I have lots of strong and positive memories tied to the date June 11, 1994. This is despite the fact that I do not recall anything about the date itself. Rather, it is all to do with a cassette tape I received in the mail in the spring of 1995 that changed my life for the better and has been with me in one form or another since then.

Receiving the Tape
1995 was a very different time for experiencing live music from bands that allowed amateurs to bring tape recording equipment with them to shows. One couldn’t just find a concert online and download it in a matter of minutes. I was just getting into the band Phish and my friends at the Peddie school suggested that I listen to some live recordings prior to seeing them play live. One of them copied a tape for me that had a show from 1989 but mentioned that they played differently now and I should get something more recent. I went to the Usenet (better known as newsgroups) group called rec.music.phish — one of the few bands that went under the rec.music heading, for whatever reason. I made a post that I was looking for tapes and one person kindly told me that if I sent him two blank tapes and a return envelope, he would copy a show for me.

That show turned out to be none other than the June 11, 1994 show. Recorded at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, the show was considered to be one of the better ones of the year. Unlike many other bands, Phish does not play from the same set list every single night of their tour. Rather, they come up with a new set list for every show and sometimes will even change the list as they are going along, to suit the feeling of the show at the time. I remember getting the tapes in the mail and then going to what seemed like an excruciating long physics class before I went back to my room and listened to the first tape.

The show begins with the song “Wilson” which starts with a single note played on the guitar twice several times before the band starts to chant “Wilson." Well, that’s how it starts on the studio recording of the song. Starting in 1994, the entire audience chanted “Wilson” in between the note, which could also be described as a sort of “DUH-DUH, DUH-DUH” effect. From that very moment, I was hooked. This was no ordinary band, I decided. I found out soon that the audience chanting was entirely an audience initiative, though there was plenty of encouragement from the band. You can see one powerful recording of the song here.

I listened to the rest of the show over the course of the day (Classes don’t attend themselves!) and was absolutely mesmerized. It took just one really good concert to turn me from a so-so fan into one that was absolutely devoted to the cause. A few months later, my family went to Utah for a vacation and we spent a lot of time hiking in the mountains. Though my brother Michael insisted that listening to the sounds of nature would be better, I listened to that tape several times over the course of hiking the Utah mountain trails. I even listened to it when we went to visit the Grand Canyon over in Arizona. I remember spotting a family that had a Phish bumper sticker on their car. The band had recently played Red Rocks again and they had gone to see them. They were quite fond of the band and we swapped stories, though mine were much fewer as I didn’t really have any.

First Change of Format
A few years later, I was still occasionally pulling out the show and listening to it, though not as often as before because I had plenty of others in my collection. At a certain point I had purchased a computer with a CD burner and I wanted to try it out. I found a web site where a few shows were offered for download in WAV format and so I downloaded it. Interestingly enough, this did not cause me to listen to the show more often as I spent more of my music listening time in my car, and I did not have a CD player in the car — so I still listened to the show on tape. It wasn’t until a few years later when I got iTunes for my computer that I made good use of the CD.

Part of making the CD was the fun part, which was the decoration. At the time, I thought that I was going to ultimately have hundreds of these CDs and so I wanted to create a uniform look for them. When it comes to collections of similar things, I like to have a uniform look. When I imagine writing a series of books, they all have images on the spine that can be put together to make one really awesome image. Call me kooky. I tried out dozens of designs for the printable CD label before I settled on one that would be informative yet simple. I only ended up making about a dozen or so CDs.

Another Change of Format
When I got my first iPod in 2004, one of the first things that I did was to make sure that I had a good copy of the 6/11/1994 show on my computer. I found a couple of decent sources for the show and downloaded both of them — still legally, mind you, since they were fan recordings. When I went out for a walk one day I listened to the show and was flooded with memories of receiving the tape in the mail, meeting the people in Utah, and listening to the show while hiking around the beautiful mountains of Utah and Arizona.

Just the other day I purchased the June 11, 2010 Phish show from their web site — on June 12th. I was first blown away by how far technology has come in the last fifteen years. From having to send blank tapes in the mail to getting a copy of a concert recording fewer than twenty-four hours after the concert finished — who would have thought that it would be possible? Given that now, certain concerts are being recorded to tape and then being pressed to vinyl, it’s difficult to say what the future will bring. I’m looking forward to the listening experiences of tomorrow!