I can still remember August 14th, 2004 like it was yesterday. In preparation for a major event to be held at my Wauwatosa, WI apartment, I had procured a fridge packed to the gills with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and two bottles of Shiraz to go with the two giant steaks that I would make for my wife and I on that Saturday evening. I woke up early, turned on my newly acquired XM Radio that softly serenaded me with Yo La Tengo’s “Tears are in your Eyes” and got ready to go out to breakfast with my older brother and his wife. It was to be a major day in my life. My first conversation went something like this:
“What’s up man?” You’re all smiles. What’s going on?” my brother asked.
“Phish show tonight, buddy.”
“Really? I thought you guys went to that it June?”
“Right. We did. It’s not here man. It’s in Vermont.”
“So. What’s that have to do with you?”
“It’s being broadcast on XM. I’m going to grill some steaks, drink some beers, and listen to it in my living room.”
“When’d you get satellite radio?”
When the announcement came down that the band that was responsible for helping me to an infinite amount of fantastic experiences, took me to places that I’d have never gone without following their lead, and gifted me a relationship with music that will remain unbreakable until my final breath, was calling it quits after their August 14th & 15th shows in their home state of Vermont I dragged my feet. Why? Easy. I had been there before. In 2000 they did the same exact thing by telling fans that the October shows at Mountain View, CA’s Shoreline Amphitheater were going to be their last for an unknown amount of time. And at this point in time I was ok with this.
While Phish may have been at the top of their game, the jamband scene and the music that shook everyone in it was starting to deflate. Other sounds picked up steam, got more interesting, and began to take control of the tasteseekers. When I read that a new day was dawning, I was ready to awaken from the multi year dream that had kept me in a smiling and somewhat irresponsible haze. I was ready to wipe the sleep from my eyes, wash the patchouli out of my hair, and put to work what I had learned from those years of bliss. And it was a fairly easy transition. Sure I missed the smiles that I had traded in for the twang, twee and philosophy that now graced my headphones but I embraced the change that acted as soundtrack to the end of my youth. And even though those once glowing smiles were becoming smaller and less frequent, I was too entrenched in life to notice. But still I never forgot.
Fast forward to July 2002. Elation erupts in a Madison, WI apartment as the headline on a popular Phish webpage reads, HIATUS OVER. Phones rang, emails were sent, jigs were jigged, and this guy couldn’t have been happier as the stone enclosing my countenance began to break. The shows in New York and Hampton, VA that would ring in 2003 would be a fitting way to shake the shadow of adulthood that had tailed me since I left town. Sadly, I didn’t get tickets and we didn’t go mill around town searching for entry. Worse, I didn’t get tickets for the February show at the old Rosemont Horizon either. But, I still gladly downloaded and burned sets from campus computers and enjoyed every minute in anticipation for that Summer’s shows at Alpine.
And we went. It was sort of like old times. My wife, trooper that she is, went along even though she didn’t care for the music (on her birthday). However, the shift in scenes, music, was a trauma that made me worry that I was a caped crusader at these, to me, reunion shows. Was I putting on a costume? Did my body still house the DNA that would allow me to semi soberly enjoy this seemingly foreign thing that had once carried me to new heights? Sure, Phish still represented all that it was supposed to but it was just different. Phish had been frozen for two years and then thawed and thrown at me at a completely different stage of life. I still told myself that I loved it. And deep down I did.
Another year goes by only this time I have got my bearings back. I’m ready for whatever they throw at me. I’m back in Milwaukee, loving life, and ready for Phish to command my musical universe for as long they’ll do it for me. I spend hours downloading, burning and listening to my ever-growing collection of live shows. Summer 2004, I am now as dialed in as I was when I was in the eye of the storm. Alpine shows announced. Alpine tickets ordered. Anticipation is high and adrenaline is on the rise. And. Then. The. Announcement:
Last Friday night, I got together with Mike, Page and Fish to talk
openly about the strong feelings I’ve been having that Phish has run its
course and that we should end it now while it’s still on a high note.
Once we started talking, it quickly became apparent that the other guys’
feelings, while not all the same as mine, were similar in many ways —
most importantly, that we all love and respect Phish and the Phish
audience far too much to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the
point of vibrancy and health. We don’t want to become caricatures of
ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act. By the end of the meeting, we
realized that after almost twenty-one years together we were faced with
the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in
our friendship and our feelings of gratitude.
So Coventry will be the final Phish show. We are proud and thrilled
that it will be in our home state of Vermont. We’re also excited for the
June and August shows, our last tour together. For the sake of clarity,
I should say that this is not like the hiatus, which was our last
attempt to revitalize ourselves. We’re done. It’s been an amazing and
incredible journey. We thank you all for the love and support that
you’ve shown us.
n Trey Anastasio
Deflated again, and more depressed now, possibly weeping as I read the words of a man that has meant so much to me over the years. They were done. DONE. And now I couldn’t hold on to the possibility that they may be back. A hiatus is one thing, but if Trey says they’re done. They’re done. So, after the tears dried and the once racing memories slowed to a crawl, I again came to terms with the decision. There was nothing I could do but see them that June, dance my ass off and try to burn the feelings and images of that last night into my synapses forever. And. It was a damn great night of music. So damn good that it forced me to do everything from finagling with ticket brokers, to designing a t-shirt, to writing my favorite Phish memory in an attempt to get tickets to those final two shows. And if you remember the beginning of this post, all of them failed.
So, on August 14th and 15th of 2004, I did exactly what I had told my brother I was going to do. I grilled steaks, drank some beers (& wine on Sunday), burned sticks of nagchampa, and listened to every single fucking note that was played on a small XM boom box. I barely moved for those six sets except during breaks. I don’t think I ever listened more intently in my entire life. And when they cried on stage on that final night, I cried with them (must’ve been the wine). And when the “The Curtain With” faded to its beautiful ending, that second and final chapter of my book of Phishstory was going to be closed, ready or not, as well.
So, I calloused up, packed away my memories and went back to my daily life. Like before, never really missing them but always still thinking about them in some capacity. Years went by, rumors (that I continually bought into) started to spread, all the while I stayed toward the back. Never diving in headfirst, but always trying to stay abreast of the smallest possibility. And then this:
Phish To Play Three Concerts
Phish returns to the stage for three concerts at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia on March 6, 7 and 8, 2009.
What? They were done. Weren’t they? WTF? I never actually expected this to happen, so I was hyped, but not super hyped. Excited but not overjoyed. So, when I got my rejection letter for tickets I didn’t feel the least bit burned by the rash of noobs that would be allowed into the Hampton Coliseum on those three glorious nights. I deleted the email and got up early on a Saturday morning in order to get tickets for Phish’s return to Alpine Valley. Well, Live Nation didn’t make that the easiest task in the world, but I secured myself admission.
Since that day, money getting lighter, other bands coming around that I HAVE to see, I have thought about ditching my tickets and giving someone else the opportunity to spend the evening with my once upon time dream weavers. Then, Friday March 6 comes around. I start to follow @Phish on Twitter. “phish fluffhead” reads their first tweet and I smile at the Laundromat. “phish Divided Sky” reads the next, as my smile gets bigger. With each song played I start to get happier and happier, thinking that the tapes of this show cannot come fast enough. I download the show Saturday afternoon, listen to it Sunday morning and bring a replacement for it Monday. I told myself Monday morning that I wanted to listen to something else, fact is, when I got into my car, and Page’s solo at the end of “The Squirming Coil” hits my ears my body is completely paralyzed and unable to move. I couldn’t come to replace Phish in my cd player Tuesday either. I still love them. And no matter what anyone thinks of them or the brand of music they play, they are still a large part of who I am and I wouldn’t trade any of my travels with them for the world. And I can promise that the thought of selling those tickets will never cross my mind again.