It was ten years ago, on August 14, 2004, when Phish began one of the most anticipated and emotionally-charged concerts of their career. The very word “Coventry” is a deeply meaningful, if not painful, trigger among fans, given the festival's extraordinary and tragic circumstances. Coventry’s music is full of staggering contradictions, in that it is at times ponderous and exciting, dour and joyful, miserable and soul-expanding. The art of Coventry is revisited here not only in honor of its 10th Anniversary, but also out of love for Phish and their music, warts and all.
In the event you don’t know the background of Phish’s shows in Coventry, here’s the short version: The shows were billed as the last shows that Phish would play. Ever.
Take a moment to breathe that in.
Imagine how you’d feel if Phish announced that the Vegas shows over Halloween weekend would be the last shows that they would ever play. That’s it, no more shows after Vegas! No NYE run, nothing next year, no more shows. Period. Would you try to go to Vegas, even if you hated extremely-large crowds, or Nevada for that matter? Would you view the shows—before they were even performed—as potentially the most important rock concerts you may ever experience in your life, what with your favorite band declaring them to be their LAST SHOWS!? And during the shows, whether you were watching the webcast or present in the flesh, would you try to keep in mind that every version of every song you were hearing and seeing would be it—the very last version of that song that would ever be performed by Phish?
Now, in the weeks before their final shows at Coventry, how do you think the band felt? How do you think Trey, Mike, Page and Fish were feeling on August 14, ten years ago, when they took the stage well-aware of their fans’ incalculably-great expectations? As Trey even claimed during the 8/15 show, he had never been nervous at a Phish show before, but that night he was “a little nervous.”
Months before it had occurred and sold out, and even before it was announced that the shows would be broadcasted live to a number of theaters across the country, the Coventry festival already was, and would be, a profoundly sensitive event for fans and the band. And then the rains came. And came. Coventry was inundated in the weeks before the shows by so much record-breaking rain that the grounds were terribly muddy, even disastrously so in some areas.
Photo © Nick Ninfa
If you weren’t there, imagine the worst mud you’ve ever been stuck in. And then smear it all over yourself and your loved ones, and lose your boots in it, and then go somewhere to wash it all off, and seemingly wash it all off, but then somehow you still manage to vaguely smell it lingering somewhere, but you’re unable to put your nose on where, and it still unsettles you, several days later. Coventry’s mud was like that.
The grounds were in such poor shape that fans on the road—while en route to the shows—had been asked repeatedly by the band via the Bunny to return home! When fans showed up to park, RVs and cars got stuck left and right, traffic backed up for many miles, and thousands of fans abandoned their vehicles and hiked (carrying, dragging their stuff) to the venue. A venue whose grounds were so muddy (with dollops of manure) that expansive areas were simply uninhabitable.
Before the band had played even a single note, Coventry was about far more than just the music. To this day, the love exhibited by the fans for the band, having walked all those miles into a literally-shitty venue, is inspiring. And, despite the literally-shitty scene, Phish nevertheless managed to be musically intimate, and memorably so, with tens of thousands of their fans.
Photo © Nick Ninfa
It’s arguably unreasonable to compare Coventry’s music, like that of Big Cypress, to the music of other shows. These two monumental events in Phish history really do seem “beyond compare,” given the emotion that they involve, which dwarfs that of the typical show, and even that of the typical three set festival show. Coventry was billed to be the final Phish festival, and to include the final Phish shows, nearly four years after Phish had played—for more than six hours straight on a reservation in Florida at the dawn of a new millennium—what is still considered to be one of the greatest concerts in rock and roll history!
That said, it’s impossible for some of us to avoid comparing and contrasting jams and versions of Phish’s songs with each other. And making comparisons arguably becomes a Moral Imperative when, for example, someone speaks about Coventry’s music in a manner that is either outright false, or at least demonstrably ignorant. Sure, there was plenty to be upset about at the shows, musically and otherwise. Those of us who were there were active participants in what was likely among the largest wakes held in U.S. history. The "vibe" at times was cheerless, and even grave.
From the mud or the theater, we were effectively witnessing the death of a legendary band, and it is challenging to be joyful under such circumstances even if accompanied by angelic music. When four of your most beloved musicians who love each other very much are in mourning as they perform, you’re predictably melancholic. And the technical mistakes that were made during the shows were so clear that even the deafest among us can hear them. But in context, are they not understandable, if not forgivable, in the light of the love explicitly expressed by the band for us fans?
Some would say “no.” Trey, or the band, should have done this, or done that, instead of this, or that, given X, or Y, and because of A, B and C. But can any among us say that they have performed a concert before over 70,000 of our fans that was billed to be the last concert? Imagine the weight of that. Of course, if you’re the sort of fan who mostly cares about whether the composed sections of songs are played well, and don’t care much for improvisation, it makes some sense that you dislike Coventry’s music—if you’ve even made the effort to hear the shows at all. But there are too many wonderful, even transcendent, musical performances by the band to ignore or forget. When Trey, Mike, Page and Fish were “on” that Coventry weekend, their music reached as majestic a peak as it ever has.
“That’s bullshit,” you might be thinking.
Photo © John Crouch
If you’re thinking that, or even if you’re not, please take a mere thirty seconds—even if you think you remember them all—to skim some of the musical highlights of August 2004, listed for your convenience here. And then do yourself a favor and actually (re)listen to some of them.
Don’t be surprised if, when you hear them again, some of Coventry’s highlights stand-up in comparison with the most spirited and thrilling improvisation of the last decade, including masterpieces like the Tahoe “Tweezer,” the Gorge “Rock and Roll->Meatstick,” the Pine Knob “Down with Disease,” the Randall’s “CDT” (or Dick’s, of course!), Hampton’s “Carini,” the Greek “Cities,” and so on and so on. Most recent versions of “CDT” have been exceptional, as you know, but don’t overlook Coventry’s, not to mention Hampton’s, which are also well above-average versions with stellar improv throughout them.
As grueling and disturbing as the Coventry weekend was, many positive, life-affirming and soulful events still occurred not only on stage, but also in our lives as fans of Phish. Some of those highlights include the following, and please add to this list in the Comments—or “Remembrances,” if you prefer—below:
Photo © Seth Blankensop
Photo © Jason Kaczorowski
We cannot thank Trey, Mike, Jon and Page enough for opening their hearts to us so passionately at Coventry, and for all of the other experiences and friendships their music has created over the last 30 years. For them, and for ourselves, why not act always as though the show we're seeing will be our last show? $0.02.
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Thank you from someone who did not know Phish existed during this time. Amazing emotional perspective.
If you go and take a look at the jam chart entries for a lot of the jams from these two shows, you will see a common theme - a description along the lines of "well, they fucked up the composed section beyond repair, but MY GOODNESS THAT JAM!". That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Phish as a band and how deeply ingrained their jamming instinct is, about where they were when they reached Coventry, and the general jam-houndedness of Phish fans. They botched the everloving shit out of songs they'd been playing just fine for YEARS (and songs they generally play just fine in 2014, for the record), but a lot of the jams are thrilling (esp. the SOAM jam, which is as harrowing an experience as this generally pleasant band ever gets), and that tends to be the apologist view on this show. Why else do you think the Melt Jam on LiveBait does not contain a single note of the composed section?
Here's my view on Coventry - there are hundreds, literally hundreds of great shows with great jams in them. It is not worth wading through six sets of horrific botches and gruesome sloppiness (even occasionally during the jams) and Trey fucking Anastasio bursting into tears on stage to hear some great jams in these shows, no matter how happy the ending turned out to be. IT's a single click away, y'know?
I'll never forget seeing all those people walking along the interstate and the abandoned vehicles. Certain scenes from the show "Walking Dead" it reminds me of that from Coventry.
Festival 8 was the antithesis of Coventry.
Thanks for the memories!
Just as it was getting really good to my ears it was "rip chorded" for Jiboo.
I, for one, teared up considerable reading this as I did when it happened. I don't know how the band even played during this weekend, given the physical and emotional state Trey was in, the suddenness of their unplanned retirement, the prescence of family members at the event, as well as (and this doesn't get talked about) all the behind-the-scenes members of the Phish family who were no doubt also deeply rocked by all that was going on.
Add to all the above the recognition of the obvious circumstancial sacrifice made by the fans to be in attendance.
It's a minor miracle that they made it through the songs at all.
I will never be able to seperate the music of this event (or from all of the summer of '04 for that matter) from the puffy-eyed drama that enshrouded it.
Certainly makes one appreciate the current state of things, doesn't it?
Regarding the greatness of the musical expression in the jams, what sticks out to me about the music of this weekend and the shows leading up to it, is the constantly changing thematic of dark horror and abounding joy that is alternating within the music. The wrestling, dissonant and heart-wrenching state of the band is oozing from the pores of these performances.
I didn't want this to be my final memory of the band, and I am thankful that it won't be.
Thanks for writing this.
If you are into seeing/hearing people (who you devoted a significant part of your life to at that point) at rock bottom, then by all means, dive right in.
I can't do it...the darkness surrounding this experience will always overshadow any joy I can take from these shows.
I can and do listen to Summer 2004 in moderation...but Coventry will always reside on my HD collecting dust, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I'm not sure what verb you want to use or in what context, but what is important is I'm pretty sure if you had been there, and I get you weren't (hence the name) you probably wouldn't mind listening back to the jams, the clams, the botches & top notches...so I would highly recommend you take another listen, especially to the Bag (amazing jam) and then if we are ever graced with another phestival to be there and take in as much of IT as you can! On a side note you should probably come to diCK5 if you want some unbelievable goodness!
2. I admit - I was a good soldier, and turned around and went home. We sat on 91 for at least a day(?), and when Mike came on we kind of got cathartic and went home. I mean, if Fish told us to go home, I wouldn't have believed it. But Mike is Mike, so we gathered up our roadside belongings and trucked back to MA. Hence...
3. Even with the very nice 'party favor' book, which I still page through on occasion, I still don't think I can listen to the shows. I think I may have downloaded one set from my livephish Stash thinking I might have a listen - but the rest are still there, download not activated, never to expire. Maybe one day, but not today.
Still - an interesting write up. A good story for the details I may never listen to.
Having said that- please check out the soundcheck, on 8/13/04. This may be a top 5 phish jam for me. The first 30 or 45 minutes is dark, exploratory, crunchy, and moves through several distinct sections.. it kind of dissolves into what i can only describe as acid country gospel. They lose me from there, but check the first half out. It was broadcasted over the Bunny as people were stuck in traffic.
One of my favorite memories of the festival is from Thursday, 8/12 ( I was a vendor, so I got to go in early.) The bunny was doing a live broadcast of the Camden show. I was hanging out at the equal exchange tent where it was playing quietly. I realized that the controls for the sound system were not locked up (not well anyway) and I ended up cranking the volume. Over the course of the evening it turned into a huge dance party! I'm looking around thinking "only in the Phish universe do you get a couple hundred people getting down in the pouring rain and mud, and the band is hundreds of miles away!"
I'm glide I went.
I have listened to a few of the songs suggested by yourself and the chart and there was some truly good stuff played (along with much terribleness) but I don't remember any of it from my memories being there. Leaving the concert ground after the final Curtain With, I was simply bewildered with a numb mind. I could not wrap my head around the fact that they were gone forever and I would never get to experience the joy I had felt so often attending their shows.
Critiquing Phish is something all fans have a right to do and I do it myself. Whenever I go to a show now that is not really up to Phish snuff, I think about the joys I just experienced in that "subpar" show and I think back to that feeling I had on the concert ground at Coventry, that bleak emptiness, and remind myself that no matter how they're playing, they are playing and fills me with immense joy. All the better now that they have been bringing hot fire for several years at this point.
I do love the Phish.
The things that stuck with me over the years were Page (and the entire crowd) crying during Velvet Sea, FEFY was hauntingly appropriate, The Slave jam where I didn't want it to end b/c that was the end of the last set ever, the eerie silence after the show as 70,000 people left the concert field through the mud and nobody said a word, and of course everyone abandoning their cars and hiking in to say goodbye. Driving out the next day there were still cars on the side of the interstate for 30 miles, never seen anything quite like it.
Lots of moments like that are what I remember. Being there during that velvet sea where the entire crowd lost it when page choked up is the most emotionally charged moment I've ever felt at a concert or any other public setting. So while a lot of those moments were really sad, looking back I'm glad I was there to experience that as I doubt I'll ever see something at a concert quite as moving and emotional as that was. You couldn't help but watch the clock countdown during that last set, and as hard as that was for the fans it must have been even harder for the band
the whole highway scene was like something out of a movie. We were lucky and were in line when the gates opened, got in after 4 hours and set up just in time for 2 straight days of rain. But a bunch of my friends got stuck on the highway, waited for 36 hours, then hiked 12+ miles in. They could only drag a couple things with so of course they chose their ice chest full of beer. We ended up housing about 8 interstate refugees in our crappy little camp site. It was cool to see the people lucky enough to get in early take in and help out all the highway refugees
I was at the 2 nights at the Tweeter Center at they were great shows.
The second night, Trey as a joke, tried to give his guitar to the crowd saying " I won't be needing this anymore"
I simply can't bring myself to do it.
I waited 53 hours in traffic. The longest of anyone I've ever spoken to about it. I was one of the last 4 cars allowed off I-91 and only because I was just barely on the exit ramp already when Mike made the announcement on The Bunny.
After that wait and then missing the entire first and 85% of the second set on day 1, still waiting to get in and parked, I walked out during Harry Hood. I did not feel good about Hood and that was not how I wanted to remember that song or this band.
On the last morning, when trying to leave (waiting another 12 hours to get out), I witnessed a circle of friends, all with dreads, cutting them off and burying them in the mud. Incredibly, just 15 feet to the left of them was a phan I recognized. A very kind middle-aged man from Japan who I had met at the Vegas 04 shows up on the rail. He travelled to Vegas and Coventry from Japan for these final shows, and though he spoke essentially no english, we had had several wonderful conversations with smiles, pictures, and hand gestures. I know many people who don't care for Phish, but this proved once again that Phish is universal.
Strangely, my favorite memory from Coventry, and perhaps the most connected I've ever felt with the band, was crying with them during Wading. That is one of the most emotional moments I've ever felt outside of a funeral.
@MDosque said: Did the same thing, although my brother and I only watched Saturday, as we drove back to Pittsburgh on Sunday. My sister was at Penn at the time, and we had a good "last show" together at Camden. We needed at least that . . .
Saturday, though, watching on that big movie screen. It was rough (I can't compare to the experience of those who attended), to the point that I wasn't terribly disappointed we were driving for Sunday's screening. My sister, though, she stuck it out.
(We made good use of the bottomless drinks and popcorn, to the point that my brother left between the second and third sets to buy some sort of fruit from a nearby gas station.)
But it's one thing they got completely wrong. An example, off of the top of my head, of getting a final concert right would be The Band's Last Waltz. That's what you do if you're a legendary band and you genuinely believe you are at the end.
The product we witnessed at Coventry was the result of many things, some clearly the band's fault, others not so much. The important thing is that they are back to playing at an extremely competent level and hopefully for the most part are sober and enjoying what they are doing. Keep it going.
When Mike came on the radio around 9am and asked fans to turn around, we discussed for a few seconds and returned home. Few words were spoken on the three hour trip, and we were seething. It was folly to have that many people waiting on the roads and highways and think they were going to get everyone in before the first set; the announcement should have happened long before Saturday morning.
We thought about going to the theater and watching the broadcast, but couldn't bring ourselves to do it, we were in such a foul mood. As the reviews began filtering out, at first politely talking about the glitches, and then admitting much of the performances were embarrasingly bad, we became somewhat grateful we had missed out on the carnage. When we got our free downloads, we listened and couldn't believe how badly the band had fallen from the performances we'd experienced at SPAC less than two months earlier.
The worst part was in the years afterward, knowing that this was how the band that had delivered so much joy had said goodbye. We hoped the band reunite and reduce the importance of that sorry weekend, but for four years, we only had solo shows and GRAB to fill the hole they had left behind. It wasn't enough. We wanted Phish back, and NOT the band that said goodbye at Coventry.
Fortunately, the band returned in 2009 and accomplished just that. Today, we have "The Line", which could very well be a metaphor for Coventry. Maybe Conventry had to happen. Phish had hosted a series of festivals, with few problems and memorable performances. At Coventry, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Horribly wrong.
I doubt I'll follow the author's suggestion and listen to Coventry. I have too many good memories of shows collected and attended that I want to focus on. Just thinking about listening to Coventry gives me a sick feeling. We've moved on and have thoroughly enjoyed the last five years. It's an important chapter in Phish history, and one that deserves to be told, but it evokes a lot of pain.
I went alone. It was going to be my last Phish experience ever, and I didn't have anyone I knew that was going. I heard Mike's message on the radio while I was on the highway (super close to the exit), and sat there for about 30 more minutes, wondering what to do. Up ahead was one of the highway turnarounds used by "Emergency Vehicles Only". So I turned around.
I took the next exit off of the highway, used a map to navigate in the general direction of the venue, and eventually found a line of cars, slowly moving. Shortly, I found a little grocery store and parked to see if I could find a sneakier way. I looked at the map and it appeared to me that this may be as good a spot as any to park & walk. It was no trouble convincing the owner of the store to take $30 to park for the weekend. As I was gathering up my essentials, others started parking there. This guy (and a bunch of other business owners) must have made a good amount of money from parking. I filled my backpack with some food, beer and ice (this was a terrible idea. never do this!), put some clothes in a trash bag, and strapped my tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad to the pack. This thing was heavy! As I walked the 12 or so miles to the venue, it was at times (to steal a reference from another poster above) like a scene out of The Walking Dead...except that while people making this difficult trek, they were having a pretty good time meeting the people on the road and listening to their stories. There were people helping out too, still by their cars, offering food and water to walkers. I'd walk with one group for a while then stop and meet other folks. Then I'd walk with them for a while.
Somewhere along the line, the weight of the pack (and perhaps my out-of-shapeness) had an impact on my ability to walk. I had come down with Plantar fasciitis. So, I limped the rest of the way, a good 4-6 miles.
By the time I arrived at the entrance, I was exhausted and in pain. I sat down next to a group of people and started chatting. Well, they had something I needed and I had something they needed. This group took me in for the weekend. They helped me limp to/from the medical tent, the venue, etc. They offered me food and, ah...something for the pain.
There was music. There were stretches of fantastic music. There were also a lot of moments where I cringed. The "Wading in a Velvet Sea" may be something that someone who never went to the show would never want to listen to, but I listen to remember. I listen to remember what I felt made this festival special: People getting together to help each other say goodbye. I'm not sure that a dry eye existed in the venue when Page & Trey attempted to sing that song. Similarly, every time I listen to any version of "The Curtain With", I am brought back to Coventry and the mix of melancholy and privileged feelings that, while it would be the last song I see/hear Phish play live, I was there.
The walk out was far more like the "Walking Dead" than the walk in. It was all over. Phish was over, I had an injured foot, 12 miles to hike. At least the pack was lighter by 30 beers & ice. A few miles in, I found a pickup truck that was, well, picking people up and bringing them to their cars. It was then I realized I didn't know how to get back to my car. All I did was say it was at a grocery store and there was a liquor store across the street. He knew and dropped me there.
This was not the best experience of my life, but it was an experience that I'm glad I had. I am grateful for all the times that I get to see my favorite band play. I am grateful to the multitudes of people who make each experience uniquely amazing. I'll keep going to see this band as long as they play and I'm around to see them.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the last five shows that summer with my wife, although we were only engaged at that point in time and childless. We spent the two Great Woods shows with a group of friends that planned on skipping Camden so they could head north to pick up an RV. They wanted to get into Coventry early so they could get an ideal spot. Thank God for them!
My wife and I drove down to Camden and had a great time with other friends on the back of the lawn. I remember at the end of the show during Frankenstein, Trey announced that there was pouring rain at Coventry and that everyone should wait to leave. I immediately turned to my wife and said, "F*ck that! We are leaving right now!"
I drove all night from south Jersey to Vermont and made it to the line on 91 before 11 AM. I don't remember exactly how long we waited, but it was not nearly as long as some of the other poor heads. I remember the sun was still up in the early evening when I parked in a mud patch inside. We left my car and found our friends in the RV section. They were parked on solid ground and had a sweet setup. To this day, I appreciate their sacrifice of skipping Camden. We slept comfortably with dry clothes and with a great crew of people.
There are vivid moments that stand out to me from Coventry, such as trying to find other clusters of friends without the use of my cell phone, traversing seas of mud, spending the first set of 8/15 up front with one of my best friends, and eating tons of loaded baked potatoes from the potato vender. However, no memory stands out to me more than witnessing the final set. I had to leave my wife and crew during Slave so I could cry to myself alone in a group of strangers. I can't listen to The Curtain With without getting weepy, even ten years later.
As soon as the show was over, I had to put my emotions aside and be on the move. I had somehow convinced myself that I would be able to get to work in Philadelphia the next day. My wife and I quickly said our goodbyes, grabbed our stuff, and trekked back to my car. My back wheel was completely stuck in mud, and if it wasn't for the help of strangers with a piece of plywood, I might still be there. My back tire sprayed them with mud as I pulled out. I sincerely apologized and they just laughed it off. Phish people are the best.
On our drive back we picked up two ruffian hitch hikers that needed to get over the Massachusetts border. Somehow, they stayed in my car until I booted them in Hartford around 7 AM. I spent all day driving to Lansdale, Pennsylvania where we lived at that point, quickly took a shower, put on a suit, and drove to Philly. I was only six hours late for work. When my boss asked me where I was, I told him "Hell and back" and left it at that.
In the moment, I was appreciative that I was able to be there for the final moments of my favorite band, but there was obviously a huge emotional void to fill.
Although I couldn't get tickets to the triumphant Hampton return in March of 2009, I remember setting up the gear for my own bands' show on 3/6/2009 in Bethlehem, PA and thinking to myself, "As long as Phish is playing somewhere in the world, all is right with the universe." Today I have three children that have been to a combined total of 44 Phish shows and can recite the words to some of their favorite songs. Phish is back, as good as ever arguably, and spinning a whole new generation of phans on their collective heads.
@Icculus, thank you for a great article.
And most importantly, I thank Phish for allowing themselves to heal so they could bring us to this point in history. There are more momentous jams on the horizon and life in the Phish universe is as glorious as ever.
Was in Europe and college when these shows went down; I had a lot to learn about phish and tons to learn about life. I remembering checking the setlist and just thinking how great these shows must have been...the. I read the reviews...then I listened.
Great jams, huge emotion, yada yada. Regardless, I'm beyond grateful they are right where they are at this moment. Thank you phish.
Its been a while since I've posted here on rmp. Over time, I've seen ~80 shows and posted dozens of reviews and no doubt phish's music will cause me great joy as long as I live. But I couldn't sustain 2 traveling tours a year and before long, career realities and changing priorities gradually took me out of the mix. I lived the phishy lifestyle and I loved it, and I'm going to miss it, but after a month or two of annoyance I have come to agree that Trey made a wise choice this year.
For a long time, I kept a password based on a lyric in Chalkdust in honor of the "Can't I live while I'm young" attitude. The answer used to be yes. But neither I, nor our favorite band, is young anymore. All the emotions on display at Coventry, sadness, anger, confusion, the temporary joy of a jam, the resignation, all of these seem to me to be the somewhat overdue death knoll of Trey's youth.
Trey is a serious drug addict. That is an assertion I wish wasn't true but it is, and if you doubt it, read on, I think there is enough evidence to put that to rest. I hope he can get healthy, but he's got a hard road ahead if he wants to get clean. Given that he has growing children, Phish as a band, Phish as a creative entity, and whatever it means to the immediate phish family, well all that is going to have to be 2nd place and for us to feel otherwise is selfish and shitty. I don't know to what extent health issues lie behind the end of phish, but one way or another, the end could not wait any longer. Either Trey has to make a break and get healthy or he had to end the band before it devolved musically into a long, pathetic decline.
There are enough great moments and strong shows 2000-2004 that there is little doubt that I would still enjoy seeing and hearing the band knowing that skipping shows could mean missing a SPAC or Nassau or Big Cypress. Having said that, the flub situation was on wicked display at Coventry and it causes me to cringe. Sobriety will raise your standards and expectations. It will also cause you to become far less willing to accept the tourscum. Lots of drugs in the scene in 93-94-95. Not too much tourscum until after Jerry died. Phish sold out 2 shows at Great Woods in 94, don't believe the nonsense history that phish "got big" after the demise of the Dead. People with the musical interest and desire for a fresh scene had made the switch early and the paranoia, theft, and meanness seen on recent tours simply didn't exist. That accounts for at least some of the nostalgia for those days, that and months like Aug 93.
I've seen rumours floated on rmp about the band's various drug habits for a decade, and much of it has been somewhat meanspirited speculation. However, the collective anecdotal evidence is beginning to weigh. I saw Trey from the best seat at Shoreline last summer and on the movie screen thrice this summer, and he looks like shit. His eyes, especially. Moreover, the sniffling and touching his face that has been commented on before is much more striking up close. The rubbing of his nose and face is the dead giveaway. Sorry phans. Trey's face taking up half a giant movie screen was an "Oh My" they've been right all along sort of moment.
Consider the flubs. I'd like to think that the composed sections would be tighter with more practice, but I don't know. Mike's playing has gotten better and better and better and he alone is worth a ticket, and the moments of him and Trey playing together this weekend (e.g. Free) were amazing. Mike's improvement in contrast to Trey's degredation is a powerful contrast of sobriety to inebrieation.
Consider the recent Vegas shows. What a disgrace. Really. Usually a "bad" phish show is better than a good anything else. Not with Vegas.
Consider Trey's final Makisupa filler -- you know, the part after "I woke up this morning..." that at Clifford Ball was followed by "Dank" and whatnot. Last week, Trey said "poured myself a tall, cool soymilk" Hmm.
Consider the acknowledged heavy use of LSD and other drugs by Trey and the band. These drugs do not automatically lead to harder drugs, but they sometimes do. Look around the lot scene. Lots of phamily, for lack of a better word, made that leap even though they knew better, and I'm sure the band attracted its fair share of negative attention with their money and history. Remember that Bisco were once phans. They and their ilk are not the only ones with enough money, time, and desire to find their way into blow or whatever is on Trey (and quite possibly Page's) mind.
Musically, the band's sound went from something very stony to something I could play for tweaked out gay dance club lunatics. TAB even more so ("Push on Till the Day" . I'd like to think that this was a band that forced themselves to change styles, but the patience with a groove thing, which could be totally brilliant, could also lead to "OK, get on with it" moments in the music. When I can hear that something isn't working and can see Trey lost in la la land, well, I have to assume that he is higher than I. I like the groove thing as a baseline more than the spacy 95 era guitar loop stuff but I have to wonder if the choice of chemicals had an affect there.
I'm fairly sure that Trey and maybe Page use some sort of snortable drug on stage, from what I've seen, they wave off the cameras at certain times and Trey is visibly altered in any case.
The point of this is not to assert that the music was crappy in recent years, most of the time it wasn't. When high, one's coordination and memory does not go to hell. It is the crash. Trey didn't crash out on stage -- although he was pretty close at times during Coventry -- but I think it is a safe assumption that less creative work was done between shows than in earlier tours and an overall sense of exhaustion revealed itself at times.
I'm also not buying the we don't tour much because of our families argument. First off, they can travel first class so the family can come along if that's what people wanted, and sometimes they did, but I would suggest that the family vs. tour thing is a little more complicated than time away from home. Lots of parents have to spend far, far more time away from their kids for professional reasons and you can't bring a 5 year old on a business trip, period. You -can- fly your family out to a week's worth of tour combined with a visit to family. Then again, if any number of people on tour are wacked out on a regular basis, you probably don't want to bring kids within a mile of the place. When Kid Rock shows up, maybe chilling in Vermont is the lesser of two evils.
Now let's look at the lyrics. What do YOU think "Two Versions of Me" is about? Check out these lines:
"One more bottle is dry
One less reason to try
Six feet underneath..."
What about the Dog Faced Boy breakout? There are plenty of ambiguous lyrics out there that could relate to a party gone awry. Most of them are probably not about drugs, but then again, the celebration of getting high that crept into a number of older phish tunes has gone away. "Taste" has an interesting line: "I can see through the lines" I first thought this was "I can see through the lies" but that's not the lyric, even if it might be an intentional wordplay. I can see through the -lines-. The lines of fans? Sure. Plenty of lyrics about stardom and success out there. The lines of music? The lines of drugs? Read all the lyrics through once. He's up, he's down, he wants a taste for free (Can't have it, there is no such thing as a free taste of hard drugs, eh), the fog surrounds. Hmm.
Even without the speculative circumstantial evidence, something is wrong here, we've known it all along but been in collective denial, those of us who didn't figure this out years ago. It isn't just with Trey. The 90s ended but the diehards couldn't give it up. Phish fans should know and love the band Gomez, a totally underrated and genius group, their most recent album's lyrics, esp. "Nothing is Wrong" stand in contrast to earlier ones celebrating a party. Rufus Wainwright has a party album (Poses) and a recovery album (Want). Its a little bit of a coincidence that several of my favorite artists are singing about the same things in the last year or two, but then again, these same people are about my age and it is possible that the arc of their party lasted a little longer than mine before hitting the brick wall.
Can't this wait till I'm Old? No, I'm afraid not. Being young at heart, being fresh and open to new ideas, taking risks, trying things out, hopefully these traits never go away. But this can't wait. YOU CAN STILL HAVE FUN!! Right, Trey? I hope so for his sake. I can have fun without phish. Can Trey have fun without whatever he's doing? It seems like he can't.
Trey's decision at first seemed to me to be a selfish act that made little sense. I understand wanting total control, going solo, wanting to work with other musicians, not wanting the expectation of tour and a good amount of employees twisting in the wind, but combined with the guitar-heavy jam style of recent years it all seemed to add up to something like Trey being a prima donna. That may or may not also be true, but it is also possible that the end of phish was an act of self-preservation. Going out while the jams were still generally great was a classy move. I wish phish was ready to be consistently great again. But I can't see that happening unless Trey cleans up, so I'm ready to Let It Be. Phish is a great band with a great creative legacy and I wish those guys the absolute best. After seeing Trey's face this weekend I know he made a wise choice to end phish. Let's hope his wisdom leaves him in Vermont for a while, but you fans that wish for a recovery followed by a reunion, you have to be real, most people do not really fully recover.
Sad, but true.
Vegas is going to be weird for Trey. Glass tables and the 5 star rooms. Expect all the Joy era recovery pieces to be in the setlists somewhere or another. So glad they are back and better than ever.
Anyone else listen to all of Drowned? The linked time is too deep into the song and misses another key moment where the band drops out while Trey is soloing and he gets into a nice juicy blues zone. He then, in an extremely drugged-out voice, asks Chris to put some lights on the crowd so he can enjoy the spectacle. Seems like he wanted to capture that moment of playing in front of such a huge crowd one more time.
I travelled from London to see those shows when they announced they would be the last.
The journey was such a great experience but I summarise it as the best and worst weekend of my life but I'd do it all again.
I downloaded all the shows but couldn't really listen to them again straight away. Then before I knew it they were back and playing again. I think I may have to dig them out.
Great write up. Stirred up some great memories. Thanks guys.
Despite the hours of traffic, walking miles to get in, tiptoeing everywhere to avoid being lost in miles deep of mud, having just a tent for supplies, and then the oh so God awful music there was simply no other place to be that weekend.
As for the moments of brilliance, to me the problem was the flubs. Duh. What an obvious statement. But what I mean is Phish has always had flubs. When it was the occasional forgotten lyric the crowd would cheer. The band would laugh. It was one more band-crowd bonding moment. But as they happened more and more the joke ended. The fans, and band members, weren't amused anymore. Coventry brought that all to a head. If if was just the Glide all would've been just fine. But it wasn't. It was overwhelmingly bad. Yeah, there's good stuff out there. I'll always hold that Reba in a special place in my heart. It was the last time I got teary at a Phish show.
Ten years later I've never listened to any of it again. There's just too much good Phish available. So while I understand the importance of reliving that weekend ten years later I appreciate that there is new Phish being created still. And it's good. Damn good. 2014 Phish has finally allowed me to feel that feeling that I could've forgotten.
Mixed with a whole lotta love!
People need to be able to think critically, no matter how much they love their subject. I love the music of this band and hope that never changes, but I really found this article to be the least insightful piece of writing ever. I'm sure the author loves Phish quite a bit, but I feel sorry for him if he cannot distinguish the all-time great shows from the disasters. My god, man, are you really attempting to compare Coventry CDT with Randalls '14 or Dicks '13? Its just as well that you more or less left '97 out of your analysis; I'm afraid to think what troublesome comparisons you would have made. Its common knowledge that at this point in their career (03-04), Phish was not practicing. It shows.
You painted a very vivid scene. Reading this sent a wave of anxiety through me and I felt sick. Shivers.
"Extraordinary and tragic." Yep. This was one of the most bizarre experiences of many of our lives.
I've tried to push it out of my consciousness (contrast w/ Big Cypress, which I happily look back on for inspiration). But I'll never forget the feeling of 70,000 people breaking down at the same time during "Wading" OR... the feeling of 70,000 joyously throwing down during "Drowned."
Like some of the band, I was in a bad chemical spot during Coventry. I passed out and missed most of the "last" set. Never happened to me before. I awoke to the smell of mud and the realization that THIS was done. Sick. The mud. The fucking mud.
Long, melodic, dissonant.....all true.
Yet and still, the place in time called COVENTRY has quite a bit in common with that moment when Mel Gibson gets his sack ripped off in Braveheart.
Aud Lang Syne
Excellent recap. Thank you.
I was at the gate showing my passes to the takers when Mike came on the Bunny and told us that they would be closing the ramp, to turn back. After setting up our tent on a little hilltop spot (the ground was wet, but it was not the muddy-waters closer to the venue entrance), We sauntered that whole weekend. As cell phones were still pretty fresh, reception was null and void. My hopes, assumed, to meet a friend from Washington would never know whether he was even in the campground or not; until on the second night when walking into the venue, we were pushed into each other in the sea of 70,000. We spent the final Phish show of all time (as we thought) together due to serendipitous circumstance!
That was one of my most memorable experiences with the band and community I had ever had.
I was able to go to the southern run a couple weekends ago, and said to myself, "These shows need to be experienced as if it was THE last show ever." I dance harder, I cry at times, and I am blown away at the evolution of self with band.
Never will I take a note for granted when I am in the presence of Trey, Mike, Page, Jon, and Chris! It is truly a gift!
If Coventry had been anything like a success, had it been a triumphant exclamation point on a peerless career, Phish may never have gotten back together
@imdano said: Discussing the disappointing music at Coventry is easy. It's also been done. Ad nauseum. By many people who were there, and not there, over the course of ten years. Frankly, given the terrible pre-show events, the "vibe" was disturbing, and in my opinion, it would have been MIRACULOUS if Phish had performed two near-flawless shows full of transcendent, joyful music.
We were not only witnessing the death of Phish, but also a ton of our friends and loved ones had been TURNED AWAY BY THE BAND because the god damn grounds were so atrocious! The band members were DISTRAUGHT about this, and these circumstances greatly magnified the pain they were dealing with -- that WE were also dealing with -- before Phish had even played a single note.
I can't tell if you were at Coventry, @imdano, but there was absolutely "transcendence" at Coventry, even though, as you say, it was "hard to come by." Some of it was tragic, though, and painful, and not joyful and blissful and ecstatic. The best things in life often don't come without suffering, and as awful as things were at times over that weekend ten years ago, I am so grateful to have experienced Coventry. And while a lot of the music performed was rough to say the least (especially in composed sections of songs where Trey's flubs in particular are obvious), there's PLENTY of music worth relistening to and EXPERIENCING again, as difficult as it is for some of us to do so, even ten years later.
And all that said, I empathize with fans who just don't want to listen to Coventry again, at all. I didn't write this piece to open old wounds. It was tough to write, and even tougher to finish, but I finished it for one reason, and that's love. We're blessed that the band members are seemingly happy and healthy today, and that the Coventry shows were not Phish's final shows. And if anything puts an exclamation point on how grateful we should all be today, and also how IT's really not "all Hood," it's Coventry.
I always remembered the Split Open and Melt jam as one of the most transcendent experiences I've had with this band, in part because in my setlist book I wrote "Split Open and Melt-> End of Phish Jam-> Ghost." That jam really did feel like the encapsulation of the end of Phish: it was gigantic and otherworldly and scary and beautiful and it felt like time suspended and it was terrifyingly sublime. That's a moment I'll never forget.
@frankstallone said: I've never felt such an odd and unsettling feeling. The only time I've ever walked out of a Phish show without feeling a great sense of elation.
I went to watch Coventry at a theater in San Diego and it was just sad. When Trey walked out and started the scratching and itching that Scott mentioned above, me and the people around me were all "Hahaha, Trey's wasted!". Within minutes that turned to "Oh my gawd, Trey is wasted". Sad, sad, sad.
I can see that they came back in 2009 to make amends for the bad parts of 2003-04 and I'm glad they did. I've been to some shows I thought were incredible (8/7/09, 9/2/11) and I look forward to the five shows I have tickets to in October.
We came at the show from an alt route hoping to one up the herd. I don't remember how far from Plattsburgh it was that there is this bridge we crossed. I will never forget driving, and after a long 18 hr trek with my self and three in the car we crossed into Vermont over a bridge, better prepared for any festival than any of the numerous Phish festivals we had attended, with the radio on as folks were close to waking up, I gave the radio a spin and landed on a public radio announcement.... We are sorry Phishheads, go home.
I had already had to pull a lot of strings to get this entire cast in the car with me to see our favorite band. I don't think any of us had any intention if missing the concert if a concert there would still be. What we did was drive to a Starbucks in Coventry so I could use my laptop to map us in or find a place with a real map so we can sneak in somehow.
We talked to a local before it was said and done and took her advice. I'll never forget leaving a large part of all of the unnecessary accommodations behind, we settled for backpacks and two of us dragged a ~150-200 lb 2-man cooler for 10+ miles! up and down! up and down over countless hills on pure adrenaline knowing even Mother Nature would not stop us.
Trey had some issues at the time, I won't even go into all of the human complexities in a monumental decision like quitting and I will just stick to the facts in a musical sense. Yes, we all had been partying like it was 1999 for years untold.
Musically Phish, but I think mostly Trey was feeling trapped by his past. The drugs made him feel that way, the fans rolling their eyes at new material made him feel that way and he didn't like the feeling that he was being pushed out of the drivers seat by his own lifestyle. A lifestyle that was growing faster than his ability to connect and innovate with his band.
Nothing will ever replace this show, it was the end of the second book in Phish's Trilogy. What a wild, wild ride that was, I won't ever forget the unique and timeless memories I get to take with me in this life from this band. I am pretty sure I became a man alone on the hill with the wind in my face and the music playing at the Clifford ball. There was so much more to life than I could ever know.
This is a great point in Phish history for "thank you's." Thank you to Phish for not giving up and finding away to build to new heights and thank you to my fellow fans who are indeed model citizens who should be the envy of any society. Even if Phish isn't on some nights, here and there, it is the unconditional kindness and non judgmental kinsmen-ship or camaraderie I consistently witness by fellow fans that keeps be proud to keep coming back for more of the fire, and yes--like Coventry--more self inflicted bull shit. Peace
However, what you say in these statements above is awfully presumptuous. Are you sure you're not telling your own story and attributing it to Mr. Anastasio?
Piecing together interviews that have been done on the subject, certain elements of what you said have come to the surface in postmortum fashion.
I really enjoyed your story. I was chuckling as I pictured you and your friends lugging that cooler through the woods in Vermont forest (I live in Vermont).
I love a lot of the jamming in the 2.0 era. I love the growling, nasty, dark jams; love Mike's chunky sound, and even love some of the pointless noodling. However, the end of summer '04 is very, very difficult for me to listen to, and not just because of the scene and the circumstance, although that's a big reason.
Relistening to these two shows (I just finished reviewing the first one) just isn't enjoyable from a musical perspective. Trey just misses EVERYTHING. Not just the composed sections; his jamming is sloppy and unfocused. He doesn't hear the cues.....I mean Mike is killing it and Trey just isn't listening, or can't listen. Page doesn't have it either on these recordings. Even the SOAM, which has always been one of my favorite jams, is really too long. Mike and Fish spend good portions of the jam waiting for Trey to catch up and join in.....You can hear Fish constantly reset his timing during portions of the different songs throughout the day in order to accommodate Trey.
The Jibboo that supposedley is so great....I mean Trey sounds like he fell asleep during about 3 minutes of the song after the lyrics end and then wakes up and starts playing again.
Reminds of Jerry during the last tour in '95.
A little history, been to 20-25 shows, all 93-2003. Seen them in every form imaginable, from gymnasiums to air force bases, in all seasons, with all types. I was not as hard core as some, but more dedicated than most. I've had gravy fries at nectars in Burlington, served by the man himself.
I didn't go. I had been to Oswego and the 6+ hour wait to get in was about the longest I ever wanted to sit in traffic for the rest of my life, so I stayed home. I listened to some of it over the net, but what I heard was so bad it was just depressing. I was truly mad at the band - mad for shutting it down, for going out on such a low note, for forcing me to find other things to do. I needed to grow up a little.
Since then, I've managed to stay clean, but I shut down phish completely until this week. I purposely avoided their music, or anything about them for the past 6 years. I knew they got back together and once again I was annoyed - you wait until I get sober to reunite?!?!? Like the ultimate revenge on me.
We both needed our hiatuses, for whatever reason, and I have nothing but respect for them, the fans, the scene, most of all the music. We've all had ups and downs, that is life. Who knows, maybe I will even catch them again some time, I just won't be wasted and that's cool too.
My favorite phish memory (aside from seeing them in the SUNY geneseo gym) was the first glow stick war at the Great Went. This guy next to me said "go nuts, kids" and at that moment, everything was perfect in my life. Even though I was alone that whole weekend, I was with my family. And it still rings true.
Go nuts, Kids!!
But at the same time, it doesn't inspire me to want to listen to Coventry. Without the emotional context that the author and other Coventry attendees have, I just don't think it would resonate with me, not even the "good parts." I just don't have the frame of reference to appreciate it. I can't see any reason to listen to this instead of something like 10/31/96, a great show that I attended and that has nothing but positive associations attached to it.
I am very happy that Phish is playing so well right now, so the good news is that the story has a different, happier ending. It would really be a shame if Coventry was the last show Phish ever played.
1.Aaron Stein from the Front Row
2.Super Dee- Deanne Berkowitz
3. Kayceman- Aaron Kayce
4, B.Getz- Me
BGETZ'S ERA ENDING EVENT
The myriad of emotions of a whirlwind week were stirring inner canals, feelings dormant since era ending events like the end of high school, or the last day of summer camp. The prevailing emotions seemed as imminent and intense as the aforementioned chapter closings. However as a young adult, the thought of such melancholy immaturity normally would elicit a laugh or chuckle for the drama of yesterday. But at once it becomes serious, and mystifying, as one is left to truly relinquish the few trailing aspects of youthful exuberance, this in the form of the final Phish shows.
Coventry by Rie Kasahara
I should probably get out of the way to the reader that I have always been supportive, and OK with the band's decision to retire, though it is indeed quite painful. I need to grow up, for starters, and somebody's gotta pull the plug because I wasn't about to stop going on tour. It's a place I feel alive, and when it's on, usually the force to drop whatever and go is too strong to deny. So I looked forward to, and dreaded, the final week of Phish.
It was a week of ups and downs, evidence of both why Phish took over so many people's brains and bodies, and of why the time to call it quits is now. The promise of Hampton's gleaming first set had me questioning just why they insisted on hanging it up? Out the gates ablaze, psychedelic, dark foreboding and methodical. It was actually a burner of a second set only played first. My mind relived the many glorious evenings in this hallowed room as the skronk-like "Gin" strutted along, and then galloping through "Jim" with sledgehammer riffage from the redhead. They had immediately brought us into the zone... In atypical post-hiatus fashion, my question was answered with a proverbial dropping-of the ball. My bliss deterred, by the evaporating magic that was the second set slop. My mind would now race in other directions; I wondered about the late announced show, the hasty production of it all had a foreboding sense to it. The rumors abound, the anniversary of the last community shaking event evoked a hushed "what if?" to the equation. But the disintegrating music was contagious, the vibes permeating about the Spaceship, lent themselves to a general complacence that seems to have dogged Phish post-hiatus. Flashes of jam brilliance dampened by muddling composed sections of song (this would rear its ugly head again later that weekend).
Phish : 08.12.04 : Camden, NJ by Creskin
I didn't feel that well late into Monday evening, soon my throat was swollen closed and I felt terrible. I made the executive decision to skip Great Woods as to finish strong at the end of the week. This turned out to be both a smart and brutal decision, of which I would like to never discuss again.
Camden, on the other hand, embodied so much of what I love about Phish and all that comes with it. A fervent, raging lot overlooking the City of Brotherly Love, a crew of hometowners and Phish friends, and a new-age venue with stellar sound and a firm place in the heart of the band and fans. Camden was primarily pure funk, aggressive and deep fried like the onions on a Jim's Steak. From the "Ghost" to the "Moma" to the "Sally," the pocket was locked to Fall '97, and to dance like that one more time, all blood and sweat, (saving the tears for Vermont) was truly a righteous, upful sendoff. For the last time, I lost myself in the lights, popped and locked, stepped in the name of phunk, and strutted that shit oblivious to anything and anybody but the sound, the sights, and spirits.
Phish Phriends : 08.12.04 : Camden, NJ
By Libby McLinn
It dawned on me towards the end of an impressive set closing "Scents," as they landed the vessel that was bleeding sonic cyberfuck, indeed the end was near. The eerie feedback rang out and the feeling went from familiar and glowing to foreign and fear. This was such an abrupt and peculiar turn in song, intent, emotion and energy. The show for the most part had been throwback crunk, sweaty gristle, and a big 'ol house party. "Scents" beautifully transitioned the energy to embody the power of the situation. These four men onstage, so dialed in and communicating amongst each other and with me, with us. I stopped dancing and focused. Intimate and profound, the seriousness overwhelmed many who were basking in the unadulterated throwdown, and set the tone for how intense the weekend would be. A weekend full of reflection, observation, tension and release was born. The colors in the void.
Having attended many of the Phish festivals, as well as having lived in Vermont for half a decade, I still was relatively unprepared for the experience that would be Coventry. As I touch base with many different heads who attended, it is apparent that more than any other event of its kind (there really hasn't been anything like it), each person (or crew) had their own Coventry. Not unless you began the journey with someone, chances are they lived it quite differently than you. By now the reports are in, the traffic, the turning away of fans, the walking masses, the Vermonters who hosted campers and shuttled fans, it seems very Woodstock-esque, but for a generation of creature comforts and wookiedom.
Coventry Mud by Steve Olker
"Don't bring any clothes you ever plan on wearing again" was the call as we drove thru the night after the Camden throwdown. We hit an all night Wal Mart in Ticonderoga, NY and stocked up on water, gear, and the best $12.00 I ever spent on a pair of knee high galoshes. Made it to Burlington and then got the traffic news, the tow ins, the mud, the flood, etc. So we waited until 1 a.m. Saturday morning to depart and drove to the Canadian border, hugging the border and then following a local right up to the event. We entered the traffic line with people who had been waiting upwards of twenty hours, and after a bit of traffic drama, we were on Rt. 5 headed towards the entrance when Mike Gordon's unfortunate announcement came over "The Bunny." Only later did I realize how many bullets we dodged and how crucial many decisions and maneuvers were.
(Upon reading statements from Phish manager John Paluska and GNP's Dave Merlin, my appreciation for the circumstances was affirmed. The situation was as catastrophic as it seemed, and the decisions made were as difficult and monumental as I perceived them to be in real-time.)
The Journey by Steve Olker
So began the legend of the thousands who walked, ditching their cars and walking towards wherever. Some caught lifts from locals; others camped on nearby farms and attended the music or listened on the radio. This is where one Coventry experience deviates from the other. The weather and its consequences created such differing scenarios in terms of getting into and settled for the festival, that getting together with people was very difficult, and I unfortunately did not see or spend time with many friends integral to my Phish experience over the last decade. It was however sobering and upsetting to not know where your peoples were, if they even got in, and to not dance or party or hug them, all of which were necessary given the finality of it all. I struggled with this all weekend, and continue to as I relive it through writing.
Coventry by Steve Olker
You got in however you had to, even if you camped on a farm miles away. The maps and organization factor were in the same condition as the festival grounds, so coordinates didn't always help if you heard your boy was in "N" or "Jackie Onassis." The whole thing was just scrambled, and the primitive priorities rose: Camp, get your shit together, and begin the trudge to the stage area. Actually, trudge doesn't even begin to cover it.
Robbie W.K. "It was a test."
Test. Intestinal fortitude. Physical challenge. Emotional roller-coaster. Journey. Experiment. Exploration. Mudbath.
Dan Granite "The Suicide Funeral."
We camped out in Q, Jackie O territory (not that you could ever find us) and set up shop on some higher ground. The rolling greenery soothed our stresses as our camp developed, and we began to take in our surroundings for the final comedown. Something about the mountain air emits a tranquility. It allows the brain and senses to function on a higher plane, my city-and-suburb bore toxicity adapted to the supernatural festival site, the mighty mighty Northeast Kingdom, land of organics, purity, spirit and untouched rolling earth. The ideal setting for a psychedelic music community and its culminative event, coming full circle as Trey would later explain multiple times from the teetering stage, his final throne. The site, however, seemed to be a shell of what it may have been, the wonder of this land, if only given an opportunity to flourish in all its grandeur.
"Oh the wind and rain, darkness falls and seasons change, we'll see summer come again."
By the way it was muddy. Like really muddy.
Trey & Mike : 08.14.04 : Coventry
By Tony Stack
Nearly a third of the land was underwater and unusable, and the set-up of tent-cities, vending, and RVs was as ramshackle and disorganized as I have ever witnessed. But so were the circumstances, the hand was dealt. You had to trudge through so much mud that after a while you became immune to it. The feeling of your feet squishing about in the calf-to-knee high farm sludge is one I will never forget. Many cases of trench foot, lots of abandoned footwear, aborted campsites, and the type of mud that can be applied as clothing.
From the get-go, the band was all nerves. They went on almost an hour late, and the first day was peaks and valleys. You could hear the stress in Trey's voice, strained and throaty. I imagined him up all night in the war room, bewildered by the raining on his divine parade, screaming and ranting that "this was not how I envisioned it!" Vermont's favorite son coming home, throwing a bash in the Kingdom and its now a state of catastrophe. What was dreamt to be the perfect homey fest (before the announcement) grew into a monster. And it stood at Trey's feet; this was him, his baby.
And now the band had to play six sets.
For the first and last time, I felt I was grasping just how it appeared from the throne. But what would transpire was slightly beyond my imagination's boundaries.
Phish : 08.14.04 : Coventry by Dave Vann
The foreboding "Walls of the Cave" set a dark tone for the set, and the day, which had flashes of great Phish, was mostly incoherent attempts at songs they had played a thousand times. As we murked about, the intensity of the situation began to sink in, and when Trey gave away the trampolines during "YEM," it was apparent that the emotional aspect of the event would be running as heavy as the jamming and as high as the masses. The "Fire" to close set one was pure punk bombast, sloppy bar room blaze that seemed to exorcize the demons, at least for the time being. Many around me were confused, or weathered from the experience thus far, and there was a lethargic tone to much of the day. Some were really enjoying the choice moments, and others seemed unaffected by the music at all. Strange indeed. The setbreak gave a chance to reassess the situation.
Mike Gordon : 08.14.04 : Coventry
By Tony Stack
A crunkafied, deliberately developed "AC/DC Bag" popped off set two, and for about twenty minutes, as I traversed stage ward, it seemed the boys would soldier through the murk and redirect this ship. This was one of those "Bags." Methodical, snake charming, razor sharp nasty chunk. Unfortunately, quite frankly, they didn't. They just couldn't get it together, and stay within the framework of a song. Some of the jamming was incredible ("Drowned" , a rainbow did indeed appear in the sky, but in general the performance was wrought with nerves and the stress of the last 36 hours. Jon Fishman, as always, was the glue. The guy held it together as often as Trey let it slip away. But they seldom caught that fire, none of that overwhelming tension buildup or breakneck crash course brain surgery. Peaks and valleys, without that continuity that defines the band's sets.
"We talkin' 'bout practice. PRACTICE. Not a game, no not the GAME... We talkin' 'bout PRACTICE, uh huh, we talkin about practice." Allen Iverson 2002.
A long verbal diatribe preceded a jagged, spastic "Bowie," a taste of things to come from Trey. The "Free" and "Stash" were shells of their selves and the notes just escaped Trey, and the band could not follow their leader. It wasn't for lack of effort, however maybe lack of practice, or perhaps all the nerves and pressure, we can only speculate. When Mike and Trey moved to the rocks at the front of the stage, for one last blissful "Hood" outro jam, I savored the gesture, and the song, for under the Vermont moon, my mind scoured through what had transpired that day, my body moved to the melody and my spirit soaked from within. I wished for a grand finale to come on the morrow, a saving grace to sew it together.
Coventry by Tony Stack
Saturday night people spilled in different directions, resting or raging, the festival spirit intact despite the elements and the harrowing trek to and from the stage area. As the sun came up over the Green Mountains, we trudged back to camp for some rest, as the day we all feared was now upon us.
A different band showed up, admittedly nervous again, however naked and cohesive in a way I hadn't seen in some time. I wondered what transpired amongst them shortly before they took the stage for the final time. Whatever it was, it was some heavy shit. Sunday was an emotional experience like none other that I had ever known. Long ago I acknowledged the importance of the Phish experience in my life, but to examine it amongst my Phish family for one long Vermont Sunday was somewhat of an out of body experience. There was a finality to this that dwarfed summer camp, or high school, or college, or even relationships.
From the first notes of "Mike's Song," I grooved in my galoshes as if my future depended on it, but my mind raced as well, and I watched it all from above my body. They began to deliver the goods. "Reba" wasn't perfect, but the blissful journey that is the outro rose above and soared like a hermit thrush. Then came the metallic groove and shrapnel shredding of "Carini," with some babbling good fun at the expense of the song's namesake. All sorts of explanations followed, as the "Wolfman's Brother" is Fishman (that's why the song is so damn fonky), and Liz, and all that shit, and in general a rockin' good time. Moms came out to do the "Sexy Bump"; Trey taunted some girl in the audience, and at some point Page played one of the nastiest clav breaks with just Fish holding it down. Fun was had, all around.
Melt Motherfucker. Melt.
Phish : 08.15.04 : Coventry by Dave Vann
The second set was some heavy shit. By opening with "Down With Disease" the floodgates of introspection burst, all of sudden the lyrics were poignant. The chorus was belted out with a newfound authority, proudly and with valor by a massive that was by now fully engrossed in this final performance. The jam took off to the stratosphere, all that is mighty about heavy rocking Phish, machine gun shreddery underscored by a thunderstorm in the pocket. Due to the depth and concentration of the first twenty five minutes of the set, what would transpire next would surprise band and fan equally.
Though "Wading in the Velvet Sea" was the turning point, it hit them, probably sometime in "Disease" that "this was it." And we were in Vermont. And the chaos had subsided, and the day had come, it would soon wind down. They began to see the end as the sun raced over the horizon, a truly epic sunset. And as they played the shit out of their anthem, the shit hit 'em like a ton of bricks. The tranquility and peace that serenades "Wading" was as heavy as the metallic intercourse that preceded it. Chronic Phish. So much so that Page couldn't get it out. He choked up, and thousands responded by weeping with him. Soon, Trey had to get in on the crying, and there wasn't a dry eye on the farm.
Phish : 08.15.04 : Coventry by Dave Vann
Trey, and then Jon, Mike, and Page all expressed to the fans, here at the farm and watching in theatres across our great nation, just how they felt about us, this, the whole thing. The guard was down, there they stood, naked and crying and thanking us all. Heavy.
You could literally hear the snot dripping down his nose as Trey said "Now we're gonna just blow off some steam" and Fish dropped that funky stutter step drum shit and it was on. "Split Open and Melt," the song that first caught my metal ear many moons ago, was presented, naked as the band had been moments earlier. Like an old badass mustang, it took a hot minute to get up and running, but once out on the highway, there is no effin' with this whip. Terrorizing terrain he's visited before, this time making his presence felt and remembered and cemented. Trey scorched the heavens with light-saber-like guitar wizardry, Cactus' bludgeoning bottom end gutting carcass's. McConnell darkened the picture with clav, and for this timeless dimension, it was 1994 again, and the "Melt" was metal. Unwavering, unrelenting aural assault. Phish.
Trey : 08.15.04 : Coventry, VT
By Libby McLinn
"Fast Enough," a peculiar yet graceful choice to open their final set of music was personal for me, another tune that caught my ear when I first met the band. Again, lyrical poignancy. As they tippy-toed into a bouncing "Seven Below" I traveled back to the comeback NYE 03, and I was off. The band eff'ed around onstage for awhile, but I was elsewhere. Actually, I was everywhere. Surrounded by a myriad of friends, including those crucial who walked alongside me throughout this circus decade, I began to relive countless different tours, travel, excursions. You know how we do.
The Gorge. HORDE. The Island Tour '98. The bacon at 6 a.m. at the breakfast buffet Days Inn in Hampton. Twenty thousand deep in Vegas. Big Fucking Cypress. Getting lost as a youngster driving to Worchester from Jersey. Car catching fire in Raleigh. Independence daze in Hotlanta, Camden. The House of Blues at the Mandalay Bay. Garlic fries at Shoreline. Fucking "Sabotage" Merriweather. Terrapin Station. Jay-HOVA what up Brooklyn. Illadelph Spectrum, Yattin at the Knick, The Pnobscot River. Halloween was given a new identity, and towns, cities, states, were invaded. I cannot even write all of the memories that came over me during this "Dickie Scotland" shit I hadn't said a word, moved or acknowledged my surroundings for twenty minutes.
I came to as Trey was empowering us with rhetoric "You CAN still have fun," all the while coming off "Wilson" as he effectively turned the tables on us.
Coventry, VT : 08.15.04 by Libby McLinn
As much, if not more than Phish, the band and their music, I'ma miss my friends. It was always about the joy of living, Phish the itinerary and the nightly ritual, glorious, spirited, and rock and roll. But it was also about Point A to Point B, and the madness and debauchery that took place between. It was the ultimate escape, life outside of life. Indeed we can still have fun, be it ain't ever gonna be the same. People came up to you, told you how much they loved you, recounted a good time, and hoped to see you again sometime, somewhere. This happened over and over again. "See you never!"
In reviewing the entire Phish entity, one has to be fair, and objective. It wasn't all fun and games. People got hurt, people died. Lives were forever altered. Our culture, like the reality we escape, is a mixture of good and evil. Life and Phish culture. It fluctuated on tour and in the lot like it does in the real world. Some summer in Nantucket, and others dance around a fire hydrant. Some toured in RVs and stayed in hotels; some sold drugs and nodded during the show or robbed your car while the band played inside. But the tour waged on, soldiered on, and in 2004, the whole Phish thing, community-wise, was in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, the shows, too few and far between, coupled with the lack of practice, exacerbated by a million other variables, lacked the juice that was the foundation of the whole shebang.
Fishman & Trey : 08.15.04 : Coventry by Dave Vann
With those thoughts, we arrived at the monumental song, "Slave." The chestnut that delivers time and time again, one of the most passionate, emotive, sinister, and joyful songs steered us into the home stretch. Not fair to try to capture this power in a few words. Great choice, phenomenally performed. It all comes full circle; with the encore that everybody thought would be "Fluffhead." Instead, the lyrical poignancy reared its head one last time in hopes of no regrets. "The Curtain With." It was a given, sorta. Our lives had run away, and were now coming home. Embraced the music, and the intent, and the song and dance. As the song raged south of heaven, entering its final portion, all the way home for me, the melody dramatic; "The Curtain" was the first Phish song I ever heard.
I wandered off to rage in the darkness, to take comfort in the masses and dark liquor, to plot the future and give thanks. The night was a party, a funeral, and hedonism as if tomorrow wasn't promised.
But then it arrived, with the rain, a few hours later. We were left to navigate our way home, and go live the rest of our lives.
JamBase | Philadelphia
Go See Live Music!
[Published on: 8/24/04]
Coventry was like watching a marathon runner collapse six feet before the finish line, crawl and claw his way to the finish line, and die. It's pathetic and majestic all at once.
Another way to redeem the history of it all is this: had Phish ended things in less ignominious fashion, they may not have been motivated to come back again.
-Abandoned my car on the side of the road at the time having no idea what would happen to it but never considering for a second that I would miss the last 2 concerts from the band that had helped see me through from my teens to adulthood.
- Walked what I later found out was 14 miles with 4 total strangers who became close friends in the difficult hours it took to make that journey.
- Never found my friends who I was supposed to meet there due to nonexistent cell coverage and the general chaos. My friends of course had all our gear including our tent.
- I won't review the music here as others (and particularly the OP) have already done so quite admirably. I'll just say that among the countless examples of sloppiness there were most definitely trancendent moments.
- My ultimate point is this: for the first and only time in the 200+ Phish shows I have seen- the music itself is not what mattered to me. After the first day, I slept on a pile of mulch in front of the gate to the stage figuring if I didn't have a tent I might as well be in position to be in the front row for the last show (of course it rained during the night). But it was worth it- I had a front row vantage point for perhaps the most emotional event of my life that did not include the birth or death of a friend or family member. Sets 2 and 3 were such a roller coaster of feelings and memories for me that my emotions were stripped completely bare right there in front of these titans of my musical life and amongst thousands of strangers/friends that were all going through a similar experience.
- From the start of Disease through the end of Curtain With I laughed, and more than anything, I cried. Later, online, I read many comments making fun of and disparaging Trey and Page for losing control of their emotions and sharing their tears with us that night. All I know is that as I looked around me during set 3 and saw that nearly everyone else had tears streaming down their faces as the sadness and even celebration poured off the stage, you would have to be nearly heartless not to feel it and appreciate it.
- That weekend was far from perfect, in fact is was nearly a disaster. But I remember it with extreme fondness not in spite of that but because of it. Those of us who were able to persevere were treated to something that can never be replicated- a fleeting moment in time when the greatest band of our generation opened themselves to us more completely than ever before and we did the same for them. The resulting flood of tears as band and audience expressed how much we meant to each other is an experience I wouldn't trade.
Everyone settled in for some much needed rest and discussions followed about if the band would still be playing or not. That was the the biggest showing of love and appreciation for the band by the phans in my opinion. Not that cars were abandoned on I-91 or that some walked as much as 25 miles to get there. It was that these acts were done by these dedicated loving people and nobody even knew if they band would be playing or not. All this effort for just the possibility to see Phish play? In a New York second! So day one was in the books and thankfully so. I've always been an early riser so naturally I was up by 6:00 a.m. which was a good 2 hours before the next tent was unzipped. We were camped right next to the home of the couple that had so graciously opened their hearts and property up to a pack of wild looking (some) strangers. I see the couple had set out some tables and had large urns of coffee and boxes of donuts. I asked how much for both and the man said "Is a dollar to much to ask?" I literally laughed out loud when I said "No I think that's pretty fair!" We talked for several hours that morning about a multitude of topics like religion, hunting, Phish, Vermont and Alabama. It turned out that the man was a non-denominational preacher and was one of the coolest, most kind-hearted people I had ever met in my (at that time 35 years). They quickly sold out of coffee and donuts once the masses started moving about and I decided to take up a collection for these fine people. About half of the folks camping gave something and I rounded up over $200.00 bucks and gave it to them. They did not want to accept it but I convinced them there was no way to give the money back to everyone so they relented.
As showtime approached, or at least the possibility of a show, we headed out early as we knew we had a good hike ahead of us. We only made it about 3/4 mile and found someone in a pick-up truck that was giving rides for $5.00/per head. Let me see...walk another 8 miles or $5.00? No brainer and thankfully I had to foresight to bring cash. We were dropped off about a mile from the venue, which was as close as a vehicle could get and seeing the large crowds of people started to really get excited and we felt that the show would go on after all. We headed toward the venue walking on clouds which eventually turned to mud. Oh My God the mud! I had only seen pictures of people dealing with that kind of mud at a concert. Woodstock. Based on photographic evidence this mud was every bit as bad if not worse. I watched several people sink their feet in with shoes on and pull out barefooted. The funny thing was that they would just laugh, say oh well and keep on trucking. Nothing was gonna stop these people! 30+ mile traffic jams, being told to go home by the band, cops turning them away, Boston Marathon distances to walk and stinking cow chip infused mud that could make Dr. Pol gag was mere stepping stones for the avid Phish phan! At the first sign of the stage I was back to the elation I had been feeling just prior to the emotional crash I took when Mike told me to go home. Sorry Mike, I've never been good at being told what to do
I'm not going to do a song by song breakdown as that's been done by many others that are far more eloquent at putting their emotions into words than I am. Let's just say my heart was in a blender and I wanted to cry, laugh, smile and be taken away all at the same time. I succeeded at all of that. I think everyone that was there did as well. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of that weekend and the miracles that took place, when I think of the passion, determination and tenacity of what makes up a Phish phan and when I think of the kindness of that elderly couple that took on a horde of freaks with a smile on their face and love in their hearts. I wish I could remember their names. I hope they enjoyed that weekend as much as I did. I hope the shirt I bought for the man fit and that he found it hanging on his door knob with my note of appreciation.