A great weight has been lifted off my shoulders with last week’s announcement of the first leg of Phish’s summer tour. I can finally make other plans in (at least) June; I was holding off making any non-important commitments until I knew the official dates. I know I have a wedding the second Friday in July–luckily that doesn’t seem like it will encounter any conflicts.
Like many of you, just looking at the list of the venues Phish will be playing this summer makes the weather feel warmer around me. Summer is so close I can taste it. The upside of Phish waiting so long to release their tour dates is that you don’t have to wait too long to see them once they are announced–only three more months! Right now we bask in the joy of researching our journeys online–going over what works for you and your friends in respect to vacation days and travel planning. Google Maps probably sees a noticeable spike in traffic the day a Phish tour is announced. Even if you know the way to a certain venue, it’s still fun to look at the route on a map–it’s also fun to plot the various venues you are attending on the same Google Map direction page; “wow, 36 total hours of driving? for 12 hours of music?”. Google Maps also tells us exactly how many miles we are going to be driving–certainly something many of us will be paying close attention to seeing as how gas prices are expected to sky rocket heading into summer (thanks Libya).
To me, there is no better feeling than leaving with your closest friends early in the morning for tour. Spirits are high, stories are retold, and laughter is plentiful. One big question is, “who controls the music?”. Does the person riding shotgun control it or does the driver? I usually like putzing around with the music myself. Typically I end up leaving my place around 5-6am in order to check into my first hotel with enough time to enjoy myself. When it’s early in the morning, I prefer lighter music or interesting instrumental music. Once the sun is fully up, coffee has been ingested, and the day is in full swing, it’s time for the Phish. I’ll usually start with some classic Phish–I don’t know, maybe 12/12/92, 5/8/93, or 8/13/93. Eventually I like making the switch over to more recent Phish, either from the previous tour or even the previous night (technology is so awesome). I like getting a feel of what the most recent Phish have to offer. As I get closer to my destination, I’ll probably start playing some NYE, Manchester, or Utica–I’m actually a big fan of the abbreviated ACL show too.
Searching for the best hotel is also fun for me. It’s a delicate balance between price, proximity, location, and amenities. I don’t like a drive any more than 10 minutes from the venue–that can become hell after the show. However, I’m also not willing to pay $300 for a room to just pass out in so I can hit the road a few hours from then.
One of the worst recent hotel-related memories I have is from 2009. Anyone who is familiar with Deer Creek knows that, even with the city growth we’ve seen since 1.0, hotels are not very plentiful nearby. I slacked and didn’t reserve a room–I figured I would be fine if I just drove a bit after the show and found one on the freeway en route to Alpine. Well, that huge storm just rolled through–the roads were wet, there was a Disco Biscuits advertisement the size of a poster plastered on my windshield that got all tangled in my wipers, and mud everywhere. I stopped at 3 different hotels on the way down the road–all were booked. I called a few more: booked. I eventually reached a hotel about 45 minutes northwest of the venue. The cute girl at the front desk wanted $175 for the night. Let me interject for a moment to explain just how psychotic I looked; aside from the fact that I’m a sweaty mess after any Phish show (especially one at Deer Creek when it was 100 degrees all day), I was wearing a sopping-wet white undershirt (which was basically see-through at this point), my baby blue swim trunks, and Adidas running shoes without socks with my hair sticking in every direction.
I said, “ok, are there any other hotels close by? I’m just here to sleep [with my brother and friend] for a few hours before we get back on the road.”
She looked at me with rolling eyes and offered the room for $97. I took it. Keep in mind that this was at about 3:30 am. The show ended about 1 am that evening, and it took about 1.5 hours to get out of the parking lot.
The great thing about summer tour is that exhausting setbacks like this make for some of our fondest memories. We woke up in a crispy, air-conditioned room, got the routine continental “breakfast”, and drank some crappy coffee on a beautiful summer morning. Back into the car for a drive with the windows down and the music up.
There’s nothing like stopping in a random, back-woods gas station for a fill up and some treats and running into others with Phish shirts on–sometimes you speak to them, sometimes you just exchange friendly nods. Often times the unexpecting cashier asks what’s with all the commotion, or simply asks, “are you going to the concert too?” Sometimes you’ll be in a grocery store parking lot 75 miles away from the next venue and you hear the faint sound of Phish playing. As you walk towards the building the sound grows and you come across another group of fans just taking a quick break after refilling their cooler with ice and beer. These are all things that are more exciting when Phish isn’t exclusively playing on the East Coast.
When Phish is touring west of the Appalachians, venues are fewer and farther between. When you come across other fans, it’s much more exciting. When you’re going from Merriweather to nTelos, it’s not exactly the same feeling. The farther away from both the venue and civilization, the more special it is when you are rolling down the freeway at 4 am and you pass a row of cars with Phish stickers (think ridiculous drives like Telluride to Deer Creek or Shoreline to Gorge). It’s trivial things like this that make summer tour for me.
While I love experiencing the lights drop dramatically in an arena to see Phish, there’s something blissful about hearing the pre-show music stop mid-song and seeing Page walking, laughing with Trey about something in the light of the sun. Everyone is more noticeably in a good mood. The sun often provided in first sets reflects in both song selection and jamming.
Some of the best summer songs to see with the sunlight:
- Ya Mar
- Divided Sky
- Runaway Jim
- Sample in a Jar
- Kill Devil Falls
- Chalk Dust Torture
Then, towards the end of the first set, you see the light from the sun slowly fade, Kuroda’s impressive work becomes more noticeable, and the show’s mood becomes more adventurous.
The hot and sticky setbreaks are something I could never speak ill of. I’d much rather be outside, dripping with mine (and others’) sweat, sitting in my seat talking about what I had just experienced with my friends, rather than in a stuffy and smelly arena. I’d also make the argument that there is nothing like the feeling of the lights dropping over the crowd at an outdoor show. I think the excitement is far greater. The cool night breeze usually brings the jams right along with it.
Of course, since it’s summer, the weather is still (usually) wonderful after the show. Even if it takes you hours to get your car through the post-show gridlock, you can still talk to friends outside of your ride, enjoying beers, bottles of water, and food. (Continue on Page 2)