[Recap of last night's show is courtesy of Dr. Stephanie Jenkins. -Ed.]
Seven years ago today, Phish played their first show at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.
Do you know what happened then?
My 2011 Dick’s experience was very different than my still unfolding 2018 experience. Since Thursday evening, when I read the JamBase flashback describing how phans responded to the “S show,” I’ve been asking myself “What changed?” and “How did I get here?” It is impossible for me to write a recap of last night’s show without telling you about my “then” and “now” Dick’s experiences, because the ways the venue, community, and my self have transformed over the course of eight Dick’s runs have intimately affected my experience of last night’s show.
In 2011, I was a graduate student living in Pennsylvania, working on my doctoral dissertation and struggling with a not-yet diagnosed but nearly fatal neurological illness. I was living my own personal hell and didn’t know it.
And that’s the terrible thing about hell. When you’re there you can’t even tell. As you move through this life you love so, you could be there and not even know.
Even though I didn’t know that I was that far gone, after attending Superball—Phish’s first festival at Watkins Glen International—I knew one thing indubitably: I needed more Phish. Soon. So I did what many of you would do. I spent time, money, and energy that I “shouldn’t have” (at least according to anyone who hasn’t Read The Book) travelling to the next possible Phish show. For me, that was 9/2/2011.
It was my first trip to Denver and I didn’t have any friends in the area. I bought last minute tickets and planned to camp at the venue. Because the local weather predicted rain and thunderstorms throughout the weekend, I booked a hotel at the last minute. When I arrived at the airport—which was less busy and corporate than it is now—I miracled my camping pass to a phan from Germany who I met in the terminal. There was no traffic on my way to the venue. I arrived at the venue about an hour before doors and sat on the grass next to Gate C. Walking into the venue that night, we didn’t know that we were about to witness Phish history in the making: the famous “S” show that inaugurated the tradition of night one set list antics. I didn’t know that the “random dude” I met in line would become one of my closest friends, or that the couple we met on the floor would become phamily. The weather was foreboding and we stayed on the floor despite warnings to leave.
Barak Obama was president. Colorado Amendment 64 had not yet passed. The #1 song of the year, according to Billboard, was Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.” I struggled with anxiety, wasn’t sure I wanted to be a professional philosopher, hated "Number Line," and mocked anything spiritual. (I definitely would have loathed "Everything’s Right.") My Phish self was carefully hidden from my professional networks.
The S show changed my life, because after the encore, I made a vow to myself to never miss a Dick’s show. And here we are, 23 (soon to be 24) shows later.
Dick’s is my temple. Labor Day weekend has become my annual pilgrimage, where I go to visit dear friends, witness spectacular music, and ponder the meaning of existence. Each return to this venue offers an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and set intentions for the next.
I think that this exact thing happened to me, just last year
I know I’m not alone in this journey, because each year, tickets became harder to acquire, the floor line got longer and started earlier, and crews grew larger.
It’s 2018. Donald Trump is president. Marijuana is legal in Colorado. Billboard’s top song of the year (so far) is Drake’s “In My Feelings.”
After finally receiving a diagnosis explaining twenty years of health problems, I have been slowly coming back to life. I’m being reinvented and redefined-- literally limb by limb. Like many of you, my life was saved by rock and roll.
I’m now a philosophy professor at Oregon State University, where I have taught the Philosophy School of Phish class for five years. (I got the idea for the class during the 2012 Dick’s Light!) At my Alt Festival 11, I worked out plans to host an official, peer-reviewed Phish Studies academic conference at OSU and initiated a new collaboration with PhanArt to archive the history of Phish fandom, art, and community.
I now love "Number Line," because it’s a celebration of friendship. I cherish “Everything’s Right,” not just for the specular jam vehicle it has become, but also for how it has provided me a mantra for surrendering to the flow. I listened to 9/2/2011's “Slave to the Traffic Light” during my first trip to Jerusalem this winter, in search of something sacred. As Mike Gordon says, “music fills many of the holes that religion leaves open.”
I believe in miracles.
The Phish Dick’s experience involves a lot more traffic and logistical planning than it used to, but it’s still my favorite venue. The staff takes good care of us. The Shakedown is the best in the country. Phish consistently plays some of the best concerts of the year in Denver.
The contrast between my 2011 Dick’s and 2018 Dick’s experiences demonstrates what philosopher Michel Foucault calls “political spirituality,” which describes practices of self that not only change one’s relationship to one’s self but also the world as we know it. Simply put, the communal ritual of “dancing wildly”—to quote my colleague Dr. Allen Thompson—is a practice of freedom.
Phish opened their 23rd show at Dick’s (8th Saturday night) with "Sand" at 8:10pm. The first "Sand" show opener since Randall’s Island (7/13/2014) established the tone for the evening, seamlessly transitioning last night’s second set into the much anticipated Saturday night dance party. Fish and Mike found their way to the pocket during the “Down with Disease” in the number two spot, which included a "Guy Forget" tease. Next came the first “Shade” since its 2016 Gorge appearance and what might be the first “Home” jam.
For the third year in a row, Saturday’s first set featured a stellar—arguably the best of the year—“Wolfman’s Brother.” Concise, yet solid and energetic renditions of "Wombat," "Everything’s Right," and "Bathtub Gin" closed the first set. The first set was summarized well by my friend Yaron Marcus, who said: “it was all about Mike and Fish locking down the groove while allowing Trey and Page to explore melodically above it.”
“Set Your Soul Free” opened the second set at 10:06pm. While this was only its fourth time played since the Gorge debut, it’s worth noting that three of those four times SYSF was performed in the set opening position. The longest jam of the set, it traversed a wide range of emotion, from liberatory and expansive to quiet and contemplative. Although "Fuego," "Chalk Dust," "Twist," and "Piper" focused more on the rock than on improvisation, they are still great examples of the qualitative temporality of a Phish jam; each of these songs felt longer and more exploratory than the set list times might indicate. After “The Wedge,” came the "2001" and "Sneakin’ Sally" rage session, before a set-closing, cathartic “Slave to the Traffic Light.” Thankfully, I had extra napkins, because I cried (joyfully!) through the entire song.
A “More” encore left us all vibrating with love and light, as we prepare for the final night of 2018 Dick’s. When it was over, I turned to my friend and said, “That was fantastic.” I have no complaints. We agreed. Of course, since this is a recap of a Phish show, I’m sure many of you won’t agree; that’s part of the fun.
I’ve told you my Dick’s story because I volunteered to write this recap, but this is your Dick’s too. So, as you head into the venue or login to livephish.com to virtually attend tonight’s show, tell a friend—new or old—your Dick’s story.
And expect magic tonight. Most shows spell something, remember?
There is a story in the setlist. Mine. Yours. Ours.
What does Dick’s mean to you?
What has changed?
What lessons have you learned?
We always wanted it this way.
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