For Phish fanatics, Hampton Coliseum represents something close to a holy shrine, a place where magical, even mystical things happen.
When Phish lover Mark Campbell of Cincinnati made the pilgrimage to Hampton in January of 2003, he described the band's appeal in terms beyond mere rock 'n' roll.
"It's therapy," he said. "And it's church — without the ideology. Every show is different. And this is where they play their best shows — hands down."
That's a popular opinion among Phish followers.
"Hampton has grown into a very special place for the Phish community," said Dave Calarco, a San Francisco-based writer who runs a popular Phish fan Web site called Mr. Miner's Phish Thoughts (phishthoughts.com).
While Phish first played Hampton in 1995, Calarco said the connection can be traced back to the band's Oct. 25, 1996, concert. That's when, pausing on stage, guitarist Trey Anastasio declared that Hampton Coliseum was his favorite jam spot.
"Sometimes people ask me what the best rooms we play in are — this is pretty much it for me, just so you know," he said. "Good sound, everybody gets to go where they want on the floor. Can't beat it."
Thanks to bootleg recordings, fans have heard him utter those words countless times.
"The mystique of the room started with that quote," Calarco said, "not to mention the connection of the place with the Grateful Dead, with Phish being the inheritors of past counter culture. But when Trey said that, it became a special place."
The Grateful Dead's warm feelings for Hampton have been well documented. "Dead fans have a lot of affection for Hampton — it's one of the smallest venues they play," Williamsburg's Bruce Hornsby told the Daily Press in 1995. Hornsby, who spent some time playing piano with the Dead, said the hall is thought to create special chemistry.
"From being around the Grateful Dead community, there's a feeling that the Dead always play good shows at Hampton."
Calarco said it's also true that Hampton is one of the smaller venues Phish has played regularly. Calarco said he's attended most of the Hampton Phish shows. He attests to unusually friendly vibes that bounce between the band, fans and building.
But could someone who wasn't a necessarily fan hear the difference in Phish's live recordings?
"It's kind of hard to say," Calarco said. "But if you listen to the 1997 shows, you're going to hear a quality of playing that's completely cohesive and impeccable."