This past summer I took a few days off and went Phish-ing with my son. I consider myself a lifelong ‘angler’, and I have also attended hundreds of concerts, but this would be my very first experience at a show that came with a bit of a reputation.
In my mind, I thought that Phish must now cater to the culture that the Grateful Dead appealed to back in the 60s. I expected a crowd full of dropouts, all driving VW vans, taking LSD and smelling like they hadn’t showered in many a moon. I was wrong.
The shows were to take place at one of my favorite venues – Harvey’s outdoor in South Lake Tahoe, NV. I live in the Chicago-area, while my son is in south Florida, so we began planning the trip many months in advance so that the schedule would work out for both of us. He has seen Phish many times but had never been to the venue at Harvey’s and was looking forward to the pristine air and breathtaking views that come with the territory.
A couple of weeks ahead of the shows we began seeing news stories about the ever-increasing danger from wildfires in Northern California. The Caldor fire in particular was a concern because it was already close to Lake Tahoe and was heading toward town. About a week before the shows the public schools in Reno, NV were closed for a few days due to the extreme poor air quality from the fires. Reno is about 60 miles northeast of Lake Tahoe; if the air quality is that bad that far away, imagine how bad it would be at the lake.
About 10-days out from the dates of the Phish shows it was announced that the other concerts scheduled at Harvey’s for earlier in the same week had been rescheduled for 2022. Well crud, that is NOT what we wanted to hear. Then, shortly thereafter, the news was reporting that all of those who live or work in South Lake Tahoe were under mandatory evacuation. Knowing now that we would not be seeing Phish as planned, the only remaining question was “what is the reschedule? Sometime in 2022?” Turns out, the solution they offered was way better that we could have expected.
The concert promoter did something that I had never heard of, and it was a wonderful compromise; the Phish shows would go on as planned – on the same dates – but at an outdoor venue in Mountain View, CA. Tickets from the original shows would be honored, and all the seating would be general admission. We did some quick research and found out that the Shoreline Amphitheater had about twice the capacity of Harvey’s – but the promoter indicated that they would hold firm to the original number of tickets. That meant plenty of room to stretch out, move around, and really enjoy the show.
We got a hotel room a short distance from the new venue, and I had the thought that we could avoid the cost and hassle of parking if we took an Uber to the show. However, after doing some research, we found out that parking was abundant and free. What? Free parking at a concert?
We arrived at night #1 around 2-hours before the concert was to start and – sure enough – followed the signs to the free parking near the Amphitheater. We stood in what seemed like a very long line to get in and I got my first sense that things were different than I had anticipated. Everyone – I mean every single person – in the line seemed to be in a very happy, positive mood. No foul language, no anger over being in line, no cutting other people off…just folks ‘happy to be there’ and patiently waiting to enter the venue. Proof of COVID-19 vaccine (or negative test result) was asked for and provided (again, I saw no negativity here either) and we entered the Shoreline with ease. People were milling about at a relaxed pace; no running to grab a seat or preferred grassy area on the lawn. Everyone was so damn polite.
We chose seats near the back of the pavilion next to the aisle and my son went and grabbed a beer. I made it a point to enjoy being in the moment and looked around the crowd. Lots of people exchanging hugs and handshakes; clearly this is a crowd that knows one another from one concert venue to the next. Lots of funky clothing including overalls with pink circles on them (I would later find out this is the garb the drummer from Phish wears while performing). People from down the aisle would occasionally come and go from their seat, and every time they passed us each one of them would say “excuse me” and then thank us for letting them go by, sometime with a friendly pat on the shoulder.
Once the show started, the crowed erupted into a unified group of grooving and dancing. You know the saying ‘dance like nobody is watching’? The aisle next to our seats were filled with people of all ages doing just that. I must admit that I really know very little about Phish or their music, but I was clearly in the minority here. These guys are known as a ‘jam band’, meaning some songs can go on and on for what seemed like an eternity. Early in the show their lead singer and guitarist – Trey Anastacio – made mention of the Caldor wildfires and how a portion of the proceeds from the merchandise sales would go to those worthy firefighters. Yet another nod to the feel-good atmosphere of the evening. My son has been to more Phish shows that I can count, and at the end of the night he proclaimed that the show we just saw was the best he’s ever seen. So, what began as a potential (literal) disaster turned into a great experience for this Father and his son. I will not only remember how thrilled my boy was at these shows, but how pleasant, happy, and positive everyone in the crowd acted at these concerts. Do yourself a favor; catch Phish if they ever come around your neighborhood…you won’t be disappointed.
Written by Carsen Star
As a guy born with a face for radio, Carsen is quite possibly older than dirt and has the grey hair and the dusty record collection to prove it. While his musical interests have been influenced by live, in-person performances from artists ranging from Andrea Bocelli to ZZ Ward, he gets his mojo primarily from what was playing on FM radio in the ‘70s and ‘80s. An occasional headbanger, Star may also dip into his collection to share a track or two from his time spent in Alternative radio, Top-40, and Album Oriented Rock.