Four days after the fact, I am now quite certain that last Thursday night’s Phish show was simultaneously one of the weirdest and most amazing concert experiences I’ve ever had.
I’ve heard the stories of the caravans and huge lines and people abandoning their cars and walking to get to the venue in time to see the show — but, quite frankly, I even still totally and completely underestimated the fanatical level of devotion Phisheads (my new name for them; I’m sure someone’s used this before) show. I always just assumed a Phish show would be similar to a Dave Matthews Band show, in both atmosphere and general crowd behavior. That’s close, but it still doesn’t quite describe it.
Afterwards, I compared it to a party with 20,000 of your closest friends — that’s also close. My dad called it a cult — I think that’s closer.
Ironically enough, it was the Woodstock Anniversary weekend. I say ironically because I’m fairly certain a Phish show is the closest I’m ever going to get to Woodstock. Not only did ’60s VW vans abound in the parking lot — seriously, I counted at least five, and that’s a low estimate — and that general “peace and love” attitude (and lots of pot) flow through the whole crowd, but over in one far corner of the parking lot (with a few others scattered throughout the rest of the area) was an entire group of vendors. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a group of Phisheads who, I can only imagine, have spent their summer following the band from venue to venue and sell food, clothing, beer, jewelry (most of which I would have bought in a heartbeat; it was all beautiful), bongs, etc. to finance their trip. I could have spent the night just people-watching in the parking lot and listening to the concert from outside the gates, and I would have been content. I also would not have gotten a contact high and felt like death the next morning — but that’s beside the point.
There was the part where a very drunk, probably mid-20s guy offered my (enjoying this whole thing, but, honestly, sort of old and out-of-place in this crowd) dad a drink or drugs or something. He also called him “sir.” There was also the part where I got indirectly told I look like I am 16 (I’m taking solace in the fact that I think they were both incredibly blazed, drunk, or both).
And then there’s this phenomenon of bringing whole families to the concert. I’m talking the WHOLE family — two-month-old, can’t hold their own heads up, babies, toddlers, five- and six-year-olds…everyone. A lot of the people that were following the band from show to show had little children with them, too. Now, I’d say I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to taking little kids to concerts. I think it’s a great idea. I’m all for exposing kids to music at a young age. I certainly don’t have kids of my own yet, but when I do, you can be sure they’ll be going to concerts with me — HOWEVER, 1. they’ll probably be at least seven or eight, dependingon the show. I won’t start bringing them when they’re newborns. It’s called a babysitter!…and 2. you can be damn sure I won’t be taking them to a show where it’s possible their mother will end up with a contact high, because God only knows what sort of damage that would do to a baby.
Then there’s the whole part about tickets. Taking a family of four, two adults and two kids, to that Darien show, would have run you over $200. I’m sorry, I’m sure these parents love their babies — but no two-month-old is worth a $50 ticket for a show they’re going to fall asleep during and not understand. And can you imagine how that adds up if you follow them for a summer? How do they afford this? I honestly want to know. Selling chicken fajitas and beer to the tailgaters pre-concert isn’t gonna pay for all of that.
I did, however, tell my dad he had really deprived me when I was little because my family didn’t spend our summers in a VW van following Phish. I also told him I’d need a lot of therapy to get over it. I was mostly kidding.
Oh, and remember that part about the concert being a party with 20,000 of your closest friends? If you don’t know all the words (seriously, every single last word to every song, and, if you’re really good, all the musical parts, too, so you can air guitar or air drum along to the music) and aren’t going to dance like a stoned, drunk, white person (I specify white because 1. I have to doubt that there was anyone of color in that audience and 2. no self-respecting, actually-has-rhythm-and-moves black person would be caught dead dancing the way Phisheads do. Stuff White People Like should do an entire entry just on this phenomenon.), you’re going to feel like that kid at the party who no one really knows and spends the whole night leaning on the wall, pretending like he’s having a good time by himself just listening to the music. It’s a little awkward.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the concert. The show was wonderful. Just sitting there and listening to the band and watching the crowd was well worth the $50 ticket. I could have done without my allergy attack and the post-concert contact high, but, hey, you win some, you lose some.
I’m just saying — I think I totally misjudged Phisheads. They are truly fanatical, like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I apologize for comparing you to DMB fans. There was not a drunken frat boy with a popped collar in the house.
And, I’ve gotta admit, for never having a Top 10 album and for never gaining much commercial fame — it’s all pretty impressive.