I think I share the view of most of us when I say that my life would be a lot different if Phish had not gotten back together in March of 2009. I was never comfortable with how it all ended in 2004 (spending the night on that highway and then getting turned away without ever having gotten within 25 miles of the venue didn’t help but I’m not here to dredge up that particular set of feelings or all of the circumstances that caused it to end in that way for me…) so I was left in an odd place having lost one of the things I loved to do most in my life. Now, I didn’t exactly sit around wallowing in misery as at the time I was quite busy with l-i-v-i-n’ but it did leave a hole. Granted, by the time that all happened I had moved on a bit from the singular obsession that was my life with Phish from about 1993 to 1999 as Hiatus showed us all that this wasn’t permanent and was going to end eventually. I guess we all just didn’t expect (i.e. want) it to end the way it had.
We all endured The Long Wait in our own ways and that is not what this post is supposed to be about but I will say that for me it was an opportunity to broaden my musical horizons a bit looking both forward to newer forms of music I had then yet to explore while also going back to music that I loved from even before my many years with Phish. Some of us used this time to get serious about careers, family, personal growth, and other endeavors. Some of us used it to get clean. Whatever you did during those four plus years I hope that like me it gave you a more full appreciation for what having Phish in your meant for you.
When that announcement video for the comeback dropped on 10.01.2008 it was a something I never expected to happen. I had moved on and expected that the only Phish I would have in my future was already in the past. Here was this band that I had devoted so much time and energy to coming back from the dead and offering the chance for redemption, both for them and the fans. This wasn’t Trey playing a tour in his newly found sobriety (though those Fall 2008 shows were pretty fun…) or two band members being in the same room for a night or something, this was PHISH! And they were coming back! Pretty much immediately I knew that I needed to be there to see the return and to reconnect with the scene I had been a part of for so many years.
Luckily for me, my wife is also a fan of Phish. Well, maybe not always lucky due to it complicating the ease of finding tickets or deciding on a whim to drive five hours to catch a single show but at least she gets it. Being a few years younger than me her start with the band was a bit later than mine (my first couple of shows were as a teen in 1990, hers were also as a teen but in 1995) and we never knew each other in either of our prime show going days but we have triangulated a pretty large number of shows that we both have attended which is fun when you think about how close we were to meeting but never having that occur. It really makes you realize how small one’s circle within the greater Phish world can be. I bring this up to say that obviously we would both be trying to go which meant securing a pair of tickets for each night to what would easily be the toughest Phish tickets ever.
You may be wondering why I am writing this here on March 7th instead of yesterday which is the day that marks the triumphant return for the band. It is relevant for me because I missed that first show though honestly it really doesn’t change anything for me having caught #2 instead of #1. You see, along with everyone else we tried to do mail order (fail!), we tried to do the general onsale (fail!), and we scoured the then unsophisticated online ticket resources in search of our pair. At that stage I was not active online on any of the Phish community sites that had developed over the early years of the internet so I didn’t have those connections to go to to try to make it happen. And even though we didn’t yet have kids in our life we were not in a financial position to shell out the many-times-face-value asking prices of the hundreds of people scalping tickets to these shows. We tried to get creative, putting up craigslists posts about how we were huge phans (yes, we probably used the dreaded ‘ph’ too. ugh) and we really wanted to go and blah blah blah but so did everyone else. I even bought the Clifford Ball DVD set early when they had that raffle for a pair of tickets to the shows and entered some of the more questionable ebay and craigslist raffles to increase our odds hoping that might be a way to hit on getting our pair. The real gut-punching part of it was that my best friends had hit big time in the lottery, scoring a pair for all three nights which just made it more depressing that they would be able to go and we wouldn’t be able to share this together as we had so many other adventures around the world. And so at a certain point in the months leading up to the show I resigned myself to the fact that this probably wasn’t going to happen. We live in New England and with the shows about 600 miles to the southwest the prospect of driving down there ticketless to fight it out with all the other people from the region (and country, honestly) looking to do the exact same thing wasn’t exactly looking too enticing. It appeared that I would miss out on this epic event just as I had missed Big Cypress (friends bailed on me a month before the trip was to happen and I wasn’t about to drive almost 1,300 miles alone) and Coventry (already covered, won’t go into the gory details) making this just one more big Phish event I had not been able to experience in person and in the moment.
And here is where it gets fun. We continued to work the secondary market to try to get tickets, giving ourselves a cap on what we would spend above face in order to make it happen. My friends also worked hard for us, looking at anything and everything with pretty constant text traffic going on between us as we worked the system of the time. My wife went all in here, emailing and calling dozens of people who had posted anything remotely promising to try to get some tickets. Finally we had a bit of luck as there was someone local who had tickets due to being an old friend of Trey’s from high school or something but who couldn’t go to all three shows because it would probably have caused a divorce with his wife so he had a pair for the final night that he was willing to part with. Okay, that’s a start! We can build from there. Now being able to focus on two nights instead of three we doubled down our efforts aaaaaaand struck out. Royally. Like it seemed that every avenue had closed and being only a couple of weeks prior to the shows the already dry well had gone over to dust. This was depressing. For only the last show it didn’t really make too much sense to make the massive trek (even if I had done similar things in years past).
Then something happened that I will never forget and never be able to fully express my appreciation for to the people who did it. My friends traded their pair of tickets for the first night to get a pair of tickets for the second night to get us in the building. I still can’t believe it writing these words seven years on. They had given up seeing the return for us so that the four of us could share the weekend together. This was (and is) one of the most selfless things I had ever had happen to me. I was so incredulous that I asked my friend over and over whether he really wanted to do that and his answer every single time was a simple “yes”. Now that I think back on what they did for us it speaks not only about the very close friendship that I have shared with these wonderful people for now more than 23 years but also to what this whole community really can be for us. Yes, in a lot of ways this Phish obsession of ours is a largely selfish (or at least self-centered) thing as we spend thousands of dollars and spend so much time trying to get to shows at the risk of potentially alienating loved ones, derailing careers, and other not-so-forward-looking behaviors but at the root of it (get ready for the cheesy lyrical reference!) it only works when we are ‘sharing in the groove’ and not when we are only thinking of ourselves.
This really opened up a big thing for me personally as I guess up until that point I had primarily looked at Phish as an escape from my life rather than an integral influence on it. For most of my time in 1.0 traveling all over to catch shows I had almost been embarrassed to share that information with my coworkers and non-fan friends (family understood well as both of my older brothers had steeped me in the Dead tradition at an early age and our parents were open to our excursions as part of our life experience), instead ‘hiding’ it under half-truth descriptions of my trips or simply deflecting to other conversation. But here was the touch point for me in really bringing home the point that the shared experience had greater impact than something wholly individual. Conceptually it was something I already had bought into – particularly with these friends who I had traveled through Europe with amongst many other very memorable times over our life together – but in the Phish context I had never really put all of that together in this way. Sure, I had had many moments of losing myself in the sea of people that make up the Phish crowd (I had a particularly introspective moment atop the hill at the Clifford Ball but that is a story for another time) but never had it coalesced that I was anything more than just another ticket holding fan who was really into this weird band.
So we followed the lines headed south, picking our friends up along the way, and arriving in Hampton about the time the band was coming out for their encore on 03.06.2009 and made our way to our hotel to get settled for the two shows to come. We first hit the lots during the day of that second show and all of those feelings returned once more as we exhaled our normal lives once more and breathed in this new life for Phish. When the band came out and opened up with Back On The Train (oddly enough that video is filed from pretty close to where we had camped out that night) it was yet another example that the band was connected with us as that was pretty well the perfect sort of opener for me in that moment. The balance of those two shows were invigorating in a way I had forgotten Phish could be and left me wanting more in that way you all know. Our band was back!
Wishing to keep that going in some way I now looked outward to find connection with the like-minded folk I had missed so much without ever realizing it. And with that my Phish internet life began, first in lurking dribs and drabs and then eventually as a contributing commenter, and eventually leading to you reading this today. So many things have happened for me in the years since Phish has returned that it is hard to imagine my life now without that as part of the story. Thankfully, with the current state of the band being as positive as it is I don’t have to imagine that. My life is enriched by Phish and the exposure it has given me to all of these amazing people who follow them just as I do. These days at shows I find myself observing all of those connections that occur between seemingly disparate people who this band has brought together and that does almost as much to fill my cup as the music. Almost. I jest, but that aspect of the Phish experience is something I cherish now more than ever and what I take forward with me when the show is over. It influences my mood, my attitude, and my outlook and helps me to work to find connection wherever I can in all aspects of my life. And that? That is really what IT is really all about…