Before I was in a band, before I ever played an instrument, I was a big Phish fan. For those of you who do not know Phish, Phish is a jam band that took over the scene after Jerry Garcia died and the Grateful Dead were temporarily no more. Unlike other bands in other music scenes, Phish fans are so dedicated that some will literally spend a large portion of their lives following the band around on tour, often selling random things like grilled cheese, never showering, just to continue seeing shows, doing drugs, being part of something grand, and staying out of the “real world.” Phish fans, not all, but lots, are very dedicated, they know all of the songs (and for that there are hundreds) and they have built such a strong community that going on tour feels more like you have slipped in to your own fantasy land of Phish heads than just following around any old band.
Hippies are often considered to be dirty, pot smoking, weird talking people who while at the heart of it seem to preach open love and peace all they really want to do is party, take lots of trippy drugs, and listen to music that no one else seems to understand. I have a love hate relation with them myself. From my experience over the years of following Phish and learning how to play all of their songs, there is nothing quite like a Phish concert. Being part of something huge and being surrounded by thousands of people who you feel connected with, while not knowing them personally, the dedication, the love, the intensity of the music, it was all very freeing. Whether I was drunk, high, or sober, each show was always something special, every night a completely different setlist, every experience unique within itself. Trey, the guitar player who started Phish has been my guitar god and hero for a long time. But in the past years when Phish broke up and got back together he has battled with drug addiction, been arrested, in rehab, and has finally started to get his shit back together. So I thought…
I hadn’t planned to go see Phish this summer. Lots of my old buddies I used to go on tour with said that they were playing really well these days and were back on their game but ever since I started my own band I haven’t had the time, funds, or interest in going back to the Phish world, for me it was over. But due to some odd timing and after the loss of my grandfather this past week, I had to head home for the funeral and since my brother and some friends were seeing Phish near home a few days before I decided I would tag along.
I decided to go all in and do all the necessaries that would be included in seeing your typical Phish concert. Why not?
When we were headed to the show I ironically ran in to an old friend of mine who originally got me in to Phish. Dan pretty much sparked all of my musical interest and for years was always opening me up to new music and taking me to see shows. I thanked him for helping turn me in to the person I am today and we parted ways to head in to the show. I thought it would be funny to blow up twitter and say just about everything that came to my head full with pictures and all, apologies to anyone who read them. I figured I was the only asshole at the Phish show that used twitter so I just had to go with it. Part of me felt like an Undercover Private Eye Hippie Music Man going in to explore the world I once knew.
When we got to the lawn to find space I saw an open patch of grass. “Excuse me but this area is saved for my friends,” said this mildly drunk looking dude.
“Good luck with that buddy.” was all that I could think to say. God what happened to the open free spirited Phish crowd that I once remembered?
One thing I noticed was that when Phish came out the cheers were not as I remembered them. In the past there was nothing more electric than the intensity of the crowd screaming and clapping when these four heros hit the stage. Maybe the pure bred fans were gone and the scene really had turned in to place to take drugs and party your face off? The first song they played “Rocky Top” is a fun folky type song, simple and bouncy, not a bad song to start off the set. But I have to admit, they sounded down right off.
Being a musician takes your world to all kinds of crazy places, some great, and some extremely twisted and dark. But it is part of the journey, part of the experience, we go to those dark places and we try to get out of them through song, or we at least try to relate what we feel to those that may have taken the trip too, just to say “hey we all feel this shit and are alike and connected in that way.” And in that way I know Trey has battled long and hard to get to where he is, he has experienced all of the highs, and all of the very lows that come with music, and I could feel it throughout the set. I don’t know if I was just making shit up in my head but I felt very connected to his energy throughout the entire show.
Something was off with Trey. The rest of the band was doing their thing, they were pretty tight, but Trey was either a note ahead of behind. He couldn’t get his shit together. Sure some of their songs are more complicated than just about anything else out there and maybe he is just getting old and rusty but this was something more. He didn’t speak to the audience and there were long pauses in between songs which had me thinking “what they hell is going on, are these guys really off tonight or is it just me?” I was having a great time at moments, really losing myself and letting the music take off, but then at others times I felt like shit. I was disinterested, confused, disconnected and weirded out, what the hell was Trey doing? It felt as though he was battling for his own life during half of the songs, like he couldn’t keep it together and he was struggling with all that he had become. It felt as though he was still lost and trying to find himself, fighting through each and every note like he was a lost soul. I felt every note, every struggle that he had ever been through, as if his life was in shambles and what was once a beautifully flowing energy was now Phish back on tour trying to rehash some old feelings that were long gone. Instead of moving on and doing new things they were now that band that played all of their old “hits.” They were no longer the group of best friends who consistently released new music and pushed new boundaries, creating a magical energy, they were now trying to relive a dream that was long dead. I saw all of Trey’s insecurities with himself and I knew he was not the Trey that I used to worship. That man was long gone.
I am probably being overdramatic and likely making all of this up in my head but this is really what I felt. It was sad at times and I even got frustrated that this was what my favorite band of all time had become. Or maybe it was all me, maybe I was older, maybe I had moved on, maybe I had grown away from this scene and all the change was within myself? Maybe I was holding on to an idea, hoping for one last moment that that same magic was still there. Anyhow, I hate reading reviews of shows but felt compelled to share my experience since it will likely be my last…
Midset I got a knot in my back. How about you knot fucking mention that again. It created a wild experience for me. If you had seen me dancing you would have thought me a mad man, possessed by the devil, uncontrolled but giving all to the higher spirit or some shit like that. My roommates have been doing lots of yoga lately and while I have not I have been around them and I think at Phish I was really trying to understand where this knot was coming from. It was painful yet interesting to move my body in every which way so as to find a way to get the knot out. It opened me up to new parts of my body, things I didn’t even know I could move, parts I had never felt, it was really wild being so aware of my body. I didn’t know how to make it feel better so I started trying to make it feel worse, I figured if I could feel it in any way, even if that made me feel pain that I was making some progress. Days later the knot is gone but I still feel sore as hell.
I also found myself looking around at the crowd and judging everyone. This crowd seemed different. Sure everyone has always been in to taking lots of drugs and going wild but this crowd seemed more about the drugs and less about the music. They were royally fucked up, everyone was twisted in the face, piss drunk, tripping balls, giving off weird vibes and energy, and more. It was really weird to see the number of people who were so disconnected from reality, so out of touch with anything really. Like they were trying to keep up some dream that was long gone, keep up the spirit of the shows when it was just dead energy being recycled through thin air and they were having trouble breathing so they did whatever they knew.
But then I realized it was really just me. Just me judging everyone, judging and placing assumptions on a band I was no longer connected with, me looking outside for something that was only inside. I am the audience, I am the crowd, I am the dude who was piss drunk with beer spilled on his shirt, I am the guy who took a few too many hits of acid and didn’t know where he was, I am the girl who had to pee every five minutes. Why was I so quick to judge everyone when we are all in this together?
And then at that moment I was reminded of everything. Why I started seeing Phish in the first place, why I stopped, why I started new things. I was also made aware of my Grandfathers presence in my life. My Grandfather, or Pop Pop, never spoke very much to me. He was a quiet man and in his last years he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease so he had been slipping away for a long time. I wrote a song I was going to sing for him at the funeral but I realized it just didn’t feel right so instead I said this to the large group of people gathered to put him to rest.
“I was trying to figure out how Pop fit in to all of this. How he influenced my life and the people around me. Pop as we all know it was quiet, he didn’t say much, but it’s not always through speech that we communicate. Pop has always had a presence. I look around in this room, I see lots of great people, I look at my family and myself and I am grateful for this life. Pop is responsible for giving me life and bringing all of us together. Without him I would be nothing.”
Thing is, the battling I felt Trey going through at the show, the downfall of Phish that I experienced, it was just my life reminding me to keep pushing forward, to move on, to pay respect to all that has influenced me and made me who I am and to keep creating and exploring this great world.