Each year, Phish put on a “gag” for fans during their New Year’s Eve show. The tradition dates back to 1992, when the group hoisted a crew member dressed in a chicken suit above the stage during a rendition of their song “Fly Famous Mockingbird”. In the years since, Phish have continued with their annual NYE stunt, progressively getting more elaborate with time and as their fan base and resources have grown. The group has flown through venues riding a massive hot dog, made it rain “cats and dogs” inside Madison Square Garden, and curated multiple Broadway-esque choreographed dances to ring in the new year. With the band returning to Madison Square Garden for four nights over the weekend, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the wildest New Year’s Eve gags from over the years.
Flying Hot Dog at The Boston Garden (1994)
As one of Phish’s most iconic gags, the group celebrated the flip to 1995 while riding a giant hot dog through the eves of the former Boston Garden. While aboard the flying hot dog, the band performed “Auld Lang Syne” and threw a variety of props out into the crowd, including ping pong balls, feathers, and confetti. The giant hot dog now resides suspended in the lobby of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, though it has been revived for a handful of other performances, including New Year’s Eve in 1999 and 2010.
Big Cypress Music Festival (1999)
To ring in 2000, Phish hosted a weekend-long music festival at southern Florida’s Seminole Indian Reservation, which was attended by 85,000 fans — marking the largest concert celebrating the new millennium in the world. Ahead of the countdown, a man dressed as Father Time was stationed on stage, riding an exercise bike powering a giant clock. Exhausted, Father Time stopped pedaling 10 minutes before midnight, and the clock stopped; at this point, the band appeared at the back of the crowd, cruising through the audience on the giant hot dog from their 1994 New Year’s gag. Once on stage, the band fed Father Time hot dogs, which gave him the energy to keep pedaling and finish the countdown. The group ultimately continued on to perform a seven-and-a-half-hour set, spanning until the sun rose and making it the longest Phish set to date.
Tom Hanks and Snow at Madison Square Garden (2002)
After going on hiatus in fall of 2000, Phish returned with a New Year’s Eve performance at Madison Square Garden. Early in the show, the band performed their song “Wilson”, with scenes from Cast Away projected behind them. As the song wound to an end, guitarist Trey Anastasio introduced Tom Hanks to sing the final lyrics of the song — in actuality, keyboardist Page McConnell’s brother, Steve, was tapped as a convincing Tom Hanks look-alike. For the countdown, the band debuted a new song, “Seven Below”, and created a winter wonderland within MSG, complete with fake snow and dancers dressed as snow angels on stilts and snow monsters who paraded across the stage and onto the floor.
Human Cannonball in Miami (2009)
Fresh off their second hiatus, Phish took over Miami’s American Airlines Arena for their 2009 New Year’s Eve run. At midnight on the 31st, a giant disco ball descended from the ceiling, and drummer Jon Fishman seemingly climbed inside. With the help of the crew, guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon loaded the disco ball into a giant cannon on stage. The cannon’s barrel pointed toward a giant net hanging from the ceiling, though once “fired,” the human cannonball appeared to blast through the roof of the arena; the gag was solidified by a crushed car cordoned off with police tape outside the venue that greeted fans following the show. Sans drummer, the band asked the audience if anyone knew how to play drums, and the group chose a planted audience member named Sarah. Though Sarah was replaced by Fishman — decked in a black wig and an outfit identical to Sarah’s — for the set, the actress reappeared for the band’s final bow instead of Phish’s actual drummer.
International Meatstick Celebration at Madison Square Garden (2010)
In 2010, Phish returned to Madison Square Garden to host a Broadway-style, multicultural New Year’s celebration evoking Disney’s “It’s a Small World”. For context, during Phish’s 2000 Japan tour, the band translated the chorus of one of their fan-favorite songs, “Meatstick”, into Japanese — lyrics which have since become a regular part of the band’s performances of the number. Following the Japanese lyrics of the song on New Year’s Eve, dozens of performers dressed in traditional garb came on stage to debut new translations of the song’s chorus, ranging from a Mexican mariachi band to Hasidic rabbis, yodeling Swedish snow bunnies, African tribesman, and more. The international dancers performed an extensively choreographed dance while the band departed the stage. Phish reappeared shortly after on the flying hot dog from past NYE performances, soaring through Madison Square Garden while tossing hot dogs into the crowd.