Back in 1996 Phish turned the world on to a different kind of music festival – One band, two days, and all the fans that could make the trek. The band called the first gathering “The Clifford Ball” – after a 1930s gent who held events for that era’s famous aviators – and it took place on the 27th anniversary of Woodstock – August 16 and 17 – at a former Air Force base near Plattsburgh, New York.

Maze [Live in Plattsburgh, NY – August 17, 1996] – Phish

But The Clifford Ball was more than jam vibes, camping and 950 portable toilets. There were glass blowers, painters and sculptors, plus a symphony orchestra performing Trey Anastasio compositions. There were mist tents to cool audience members and plenty of food vendors for the fans stricken by the munchies.

And there was Phish – Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon and Page McConnell – in all its jam band glory.

Today, Rhino Records releases The Clifford Ball, a seven-DVD set capturing 8 glorious hours of unadulterated Phish. The band played three sets and encores each night, and even climbed onto the back of a truck and took their “Flatbed Jam” to campers in the wee hours of August 17. And you get it all!

Chalk Dust Torture [Live in Plattsburgh, NY – August 16, 1996] – Phish

Rhino has done an excellent job in bringing this two-day slice of jam band history to your DVD player. The accompanying booklet includes a map of the concert site, plenty of pictures, and text from music scribe Parke Puterbaugh.

There’s also a packet filled with post cards depicting individual Clifford Ball moments. You may not want to slap stamps on them, scribble “Wish you were here,” and send them to your friends, but you will probably want to frame them. Or, at least, give them prominent exposure on your refrigerator.

And the music!

There’s “Chalk Dust Torture” opening the first DVD, which also contains “Bathtub Gin,” “Ya Mar” and “Hailey’s Comet.” Other discs in the set include performances of “Free,” “Scent Of A Mule” and “The Squirming Coil.” The discs also contain then-unreleased versions of “Waste, “Talk” and “Train Song.”

Bathtub Gin [Live in Plattsburgh, NY – August 16, 1996] – Phish

There’s also footage of the August 15 sound check, “Phish on Jamming, ” an interview with Phish artist Jim Pollock and many other selections guaranteed to place you smack-dab in the middle of the biggest music festival of 1996.

“’It’s amazing, I’ve been to about 50 Phish shows and this is the most incredible of all,” Charleston, South Carolina, resident Patrick Mufin, 21, told The New York Times shortly after the event.

Evidently, members of Phish thought the experience was pretty incredible, too, and they offer up their thoughts in the accompanying booklet.

“We gave a little dinner in Burlington after it was all over to pay tribute to all the people who had helped put the thing together,” said bassist Gordon.

“Trey made a speech, and it was a little bit tearjerking. He was saying it was the pinnacle of everything we’d been working toward as a band. The promoter [Dave Werlin] got up and said it was the most amazing thing he’d been involved with in his 25 years in the business. What I liked about it most of all was the absence of hype and the fact we treated the audience like human beings.”

Guitarist / vocalist Anastasio also has fond memories.

“We did as much as we could, but most of the feeling came from the way people were. That’s the part I couldn’t have anticipated, and it just kept blowing me away. It was such a good feeling, but a realistic one – not a naïve ‘we’re gonna smash the gates and it’s all free’ feeling. It was like, we can exist on a certain level in the world we live in, but we can forge our own way.”

For more information on Rhino Records’ The Clifford Ball, click here.

For the Phish Web site, click here.

Fluffhead [Live in Plattsburgh, NY – August 17, 1996] – Phish