OK, various parts of this story are splattered all over the forum, but never in the context of what this thread is asking. But I fit the question in the initial post, so here goes:
Spring of ’92 I was a senior in H.S. and me and a bunch of friends got tickets to see the H.O.R.D.E. tour at Garden State Arts Center in July. We had all gone to a good handful of concerts together at this point, but mostly stuff like Van Halen, GnR, or smaller club shows that our friends’ bands opened for. None of us were much into the Dead or anything of the like, they were barely on our radar. We were all pretty heavy drinkers already in our young lives, but weed and other drugs were not in the picture either.
One of my best friends got a scholarship to a prestigious and exclusive private school, and had been living that dream near Princeton for a few years. He was by no means a prep school hippie, but he brought some of the music back home with him. This is how I first heard of the Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors (local central NJ bands at that point playing parties and parks and whatnot). So when we saw the chance to go see an ALL DAY concert (!!!) with these two bands, and 3 more (!!!), we were like hell yeah, lets do it!
So we order the tickets (or maybe went to TM to pick them up…I don’t remember), and it has the 5 bands listed on them. Blues Traveler being the big name by far, because this was still before the Spin Doctors 15 minutes had begun. The other bands were Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit, and Phish. Widespread Panic seemed like a normal enough name for a band. Aquarium Rescue Unit was a little out there. But Phish? What the hell? That was just silly. We spent the whole spring putting a ‘P’ sound on the beginning of every word that started with ‘F’. “Who the puh-fcuk is puh-fish?” “Hey, did you just puh-fart?” “How’d you do on puh-finals?” You wanna talk about beat’d to death? We puh-beat’d the ‘puh-‘ sound to death that puh-spring.
So anyway, we get closer to the day of the show, and the Spin Doctors single hits the radio, and all of a sudden this is a lot more exciting because now there is a ‘popular’ band at this thing too, rather than a bunch of relatively low-profile stuff. Driving down the Parkway, sitting in the traffic going in, it seemed like every car was full of 17 year old girls blasting Two Princes or something. (This might sound like a nightmare now, but remember it was brand new at the time. So… not so bad. Pretty glorious actually.)
It was a gorgeous day, and the whole time, it was a different experience than any concert, or any place, I had ever been before. Everyone was smiling and happy. There wasn’t a dark or overly testosterone-y vibe like at the hard rock and metal shows I had seen. There were hardly any guidos at all. What the hell??? Nary a pair of Z-Cavs, not a whiff of Drakkar Noir in the air. Am I still in Jersey?
Well, this was the prep school hippie contingency. Not that everyone was all hippie’d out at all, but, just kinda mildly to that side. The jeans were not tight, most of the girls were in these loose ‘peasant’ tops which I don’t think I had ever seen before. And everyone overwhelmingly outgoing, smiling, and friendly. Pretty different than my north Jersey public school experience where everyone seemed to be constantly posing or judging or fronting. The whole scene was glowing in the sun, and it was the first time I ever experienced anything like it. In retrospect, I considered this my first taste of the festival experience and attitude.
So the music starts and everything is great. There are some people that are much weirder than others on the spectrum, but even they seem pretty harmless and well-intentioned. I come to find out that a lot of these folks are tripping, of course. I had heard of acid at this point, but really had no idea what it was all about. But my friends and I were more into the vast amounts of liquor we snuck in, and talking to the endless number of very cute, very age-appropriate girls. It seemed like 90% of the crowd was between about 16 and 20 years old.
I really enjoyed all the bands, especially the three I had never heard of. I remember that Aquarium Rescue Unit was my favorite on that day. I do not remember the exact order that they all played, though I am almost positive that the Spin Doctors were third and Blues Traveler closed. I think Phish may have played second. I do clearly remember they played (or at least started) in the daylight, and I am almost positive they did not lead off. (I say this because I feel like I had a baseline that I compared the music off of at that point, and also that I remember being set in a spot when they came on and observing the crowd’s reaction.)
So anyway, onto Phish. They started playing (whether they were first or not) and I thought “Huh, after all this crunchy groovy rock (the term “jam” was not in my musical vocabulary at that point), what is this, a Latin jazz band?” They had opened with Landlady. And all of a sudden there were swarms of people blasting down the lawn to get closer to the pavilion. Not everyone, not by a long shot. But all the people that were dressed really crazy, with the super nappy hair and patchwork overalls. They were all on the same page for this. Looking up, dancing on the lawn like they didn’t have a care in the world.
I just kept listening and enjoying and doing whatever else I had been doing all day. Nobody I spoke to was like “Oh, this is Phish, they are great, blah blah blah.” No such experience. Listened to the rest of the set and remember the impression of, “Oh this is more like straight ahead rock” (Runaway Jim, in retrospect), “No, wait they’re playing some sort of eclectic fusion jazz again” (Foam) and back and forth like that for their whole set. “Whatever they are doing, its definitely interesting, and they seem pretty good, they can all play. (Stash) But its weird. Definitely weird. (YEM) Not sure if I like it or not.” There was a full-on stand-alone vacuum solo, which I’d be lying if I said I definitely remember, but coupled with YEM I remember long periods of what seemed like relatively sparse music, and weird sounds, like they were just goofing around. Which, obviously, they were.
So that’s really my memory. Like I said, I had no idea who they were, and nothing that day made me seek out their music. I did not realize that one might go on tour with them, or that all their shows were different, or that I could acquire tapes of live performances, or any of the other stuff that we take for granted. Just that they were a really interesting interlude – a quirky highlight, both musical and observing their fans – within a really fun day of music. It was within the next year or less that one of my brothers started to bombard the family with tapes. But that day I had no clue of the profound influence the band would have on the next 20 years (and hopefully more) of my life. We were just satisfied to finally know who the puh-phuck this puh-fish actually was.
One other funny memory of is that a few of my friends wanted to leave early, before Blues Traveler. Recall they were the main band I wanted to see that day. And as the driver of one of the two vehicles for our group, I was basically like, “No way, are you all nuts?” So a bunch of them took off, and a few of us stayed for what was a really great Blues Traveler set. I’m sure we hit a diner for some cheese fries and gravy and a milk shake on the way home. Probably the Tick Tock or King George.