After listening to an excessive amount of Phish for phive days, it was finally the night of the show. This, my friends, was the phinal phrontier.
Driving up to Merriweather Post Pavilion at 4:00, a full hour before the parking lot opened and even longer until doors opened, traffic was backed up like crazy and ticketless phans walked the shoulder of the road signaling with their fingers how many tickets they needed, holding up signs, or just looking for friends. Once people could park, the tailgating and pregaming began, although many simply rushed to line up by the gates in hopes of nabbing a prime spot on the lawn.
Even before doors opened, Merriweather was busy and anxious. There was a whole new batch of cops to assist the regulars, extra alcohol brought in, double the doorstaff, and probably three times as much security as usual. Merriweather staff was guarding the entire perimeter of the venue in hopes of keeping any fence-hoppers out. All of this extra staff came in handy throughout the show- I saw at least five people being carried out on stretchers, and many, many ticketless people trying to jump the fence. Anyway, when I got there Phish were in the middle of soundchecking “Wilson,” so I got to go up in the pavilion and hear a bit of it, which was pretty cool.
When doors opened, however, there was an initial rush, but after that, it died down. My friends and I were wondering where the heck everyone was, until we realized, duh, they were just finishing up the party in the parking lot. By 7:30, the start time of the first set, the lawn was packed. I have seen many, many shows at Merriweather but I have never seen the lawn this full. Every inch was consumed by a body, and many of these bodies were wearing tie-dye. I was expecting the stereotypical Phish crowd to be at the show, and I was not let down. Plenty of folks with dreadlocks, even more with beards, and everybody was wearing sandals. The biggest surprise, which I probably should have anticipated, was the number of babies people brought. I suppose that many Phish fans are getting older and starting families- and they want their spawn to love the music they do.
I got a chance to talk to a lot of fans during the first set and at set break. While a lot of folks were messed up and totally out of it, a good amount were in their right mind and just super friendly. The second I told them it was my first Phish show, they would freak out, get so happy, and then launch into a nostalgic tirade about their first show “back in the 90’s man, that was the time to see Phish, you know?” One thing I was pleased to notice was how many people recognized being part of the Phish stereotype but could make fun of themselves for it. One guy came up to my friends and me and said, “Hey have you guys seen my friend?? I can’t find him anywhere. He’s got dreadlocks, and a beard, and he’s wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and he’s got sandals on…Oh! and he’s with a girl! She’s got long brown hair, and she’s wearing a long dress, and she’s got some sunglasses on….” Then he laughed and said, “You guys have a nice night!” and walked away. Later he came back and asked us how we were liking the show and told us that he’s been following the band all week. It was nice to see that a lot of people aren’t just crazy hippies- they simply just enjoy the music and want to consume as much of it as possible. Of course, there were the pretentious fans, who, when they heard it was your first show would scoff and mumble something about how young we were and how many shows they’ve seen.
Anyway. Let’s talk about the music, shall we?
I didn’t get to hear as much of the first set as I would have liked, but I recognized “Strange Design” toward the tail end of the set, which I really enjoyed. I spent most of the first half talking to people, walking around and taking the whole scene in. Apparently this was a good choice, because at set break a nice fellow named Dave came up and told us how awful the first set was. “Man, did you hear what he did to ‘Foam’??? I mean what the heck is that! Let me tell you, I’ve seen over forty Phish shows but that set has got to be the worst. Just terrible, man.” It turns out that one of the pluses of not being too familiar with Phish is that you can’t tell when the screw up too badly. For me, I was just enjoying myself and getting overly excited when I recognized a song.
I did, however, prefer second set. Maybe it was because it finally got dark or that the crowd was really warmed up, but it just sounded and felt better. They opened with “Tweezer” (and it wasn’t 31-minutes!!) and so of course I was just happy I knew the song. Then, as if just for me, the played another song I knew, “Taste”! Following “Taste” came the funky “Alaska,” a more mellow “Let Me Lie,” and a very soulful “46 Days.” They closed the set with “Harry Hood,” which was awesome and full of sheer joy when everybody in the crowd threw their hands up and yelled “Hood!” at the top of their lungs.
The encore made me ecstatic- it was a cover of one of the greatest songs of all times, “Good Times, Bad Times,” which segued into a reprise of “Tweezer.” Everybody was dancing and smiling and ridiculously happy. Say what you will, but I feel like these shows are not really about the music. The music is there to bring everybody together, but otherwise it’s just about the community that comes out. I met some really cool people and by the end I felt like I was friends with everybody around me. Yeah there were mostly gross people, but there were also the people there who just wanted to cram as much of the music they loved into their lives as possible, and even if you hate Phish, that’s pretty cool. After buying a Phish sticker to put in my journal, I left the show with a big smile on my face. I don’t think I’ll ever really be a Phish fan, but it was a fun night, and quite the interesting experience.