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Permalink Posted by ColForbin on , attached to 2004-08-14
ColForbin[FYI: I wrote this immediately following Coventry, with no knowledge as to whether Phish would ever get back together. As such it contains a lot of navel-gazing autobiographical stuff. Sorry!]

Most people grow out of adolescence so gradually that they don't even notice it. Some people cling to it forever. Last weekend, at the final Phish concert ever, I saw the last part of my childhood disappear.

Sounds cheesy and melodramatic, I know. But maybe a little bit of background is in order. I've being seeing Phish concerts since I was 16 - nearly 11 years ago. Some of the happiest times of my life involved going to Phish concerts - with Jake and Doug at first, then with Beth, and especially my wife Ann (and Kristin who made it out once!). I've told the story before how Ann and I met because of the Phish sticker on my dorm room door freshman year. That one sticker changed my life forever. Phish changed my life forever. Now I'm married, we just bought a house, I'm starting graduate school and we are expecting our first baby on Dec 1st - I'm hoping for the 2nd, since it would be the 21st anniversary of the first Phish concert. It just would seem appropriate.

So with all of these things going on, I hope you can understand why I might get the feeling that I'm not a kid anymore. But Phish concerts always have something that brings me back: brings me back to the subzero temperatures of Portland, ME on 12/30/93, brings me back to my first encounter with the lot scene at Great Woods in 1994 playing frisbee with some hippies; brings me back to the epic 40 minute Providence, RI David Bowie; brings me back to my first two-show run with Jake and Doug from Great Woods to Sugarbush in 95, smoking half a pack of butts among us, watching the show from the 5th row on a ski slope, Jake not making it back on the shuttle bus for an hour; brings me back to the Clifford Ball, standing in a field with 60,000 other people who were obsessed with a band that most people had never heard of, drinking cheap beer and eating 3 foot long twizzlers (ahem) at our campsite; brings me back to dancing in the luxury box at the Fleet Center in our socks on 12/31/96, my first show with Ann, and the first time I told her I loved her; brings me back to the Lemonwheel, Big Cypress, IT, NYE. All of these great memories, and all of them due to four guys who played some of the quirkiest music ever.

As soon as they announced their breakup, Ann and I knew that we needed to be at the final show. We felt like we owed Phish so much that we needed to be there, cheering as they walked off the stage for the last time. I worried about Ann being 6 months pregnant at the show, but she was as desperate as I was to be there.

A couple of weeks before the show, I got word of a chance to get VIP camping passes in exchange for volunteering to cover the first shift at the House of Live Phish through the Mockingbird Foundation. So, VIP parking permit on the dash, Ann and I left Lebanon, NH for Coventry at around 10:30 AM on Thursday. We made a quick pit stop in St. Johnsbury and then took off down the home stretch to the festival. Our VIP pass enabled us to take some back roads to the site and we were probably about the 15th car to park in the campground (this turned out to be a lifesaver - without VIP access we would have been stuck in a day long traffic jam - any complaints that I might have later are in full recognition that they are small compared to the people who hiked in or took the threats of the police seriously and didn't even get to see the concert). Then the rains came.

We set up our campsite as quickly as possible and then retreated to the car. And there we sat for 2 hours, waiting for the rain to subside. It didn't. We had to make our way to the House of Live Phish for our shift, so we put on our coats and flip flops (we didn't bring boots) for the long slog uphill to the tent. It took approximate 45 minutes for us to walk what must have been about a half mile, and we were completely drenched as a result. And then we find out the the tent won't even be opening that night! To tell the truth, we were relieved - we were so cold and wet that 5 hours of telling stoned people how to burn CDs wouldn't have been much fun. So we made our way back to our campsite, changed our clothes and got into our tent with our books and radio and zipped it up tight, since the DJs on the Bunny were warning us to batten down the hatches. It rained and rained and rained some more, but at least we were able to listen to the Camden show on the radio. Thank God for Sierra Designs, though - our tent never leaked.

Friday was more of the same. Off and on downpours. The one time it was looking a little bit brighter, we trekked through the mud to the shuttle bus stop to check out the commons where food and other interesting items would be for sale. Of course, as soon as we got on the bus, the sky opened and we just decided to ride it in a loop around the site and go back to camp. We got drenched again, and decided at that point to not venture from our camp again until we saw the sun.

Saturday morning came and we got our wish! It was a beautiful partly cloudy day; perfect weather for a concert, dry and not too hot. We put on the radio with our breakfast and heard a disturbing announcement from Mike. In a extremely depressed tone, he announced that the band had discussions with the State Police and they determined that due to the mud, the venue couldn't safely accommodate any more cars. People would be turned away if they hadn't yet reached the exit off I-91 and given refunds. After the literal damper on our spirits from the previous two days, the metaphorical one was just as sad.

But we still had a concert to go to; after lounging around in the open air drinking beer and non-alcoholic beer (I'll leave it to the reader to figure out who was drinking what) we packed up our stuff and made the short walk to the venue. We got in pretty early, so we hit the Ferris wheel, the balloon walk and the little art installations scattered about. As 5PM approached, we decided to sit on our newly-purchased Coventry camp chairs to save out spot. A little before 6 the audience spied the band walking towards the stage from the backstage area, and the place erupted.

Walls of the Cave is a good song, but maybe not a rocking enough opener for the scale of the event. Runaway Jim was more appropriate, and the Gotta Jibboo that followed was one of the best I've heard. Then YEM. The quintessential Phish song. Silly lyrics, amazing composed section, incredible jam. This was the song where it really hit me that this whole wild ride was coming to an end. Specifically, Page's first solo in the song brought me to tears - not because it was better than usual (it was great as usual) but because I knew it was the last time I would be hearing this amazing piece of music performed live. And then they gave away the trampolines - such an amazing symbol of how much this band loves their fans, and how much they have given to us over the years, musically and otherwise. The rest of the set was rocking, with the appearance by Tom gaining a huge amount of applause. We tracked down Phillip Zerbo between sets and expected to find the rest of the Mockingbird crew with him, but they weren't there. It was great to catch up with Phillip, however.

Second set started with an amazing AC/DC bag with a great jam that lead into a very short 46 Days. Ya Mar featured some Trey/Mike interplay that was to become a feature for the weekend - almost as if they were expressing the differences about the end of the band through music. Trey was extremely talkative on stage the entire weekend. The complete opposite to his mute ways of the past few years. It was nice to see, even if a lot of the banter was basically just a thousand ways to tell the fans "thank you." He (and the rest of the band) seemed deeply touched by the fans that had hiked into the show after the announcement had been made. David Bowie was great, and the idea that Trey wrote it as a test to see how complex a song people could dance to gave it new meaning for me.

After the second set, Ann was freezing and I was a bit chilled myself, so we headed back to our campsite to listen to the 3rd set. We had heard the soundcheck loud and clear Friday night, so we knew that we would be able to hear the show and warm up at the same time. Highlights included Twist, the Stash>Free and the phenomenal, rocking jam out of Drowned. This was by far the best jam of the festival. Then they played Friday, about which the only good thing was that it wouldn't be played the next night.

The Harry Hood encore contained a lot of banter by Trey about how far they were from the audience in this particular stage setup and how he and Mike were going to come down closer to see if the interaction with the audience changes the jam. There was some wacky stuff in there about Mike playing sexy notes as well - I didn't quite catch it all. The Hood was good, although from my vantage point, the jam didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

But then at the end of the song, as the jam was winding up I heard one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in my life. Instead of the band singing the final segment, the haunting sound of 60,000 voices in unison came rolling across the cornfield between our tent and the stage:

You can feel good, good, good about hood
You can feel good, good, good about hood
You can feel good, good, good about hood
You can feel good, good, good about hood

I'm getting choked up just thinking about it.
Score: 12

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