[Thanks again to longtime blog contributor, @paulj - ed.]
Over its long career, Phish have played over 1,500 shows in hundreds of different venues, yet there is a relatively short list of venues that are on nearly every fan’s must visit list. Madison Square Garden, Hampton, and the Gorge have been special Phish venues since the 1.0 era. During 3.0, it’s pretty clear that the MGM and Dick’s offer experiences that are likely to reward any fan making the effort.
Most of these bucket list venues offer something much more than a Phish show: MSG and MGM are suffused with the craziness of NYC and Las Vegas, respectively, and the Gorge is home to…the GORGE.
But Dick’s Sporting Goods Park? Seriously? A soccer stadium located atop a Superfund site in an industrial area adjacent to an oil refinery—which is also a Superfund site? (They don’t call it Commerce City for nothing.)
In 2011, the first year Phish played Dick’s, there was little to suggest it would become a venue of lore. Legal weed? Not in 2011. A great Shakedown? Not in 2011. Party buses? Not in 2011. And yet…
Outside of the spelling gag for each of the first five years, Phish has offered only a standard three-night stand composed of two set shows. So, exactly how did Dick’s become “Dick’s!”?
Let’s look to the show ratings here on the .net website. (Yes, show ratings are statistically problematic but it’s what we have to work with.) I’ll use data from 2011 through 2018, though I drop Northerly Island 2013 N1, which had its second set truncated due to weather.
As of August 8, 2019, the average rating over all 24 shows at Dick’s was 4.238, whereas the average rating for 274 shows at other venues was 4.026; regression analysis confirms that the difference is statistically significant.
Fan ratings of a typical Dick’s show are higher than a typical show at other venues, but this masks a bit of variation across the years. The graph below shows the average year-by-year ratings at Dick’s against all other venues played by Phish that year.
Phish crushed it coming out of the gate at Dick’s, with show ratings in 2011 and 2012 that were much higher than the average of shows at other venues. In 2012 (the FYF spelling gag), the average across all three nights was 4.55—a three-night run that is the equal of Magnaball (4.57), Vegas Chilling, Thrilling (4.50), or the Baker’s Dozen run of Jam, Powdered and Chocolate (4.55).
Starting in 2013, anyone not making early travel plans found that scoring a Saturday night Dick’s ticket was tough, and procuring tickets has only gotten more difficult since then.
By 2014, 10 of the 12 shows played at Dick’s had exceeded the yearly average for all other venues during its comparison year. Some runs, such as 2013 and 2015, have been more uneven from night-to-night than others, as depicted in the graph below. Yet even in during an “off year”, Phish typically delivers at least one incredible night.
Complementing Phish’s high standard of performance is the local business community, which has provided a wonderful fan experience. Most people can fly directly to Denver, and then take a free shuttle to a hotel close to Dick’s. From there one can Uber to the venue cheaply or hire a party bus catering specifically to Phish fans. Venue parking is plentiful, and camping is permitted onsite. Legalized marijuana has simplified travel for many fans.
Fans have also contributed: Dick’s now has the largest (best?) Shakedown on tour, @Lemuria’s Runaway Open golf tourney – a fundraiser for the Mockingbird Foundation – is now in its fourth year, and each year @DaleCooper’s Dick’s Meat Up swells ever larger. Finally, what with Dick’s being on the West Coast and all, it's just a short drive down Interstate 70 if you’d like to take a dip in the Pacific Ocean. Yes, Dick’s really is all that.
This year's Dick's run is faced with uncertainties that have not been encountered in the past, and it will be interesting to see how fans react. We do know one thing though: like a prairie dog emerging from its hole, Phish will rise to the occasion.
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