Thursday, August 13, 2015

Remembrances of 50 Phish Shows - Numbers 31 through 40

I'm recounting the 50 Phish shows that I have attended.  Here's numbers 31 through 40.  This stretch includes Coventry, the Hampton Comeback shows and Festival 8.  For numbers 21 through 30 click here.

2004-08-14 (Newport State Airport, Coventry, VT)
Everyone who made the trek to Coventry has a story to tell about it.  In our case, Laura and I plus our friends Mike and Daniel set out early from Southwest Virginia in good spirits with plenty of time to get there.  Mike's SUV was loaded up with camping gear and other supplies.  Somewhere in Connecticut we started to have pretty severe car trouble so we overnighted there while his car went into this random small town shop.  The fixing was going to take more than a day so a friend of the owner of the shop rented us a very old mini van to use for the rest of the way while the car was getting fixed.  Of course this minivan completely broke down and fell apart on the side of the highway in Vermont.  We were still 100+ miles south of the festival, but more than a couple hours north of where we had picked up the van.  The person from CT drove up to meet us towing some 1980's Oldsmobile two-door sedan.  We had to down-size quite a bit to fit 4 people plus camping gear into that car but it got us there.  Or at least the outskirts of the festival.  After an overnight stuck in traffic several miles out, we decided to set up camp on some Vermont redneck's property a few miles from the festival and hoof it in.  A local woman - with a baby in the car! - kindly picked us stragglers up the first day and chauffeured us to the gate since she had special access as a resident.  

As for the show(s) itself, I can't say much for them.  The overwhelming gravity of the situation affected perceptions of it.  I was hopeful when they opened with Walls of the Cave.  I even had delusions that this could still be a great finale to Phish's career.  But, it fell way short of expectations.  I still have never listened to these shows ever again.  The whole event put too much of a strain on our friendships that I've never wanted to go there.  I know that I was difficult to be around this weekend.  I do remember liking the song Friday on Saturday, as crazy as that seems.  See you in four-and-a-half years.

The butterflies in the stomach feeling on the eve of a Phish show that you've been waiting for is omnipresent.  Never has this been more palpable than at these Hampton comeback shows.  We somehow scored tickets legitimately without having to go through scalpers. I think I just randomly called up Ticketmaster and happened to catch it at a time when tickets were available and ordered over the phone. The same group of four from the Coventry debacle were back together for these shows.  A lot had changed from 2004 to 2009, obviously.  We had shots of Patron tequila in Hooters the day of first concert which foreshadowed the Mexican Cousin which would come around in night two.  But going back to that first night, anyone who was there remembers the sense of catharsis that overwhelmed Hampton Coliseum the instance that the first notes of Fluffhead were recognizable.  Those first few seconds spoke volumes toward the collective sigh of relief that it conveyed.  The actual show or shows can't be described in any way that makes sense other than saying the proverbial "you had to be there".  Phish wasn't just back.  They were back and determined to make good on a legacy that they had left tarnished 4.5 years ago on a muddy Vermont field near the Canadian border.

By Asheville in June 2009 it was back to business-as-usual as far as seeing Phish goes.  Asheville is a great little city and we had a large group of friends that descended upon it, similar in a lot of ways to the Greensboro 3-1-03 show.  A super-fun time was had hanging out beforehand and the show was great too.  The Asheville crunchy coolness was represented well as the outpouring of love from the audience was among the most authentic and universal I have ever experienced outside of the Hampton shows 3 months earlier.  Joy, teary-eyed-ness and jaw-dropping awe were among the many emotions passed through on this night.

The next night in Knoxville was a continuation of the party.  What great place Knoxville is!  The city that never sleeps...or at least on this night it didn't.  We stayed in a really cool downtown hotel and we were able to walk to the lot from there, even though it was a long distance.  The Shakedown was especially raging outside this arena.  Out of control.  The Waves into A Song I Hear the Ocean Sing was a highlight for me.  After the show we were amped up and kept going to bar after bar.  We even got into a cab that was playing Phish and made the driver blast it, circling around the block of our destination an additional time or two for the sheer enjoyment of it.  We finished the night at a hotel bar full of Phish fans that stayed open waaaaay later than it was supposed to.

Flew out to Palm Springs for Festival 8, with a stopover in Dallas.  The plane was delayed a few hours in Dallas, and it was obvious that multiple fans were going to be on the same flight from there, due to the unusually jovial atmosphere in the airport bar at that gate, despite the wait.  As we boarded the plane a sketchy dude on some weird drugz hit his head as he was sitting down next to a mom and her toddler.  From beneath his sunglasses he said "Maybe we'll get an Althea" which caused me to lose it!  The mom made the flight attendant move this dude to a different seat and I don't blame her.  He hit his head getting into that seat too.

These polo grounds where the Coachella festival is held were a lovely place to see Phish.  It felt lightly attended as far as Phish shows go, but that laid-back California vibe was in full effect.  Maybe not as laid back as High Sierra, but close.  In late October in the desert it would be in the 90's during the day and as low as 39 degrees at one point in the early hours of the morning.  I wasn't prepared for that kind of cold. 

The entire first was excellent, but I especially liked the blimp-like artwork floating during Harry Hood.  Very avant-garde artsy.  Whatever kind of cart that "puppet" was attached to wheeled right by me.  I got completely lost trying to walk back to the campsite afterward.  The grounds were bigger and more confusing than I had thought.  

I'm not a Stones fan.  I was actually hoping for the longshot MGMT album this year.  So, when news spread on Halloween day that it was Exile on Main Street I was nonplussed.  I think I took a nap on the soft, manicured lawn while that set was being performed.  The acoustic set on 11/1 was quite special.  I loved it.  It would have been better if everyone had just sat down and chilled during it instead of having to dance.  Save your energy, folks.  Dancing during that set seemed unnecessary.  After thoroughly enjoying and savoring the final two sets later that night we packed up our tent and slept on a blanket out under the stars before flying back home to good old Virginia.

We had another large group of people at this show and I'm pretty sure we were all in mutual agreement to party harder than ever before.  It was preppy Charlottesville, so why not?  This might have been the tipping point as far as that goes.  The climate was snowy and icy but the show went on.  Our hotel was right across the street from the venue.  Not all of my memories of this show are positive ones, but that is independent of the music, which was right on the money.  It was satisfying to hear not one, but two songs with Virginia references in them - Old Home Place and Sweet Virginia.  That completes 2009, which, 15 years in, was my busiest year of seeing Phish.

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