I had hoped would one day come to fruition, but wasn’t holding my breath over. With news breaking about Phish’s latest adventure to the Woodlands of Dover, Delaware – the home of Firefly, my very first camping music festival undertaking – I wanted to take a minute to revisit the insane and storied history of Phish festivals. 

Clifford Ball: 20 years later | Local News |

1. Clifford Ball (1996)
Location: Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York
Phish’s inaugural festival was an extraordinary spectacle. Across two days, 70,000 fans were treated to a total of six sets, including daytime and nighttime performances. But beyond the music, attendees reveled in an atmosphere that resembled a full-on carnival, with unexpected elements like a “Ball Square” featuring various art installations, the enchanting “Clifford Ball Flying Jam” with aerial gliders, and a roaming flatbed truck that serenaded campgrounds.

2. The Great Went (1997)
Location: Limestone, Maine
Phish upped the ante for their sophomore festival. Fans collectively participated in a massive art project, painting a gigantic mural. Musically, The Great Went is legendary for the band’s blazing jams, with a standout rendition of “Bathtub Gin” that still resonates in Phish lore. Seriously, stop reading this article here and go listen to the Went Gin if you haven’t yet: Phish Great Went Gin

3. Lemonwheel (1998)
Location: Limestone, Maine
Building on the previous year’s success, Lemonwheel offered fans the first “ambient set,” a late-night soundscape journey that explored new auditory territories. The festival also encouraged fans to participate by bringing lemons, resulting in a towering and aromatic “Lemon Tower” art installation.

4. Camp Oswego (1999)
Location: Volney, New York
In the heart of Oswego County, the festival was punctuated with dazzling pyrotechnics and monumental jam sessions. Blues legend Son Seals made a memorable appearance, jamming out with the band and adding a different flavor to their sound. This was the only of Phish’s multi-day summer festivals to feature performances by artists other than themselves. 

Phish Big Cypress Hot Dog

5. Big Cypress (1999-2000)
Location: Florida
Yes, the band did indeed sail through the crowd in a giant hot dog. The turn of the millennium saw Phish hosting an unparalleled event. Their legendary continuous seven-hour set, ushering fans from the end of 1999 into the early hours of 2000, is still spoken about in hushed, reverent tones. For many, this wasn’t just a concert, but a life-altering experience. Held on a Seminole reservation, the story of how this festival came to be and the behind the scenes is truly remarkable. For a deeper dive on Big Cypress, I highly recommend checking out this podcast: After Midnight: Phish’s Big Cypress Festival

6. IT (2003)
Location: Limestone, Maine
This fest was aptly named, because it had “IT.” From music that radiated pure energy to the surprise late-night set atop a neon-glowing control tower, IT was a testament to Phish’s evolving festival artistry.

7. Coventry (2004)
Location: Coventry, Vermont
Billed as a farewell for the band, Coventry was a poignant gathering. Torrential rains transformed the site into a mud pit, yet the emotional weight of the event, with tearful performances and heartfelt fan connections, made it unforgettable. If you want to have your heartstrings pulled at, check out this video of Page McConnell fighting back tears in an attempt to sing “Wading in the Velvet Sea”:  Wading in the Velvet Sea Coventry

Phish Festival 8: Images from Indio - LIVE music blog

8. Festival 8 (2009)
Location: Indio, California
Set against a sun-soaked Californian backdrop over Halloween weekend, Festival 8 was marked by Phish’s ambitious cover of the Rolling Stones’ album “Exile on Main St.” Additionally, the serene Sunday morning acoustic set offered fans a chance to experience the band in a raw, intimate setting.

9. Super Ball IX (2011)
Location: Watkins Glen, New York
After primarily transforming abandoned Air Force bases into festival grounds, Super Ball moved the band’s next generation of festivals to “The Glen”. Beyond the extensive setlists that explored a wide repertoire, a secretive jam from within a storage shed, and the ‘Ball Square’ with its art installations and activities ensured that Super Ball IX lived up to its superlative name.

MAGNABALL "Drive In" - 2 Year Anniversary Edition, 2nd Press — Stephen  Olker Photography

10. Magnaball (2015)
Location: Watkins Glen, New York
Fans and critics alike hail Magnaball as one of Phish’s finest festival outings. From the immersive “Drive-In” jam set, which combined experimental sounds with mesmerizing visuals, to the intricately crafted setlists, Magnaball was a masterclass in festival hosting. The festival also birthed one of the most transcendent Phish jams that I find myself listening to over and over again, a 34-minute Tweezer –> Caspian: Magnaball Tweezer/Caspian

11. Curveball (2018)
Location: Watkins Glen, New York
Destined to be another iconic event, Curveball was sadly canceled due to health concerns over water contamination. It’s a poignant reminder of the band’s commitment to fan safety and the unpredictable nature of live events.

With this legacy, the anticipation for Phish’s Delaware endeavor is astronomical. Past festivals have showcased the band’s passion for blending music, art, and community, ensuring that the upcoming event will be a legendary addition to the chronicles of Phish. 

P.S. Having attended Firefly Music Festival 3 times, I am even more excited for this fest. It’s a fantastic setup for a large scale camping event, complete with wooded areas in both the campgrounds and festival grounds for things like hammock hangouts and silent discos. Fun, right?

– LSP 

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