Live for Live Music
To start with, at 42 and going on 18 years of self-induced Phish show hiatus, the preparation is way different.
Texts about driving routes to beat traffic. Chair height allowances on the lawn. 5-Hour Energy: no, not for tomorrow morning.
To. Get. Through. The. Show.
Beer brand preferences—we learned through countless texts that one of our friends now has “a bad reaction to Bud Lite." Wait. When did that happen?
Of course, at 24, we bought whatever we could afford, were more worried about getting to the lot early instead of getting out of it quickly, and most significantly, just recently had the Internet. Though the trailblazers had been posting on phish.net since '91, in the mid- to late-90s when I would run to the computer lab to check setlists every morning, it all still seemed novel. It was exhilarating to love a band that had paid their dues and had hit at a time when they were confident and vital and pushing things.
My last Phish show of dozens and dozens I saw between 1992-98 was the famous Virginia Beach Amphitheater show where the band encored “Terrapin Station.” At the time of course, lore had it that Phish would never cover the Dead again; they had grown too big and were consciously trying to carve their own territory. Jerry had died and the scene was getting crowded and weird, and they wanted their own mantle.
Coincidently, my girlfriend (now wife) and I were obsessed with the album Terrapin Station. We used to play "Sunrise" to coffee in the morning and talk about the Donna era to ridiculous degree.
The show that night was typically stellar, but because it was a weeknight and we both had to be at work early the next morning, I acquiesced to something I'd never done before—bolting after second set closer.
At the time, I reasoned “what was the big deal?” We laughed and sped through the traffic-less Hampton Roads night.
When I got to my computer lab the next morning and saw the all-caps posts about
“Terrapin” . . .
So my penance began. I deemed myself unworthy for future shows. I was heartbroken. Karma. The one thing that I would die to see my favorite band play. And I was right there.
Several weeks later, we agreed to jobs at a university in Thailand and we were off to start a new life literally half a world away. Not before, however, someone broke down the door of our small Norfolk, VA apartment, packed our possessions into our 1989 Corolla parked outside, grabbed the keys, and drove away everything we owned.
Which wasn't much really, but by far the biggest loss was the thousands of CDs I'd amassed since I was 16. All of them. Everything. Still several years before Napster really took us all in. Terrapin. Rift. Boots of the White Album Halloween. We reasoned it was our lesson in non-attachment as we headed to live and learn a Buddhist culture.
But I knew better. Inside the kicked-in door of our apartment, the thief had dropped one single item. A CD. My girlfriend's Chicago's Greatest Hits. Knife to the heart. Karma again, saying “this is what you deserve.” I'm teasing you, leaving you with the one piece of music you couldn't stomach if you were on an island.
Which for the next part of our life, we were.
So, life: returning to the U.S., marriage, kids, jobs, new cities, houses, weddings, funerals, schools, piano lessons, joy, heartbreak. Suddenly you are 42 and doing pretty much what you thought you’d be doing at 42.
Through the last decade and a half, other than something here or there, I rationalized not going to large shows any more. If I was going to see music it would be in an intimate venue, up close. I wanted to see new music being made by new people in new small places. I got heavy into bluegrass and Americana, and loved it all.
But even so, I checked every set list, ultimate lurk-style, longed for a Trey note-hold in a packed shed on a cool late-summer night. I mourned when I heard of the upstate traffic stop that seemed to seal the still fresh breakup of the band. I got mildly wrapped up in The Trey Anastasio Band, but mostly just hoped he was okay. Later, skeptical, I wondered aloud if the comeback was just a money grab.
I nearly broke my self-imposed exile a few years ago when the band played Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City; it had been long enough. But something with the kids came up and I gave the tickets away.
Finally a couple of weeks ago, I re-entered the fold for the first night at the Mann in Philadelphia. And my first reactions were mostly fear. How do you attack it? Has the scene aged with you or squeezed you out? I went to Urban Outfitters and got a new t-shirt. A little hipster-y. Who gets nervous going to a Phish show?
After seeing some shows at the 1992 Horde Festival, I remember bringing Rift home soon after and playing it on headphones, late in the night in my dark dorm room, and being terrified. Of what really, I don’t know. The snore-swallow at the beginning of “Lengthwise” made my skin crawl. And “My Friend, My Friend” and “Weigh”. I think we forget that at the time, if you hadn’t seen them a bunch—again, no Internet—there was a question of “what the hell is this?” But it was the type of fear that still fascinates me about music to this day: that sound of unfamiliarity that’s grounded in something melodic you can reference. That feeling of hearing something a couple of times and suddenly it’s been with you for years.
By the time “The Horse” introduced “Silent in the Morning”—still my favorite moment of all the recorded work—I was in.
When they pulled out the cover “Skin It Back” in the first set at The Mann, I almost obnoxiously leaned over in the ear of the puzzled young dude beside me and said “Little Feat. They used to play this a lot at Nectar’s in the 80s.” But I didn’t. I just smiled big and jumped into it. 24 and 42.
A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice
Earplugs for Musicians, Drummers & DJs High Fidelity Loud Noise Hearing Protection Plugs - Reusable, Washable & Comfortable Soft Silicone Ear Plugs - Live Music, Concert & Festival Safe by EAR Defense
Musical Instruments (HealthDoc)