Telluride – A Phishead’s Paradise

Telluride was amazing, for reasons aside from the music we would hear there.  Going into the most anticipated shows since–possibly ever, Phish fans lucky enough to have tickets were beyond excited and Telluride locals were somewhat fearful of how the fans would behave.  As most of you know, these shows were highly touted for a couple of reasons–aside from the obvious natural beauty of the venue’s outdoor setting at 9,000 feet nestled in the end of a box canyon, Phish had not played here since 1991 (and started their national touring career here in 1988).  Phish was well aware the significance of playing this small 2,000 person town again–there was no way this wouldn’t be a stand-out double-header of shows, right?
Most of Telluride is made up of wealthier residents year-round, touting a progressive and “green” lifestyle (think Boulder but higher up and a bit of older residents) and younger skiers in the winter.  The main strip is dotted with all sorts of jewelry stores, clothing stores, ski stores and interesting restaurants.  A couple places I ate at were “The Butcher and the Baker” (awesome ham sandwich), something “saloon” for a wonderful brie burger and, of course, the hot dog stand both nights after the shows.  I tried eating at a burrito stand after the Monday show, but it took literally an hour after ordering–they were not ready for the demand at all–they ended up telling everyone that they were out of food.  Obviously I started rioting (just kidding). 
The city was in festival mode–every business was packed and most made funny signs to lure in phans.  There were after shows aplenty, you could hear music down the streets until the bars closed every night.  Due to how loud the after shows were, I assume that Phish’s strict 11pm curfew was because Telluride wanted the after show flood of money into the businesses there, rather than because of neighborhood sound restrictions.  There was a gondola going to the top of a nearby mountain, and then over the top to Mountain Village, ran until (I think) 3am for free.  Free shuttles took fans up and down the strip, although everything was so close you could walk easily (unless you were unfortunate enough to get the baseball diamond camp ground). 
Traffic flowed really well, much better than I expected.  There were no backups to get into town, and no back ups leaving (at least when I left Wednesday morning).  The barricade was pretty much a joke, seeing as there were a number of ticketless fans, although not an overwhelming amount at all.  I saw no cars being towed and security was some of the most lax I have ever seen inside or outside a show–backpacks were almost not checked at all and to get in you just held up your wrist band while running in a mob of fans to get a good spot.  Getting in without tickets would have been easier than any other show in recent Phish history.
The first day I stood in line to get a good spot at 11am–it was a beautiful line, wrapping along the side of a gently flowing river and over a wooden bridge.  When the sun was shining it was hot, when there was cloud cover it was comfortable–the weather fluctuates very quickly there.  The shows were pretty cold by the second sets.  Trey wore a jacket both second sets, Mike a hooded vest. 
I stayed in the high school soccer field campground–I arrived at about 1pm on Sunday and got the 10th last parking spot in the school.  Additional cars past what the parking lot could hold were escorted over a mile down the road to a satellite lot–which must have been awful for camping.  However, the grass was dry and very comfortable.  After fears over the month long rain the city had experienced, the ground absorbed the water very nicely with little to no mud anywhere–it rained in the wee hours of the morning both nights, but nothing too heavy.  The weather Sunday through Tuesday was gorgeous.  Staying at the highschool was nice because they also had hot showers, bathrooms and an impressive breakfast each morning.
All in all, the event was coordinated perfectly, even more so than Festival 8 (and that’s impressive).  Everyone working the show was seeing the show, so everyone knew that this was supposed to be a celebration.  Pretty much anything was fair game and fans were incredibly respectful and well-behaved in turn.  A lot of that I chalk up to the fact that this was pretty much a wook-less Phish show.  Only people hard core about getting tickets or with enough money to buy them resale with the means of making the long and expensive jaunt to the middle of the Rockies were at this show.  It was the CORE of the serious Phish fans.

Moving on to the music:
I found the musical aspect of the shows fairly disappointing–and I know I’m not alone here.  I have accepted the fact that I should not get hyped up about shows that are supposed to be good–but this was Telluride, this was huge and Phish knew that.  The shows, while have cool looking setlists, feature very little experimentation or improvisation in general.  Trey, unlike the Deer Creek and Alpine shows that followed, sounded like a dying cat in most “jams”–scratching out notes that didn’t even go with the rest of the band (like the Simple from the Greek–awesome jam, awful Trey).  Trust me, I hate saying this–but there is no way I’m going to fluff it because it was Telluride.  Also, starting at the Greek, Trey has a teleprompter in front of his mic stand and between his monitors.  Before each set, someone is coming out and programming it with a wireless keyboard.  What the hell is this for?  Setlists?  Lyrics (obviously not)?  Get it together bud. 

The Down with Disease opener on Monday night certainly got everyone pumped–it was a straightforward rocker before Camel Walk, possibly a nod to their earlier days playing there, came out for a stroll.  Ocelot was quite enjoyable for me in this pristine setting, the sun still out.  Ocelet is a song I can only enjoy live in outdoor first sets (because of the sun)–I feel this song suffers in arenas.  When they played the third Light Up or Leave Me Alone since 1988 (4th since Telluride 1988) I was pumped–Page’s vocals were great.  It didn’t rock quite as hard as this year’s earlier version, but it was spot on.

Following Light Up, Trey’s first banter of the beautiful setting came out.  He said he wanted to play a song that was about the first summer after they had first played Telluride–oh boy–Summer of ’89.  Yea, the song is pretty, it was kind of nice with the setting too.  Does it need to be 10 minutes long (4 MINUTES LONGER THAN THE TWEEZER LATER IN THE SHOW)?  Probably not.  The Stash that came after built up nice tension with Mike hot out of the gates, however it lacked a normal peak–this is common with 3.0 Stashes, as most of you know by reading this site.  I am a Stash stickler (well that sounds funny).  An odd mid-set Cavern came next and out of its ending came The Wedge–I was real pumped to see this, I love this song.  Oh, what’s that?  Oh it’s just Trey playing the song in the wrong key again–Page thankfully pounds this keys to make sure Trey can hear the way the song is correctly played.
I lost it when they opened the second set with Sand.  The last two times it was played were awesome.  Entering the jam, Trey laid down a serious digital delay loop, albeit it quieted down rather fast–something he never does outside of Gotta Jibboo, now (and Toyota Park 09’s 2001).  The jam that was moving along quite nice eventually found spacey murk–a perfect place for Mike and Fish to find a groove in this song.  Instead, Trey awkwardly scratches out the beginning to a decent Number Line before going into an impressive Prince Caspian. 
After the closing lyrics to Caspian, Phish starts jamming for a few minutes in very space cadet fashion.  This is easily the most improvisational version of Caspian in recent Phish history.  And then, BOOM, Tweezer.  Here we go–the jam quickly switched over to a reggae groove (probably because the teleprompter told Trey to do so).  All jokes aside, this Tweezer is only 6 minutes but is still worth listening to for the segue into Boogie On, the best Boogie On of 3.0.  Rather than the normal 3.0 liner jam the song usually contains, this one sank down and really got jammed out nice.  This version also included a Manteca tease from Page.  I love it when Mike is pounding on his foot bell in the middle of it.  Piper comes out of it and obviously rocks, but isn’t anything that isn’t usual for 3.0 Pipers. 
Mountains in the Mist was appropriately played to end the string of songs.  After a completely sub-par David Bowie that was thought to close the set came A Day in the Life.  It was a complete blast of a version too.
The encore was great–the first Quinn the Eskimo since 10/02/1999.  They played it perfectly and the whole crowd was singing along.  Some will say this was a nod to Jerry on the anniversary of his death because The Dead would play this song sometimes.  I say probably not.
The second day I hopped in the line to get in at about 1pm–two hours later than the day before.  I got on rail right in front of Page, too.  It was because they didn’t allow tarps past a certain point for this show, keeping a lot of people from going as close as they would have liked.
I met a super cool girl in line and she stayed with me for the entire show.  She made this night even more of a blast for me–she also is contributing a lot of the Telluride pictures for this site.  She also loves Skittles and knows Trey. 
Opening with The Squirming Coil was a pretty cool choice I thought–totally out of left field.  The last time Coil opened a show was 7/16/1998, and only the fourth time ever.  Page had his usual solo and Mike put down his bass and walked around to the back of his rig to get something.  He came back and stood looking at Page with his arms crossed–looking upset as usual–it was pretty funny.  Timber Ho! was a blast to see in this setting, it wasn’t nearly as good as the last time the played it, but still a serious version–a straight forward rendition.  I hope to see this come out in the middle of a second set jam soon.  Phish appropriately played Divided Sky while the sun was setting behind the mountains–an exciting version by 3.0 standards.  Walk Away came next.  
I know you guys had to listen to me gush over this year’s Hartford version because of its extended segment and Tweeprise theme.  Well, Fishman clicks over the drums to the fast open hi-hat in this version, too!  While not as long as its predecessor, this one rocks beyond what is normal for Phish’s version of the song too.  I hope this is a reoccurring theme with the song.  Second set 20 minute Walk Away soon?  Might have to program that one into the ‘prompter myself.
The Roses are Free was a hit (as usual), especially in this festive setting, and went into a beautiful Limb by Limb–a song I have found more respect for in 3.0.
The second set opened with Party Time that got the crowd excited for what was next.  This song seems to be played before either big sets or events, now–(F8, NYE set III, Telluride set II night II).  The Mike’s Song that followed was a short but heavy version that (kinda) segued into Crosseyed and Painless (what I was hoping they would play in Telluride).  The Mike’s > Crosseyed was an awesome combo of songs that I hope we see again.  Crosseyed rocked pretty hard but had no “Telluride Jam” before settling down and going into I am Hydrogen which was interesting but unexpected out of this song.  During the ‘Paug intro, Trey took off his guitar to put on his jacket while Mike was soloing away.
Another old song popped its head out, Destiny Unbound–however, it was pretty flub-filled which was disappointing.  Then, keeping with the theme of heavy songs, Carini’s evil head popped up from behind the mountains.  This song has found a serious base for heavy jamming in 3.0, and this version is no different.  Page’s synth was rattling people’s inner organs.  I should note here that the sound for these shows was impeccable–extremely loud and crisp.  Fish said “one of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces” during the jam–then Trey started screaming while having his guitar mimic it.  Carini worked its way into Free.
The Heavy Things that followed matched suit with other 3.0 versions since Miami’s last year–not including its patented delay that usually punctuates the entire song.  You Enjoy Myself closed the set.  Up to this point people were beginning to wonder if that was the only placement for YEM from here on out, considering that’s the only spot the song has been in until Alpine’s.
Phish came out for the encore and Trey let his guitar hang to his side while he spoke of how thankful they were to be back here.  He told the story of when they drove out west in a box truck with no air conditioning for what was supposed to be a “huge Colorado tour” before finding out it was all a scam.  How they went on to play in Telluride for a week for the same group of people and staying in a house over there (while pointing at it).  The single song they chose for the encore was Shine a Light–a musical way of bowing in thankfulness for the blessing that has been “shined” upon their lives–they were able to come back to the place that started something so huge.  Coming back to play there was another reminder to them that they had really made it as an American success story in music.
Walking out of Town Park the tour buses passed the fans lining the streets.  Trey popped his head into his tour bus window and smiled and waved to a cheering crowd.  It was fun to see the buses come in and go out each day, there was only one way in and out for cars, so it was almost a parade and the band rolled in and out of town.  We hope to see you again here, too, Phish–although I have a feeling this is a one time thing, which makes it even more special.
Thanks to Shana Horowitz for the pictures. (OPT Photography Manager)
A Telluride photo post will be up shortly