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Phish in Ithaca.  At the State Theatre.  On Valentine’s Day.  It almost sounded too good to be true.  Those of us who had caught the last show at Smith College knew the band was en fuego.  For the rest of the folks in town, the chance to see a local favorite go from playing our little town bar to our local movie theatre was a no-brainer.  We were stoked.  The State Theatre was a run down little movie theatre right downtown, and most of us had only been there for movies.  I don’t remember any gigs there before this one, but there were some good ones after this (Taj Mahal comes to mind.)  Phish played the State a second and final time on 9/26/91.   Ithaca’s State Theatre first opened its doors on the evening of December 6, 1928 . Originally not a theatre, the building had started out as a security garage and automobile showroom in 1915, but this business moved out in 1927.  You can find out more than you ever wanted to know about the State Theatre here: 

The show itself is pretty solid, check the setlist:

Set 1My Sweet OneMcGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Buried Alive >RebaDestiny UnboundCavernThe Mango SongStashLawn BoyThe Oh Kee Pa CeremonyGolgi Apparatus

Set 2Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug GrooveFoamThe Squirming CoilRunaway JimEstherAlumni BluesBouncing Around the RoomI Didn’t Know,The LandladyPossum

EncoreUncle PenLa Grange

The song selection definitely delivers.  Opening up with the obligatory My Sweet One, McGrupp was an unexpected surprise in the two slot.  The show was packed (even the balcony was pretty full) and most people seemed to be digging it.  I did hear some grumbles from old school fans that were not happy with the move from frat parties and bars to a theatre, but you can never please everyone (nor can you stop progress).  We had met up with the band before the show and my friend Vinnie had given Mike one of those electric plants that dances to the music, except for he had put a fish on top of it.  Mike put it on top of his amp and we could see it jamming the whole show, it was funny as hell. This was the “original” Couch Tour show.  My friend Ben Weinstein, who was at Cornell, directed (live!) the show for Ithaca Public Access so the whole show was simulcast on regular TV for those that did not make it.  The video circulates widely now, but in pretty poor quality.  Even my low gen copies have degraded over time (VHS sucks it).  It’s still cool to have a multi-cam shoot available from this era and considering it was directed live and not edited in post, it came out pretty good.  While the show was not mind blowing, it was still a great time and a good launching pad for the nationwide tour.  After Destiny Unbound (which was a first for many of us), Trey announced that they would be giving away their old tour van to someone in the crowd as they had purchased a new one and had both vehicles at the show.  I, for one, had forgotten about the  giveaway, until during I Didn’t Know when they brought out Fish in a blindfold, turned him around a bunch of times and had him throw the keys into the audience.  I was way in the back, but I will never forget hearing my good friend Toast yell “Yes!” as the keys hit his hands.  You can even hear it on the tapes.  I reached out to  Toast (now a dad named “Eric”) last week and asked him to share his recollections of this all-time classic moment:

“I went to the show with Kellaine and my buddy Sean. I think I had eaten shrooms before the show, my recollection of the show is hazy. I was on the floor with Kellaine when Trey announced they were giving away their touring van. Fish turned his back to the stage and threw the keys in the crowd. I didn’t see them, I just put my hand up and the key fell right into my palm. It took a second to realize what happened, when I did I shoved the keys into my pocket. Then the spotlight found me, they pulled me up on stage, congratulated me, and told me to come see them after the show. The rest of the show is a haze, I was so freaking psyched! I pictured this school bus parked out front of the State that me and my friends could tour around in.

After the show I went backstage with the band. My buddy Adam Fells was working security at the show. Adam, Kellaine and I ended hanging out with the band for a while after the show. The band was really into the novelty of the giveaway or maybe they were just psyched to get rid of the van. They  told me it was the first vehicle they had and it had taken them to every show up until then. They gave me the other keys to the van. No paperwork, just the keys. They joked about returning anything that they left in the van, I promised I would. I had no idea what the van was.

About an hour after the show Kellaine, Sean and I walked out of the State Theater to see an old Dodge minivan parked right in front. The band took one more look through the van for anything they may have forgot, took the license plate off the van and walked off.

I didn’t try to start it, we all went to Micawbers Bar and celebrated with some beers.

After Micawbers we went back to the State to look over the van and get it home. The van had over 170K miles on it (the odometer stopped working at 170K), there were no seats in the back, just a queen mattress. It smelled really bad!

The van had no plates, and I had no papers saying it was mine. It took a jump-start but the engine turned over and started. Driving from theater back to our house was a long winding uphill drive, almost immediately I knew there were major issues. The van wouldn’t shift out of first gear. Turning was as bad, and the van swayed back and forth as we climbed up Hudson St. I later found out both sway bars were broken, the transmission was shot and the engine was running on two cylinders.

Here’s a partial list of the items I found in the van:

Several books – Sean has them all, don’t remember what they were
half oz of leaf shake
lots of clothes
picture of Fish from Senior Prom w/ date

The van sat for weeks at our house on Kendall. I couldn’t register it, it could barely drive and I wasn’t about to pay for insurance. Summer was coming, we would be moving out of the house and I need to find something to do with the van. If I had I the foresight to put the van in a storage unit, I would have done it. I’ve been told I should have done that a thousand times. But I didn’t. I sold the van to a farmer who was going to use it to carry hay on his farm so it didn’t need to be registered (yeah, kills me), but he had the cash, I needed to move the van, and I sold it. I got $600 and was happy. I could buy some weed, pay some bills and start packing up for summer tour with the Dead.

A few weeks later I received a hand-delivered summons to our house on Kendall Ave. I was being sued. I guess the farmer didn’t think the van was worth $600 and wanted his money back. The problem was, I had spent the money. I tried explaining to the farmer what had happened but he was pissed and wanted his money (understandably). The funny thing is I actually drew up a contract when I sold the van stating the van was of unknown origin and included a bunch of other declarations, and it held up in court!

For a while I had copy of the show from later that tour where my buddy Al told Trey I was being sued and he announced it at the show.  Trey said something to the extent, “remember that guy that won our van, he sold it, spent the money on weed and is being sued.” Pretty accurate.

For the next few years I would go to shows and tell the crew I had stuff from the van I needed to return to the band (like they said!) and I got in (and backstage) to many shows.

It’s been twenty years and I still regularly have people ask about the van. I guess it’s my 15 minutes of phame which I have always been grateful for having.”

I remember being out in front of the State when the band was getting the rest of their stuff out of the van and we were all out there congratulating Toast.  I remember them walking away and then Trey coming back and saying he forgot something and going under the dash and getting a bag of brown stems and seeds.  We were all like “homey, we’ll hook you with the good” but he just laughed and left with his schwag.  While the show is not one I go back to listen to, it conjures up a ton of great memories.  We skipped the next night in Keene (mistake) and headed straight to NYC for the 2/16 show which is deserving of it’s own post in the future….

I couldn’t find a copy of the audio being seeded on etree and there is not one on the google mp3 spreadsheet either sooooo……I am going to post a video.  Below is the Destiny Unbound, after which, Trey talks about the van giveaway:

The video of the whole show (at least what circulates) can be found here: