In 1989, Phish was touring regionally throughout the East Coast. They won a Burlington Battle of the Bands in April and used the award to record the first four songs for their second studio recording, “Lawn Boy”, initially released on Absolute A Go Go Records and later on Elektra (see TMIPH September 1990). Meanwhile, cassette copies of Phish’s first studio effort, “Junta”, were sold at shows starting in spring of 1989. The original Junta cassette packaging featured a close up of Fishman’s face, but was eventually replaced by a Jim Pollock drawing. By this time, Phish had outgrown local mainstay Nectar’s and had begun playing at a new club in Burlington, The Front. The Front, like Nectar’s, was locally owned and centrally-located but with more space and a better sound system. This allowed the band to continue refining their sound at home in front of expanding crowds while widening their touring circuit under the management of John Paluska and Ben Hunter at fledgling Dionysian Productions (see TMIPH March 1988). Phish loved The Front, logging more than fifty shows there between 1987 and 1991 – even more than they played at Nectar’s.
On August 11th, Phish played at The Tree Cafe’, a venue named for a huge tree next door. The Tree was the band’s first stop in Rhode Island earlier that spring and became a frequent early haunt for Phish. Band Manager John Paluska recalls that due to less-than-perfect planning by the club’s management, the venue ran out of beer before the second set began.
After a steady spring and early summer of touring, Phish’s first performance in August was on the 12th at The Burlington Community Boathouse playing at friends Beth and Steve Drebber’s wedding reception. As a member of a local band, The Joneses, Steve got to know Phish, meeting Beth at a Phish concert in February of the previous year (see TMIPH February 1988). The Drebbers’ was one of only a handful wedding gigs Phish played over the years. They performed a set of jazz standards followed by a more adventurous set of Phish originals and covers for the newlyweds. One of the covers was a wedding request for the band’s only performance of the Allman Brothers’ Blue Sky.
The next night, Phish kicked off their first “island tour” when they ventured to Atlantic Connection on Martha’s Vineyard (see TMIPH April 1988). This was the only Phish performance on the Vineyard. The Atlantic Connection was a top-40 dance hall, with a staff that was clearly unfamiliar with Phish’s audience. As a result, Joe Tonetti, a friend of the band and taper, was ejected from the club during the show.
On August 17th, Phish played a three set show at The Front. Highlights of the show include a rare first-set-closing Mike’s Groove, at the time only the second in that position. Set two at the Front featured The Mango Song, a very new composition that appeared in 1992 on “A Picture Of Nectar” (see TMIPH March 1992). Set three began with the first documented version of the song The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, which appeared alone that night as the set opener. Set three also featured an appearance by Richard “Nancy” Wright on guest vocals for a noteworthy rendition of his composition, Halley’s Comet. As the band played Halley’s, Nancy related an ethereal story culminating in his realization and announcement he would not perform the song anymore.
The next night, the band made their way to Northampton, Massachusetts to perform at Pearl Street Ballroom. This was their third gig upstairs at Pearl Street. On the 19th, they played at Dartmouth College’s Collins Center. To kick off the Dartmouth show, Phish again opened with Oh Kee Pa, this time segueing quickly into its most familiar companion Suzy Greenberg. Punch You in the Eye and The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday/Avenu Malcanu were also played in the first set. Set two opened with Split Open and Melt and also featured The Divided Sky and Bathtub Gin.
After a few days off, Phish played a mini-island tour performing on the 23rd at The Living Room in Providence and on the 25th at Blue Pelican in Newport, Rhode Island. On August 26th, Phish headlined at their first outdoor “festival” which took place at Townshend Family Park in Townshend, Vermont. People from all over the East came together to play miniature golf, swim, camp and enjoy three spectacular sets of Phish outdoors in native Vermont. The show was special and Trey acknowledged it from the beginning of set one by welcoming the crowd to Gamehendge before playing Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird. After a full round of classics, You Enjoy Myself segued smoothly into Possum to close set one. Set two began with the band whistling the Theme from Andy Griffith. In the spirit of the event, the crowd joined in before the band launched into another great set featuring Slave to the Traffic Light, Donna Lee and an early rendition of Foam before closing the set with a rousing David Bowie. The band picked back up on the Gamehendge theme to open set three with The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malcanu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday. After a high-energy Run Like an Antelope, Phish took the stage to thank the happy crowd with a triple encore of Contact, The Lizards and LaGrange. The show was later re-mastered from two soundboard cassette sources from the archives (recorded separately by John Paluska and Phil Fernandez) and memorialized as an official live CD release LivePhish09 – 8/26/89.
After achieving success with their first outdoor “festival” show Phish went on to tour throughout the fall, eventually wrapping up touring for the year with back-to-back sellout dates at The Paradise in December.