The Relentless Communicator: My Dirty Little Secret

SuperBall IX is a topic that’s been on the minds and lips of phans since long before it was announced and rightfully so. After a year off, Phish is back to throwing their own festival and this time it’s in the heart of their east coast fan-base. I’ve been asked repeatedly if I was going, and the answer has always been “probably not”. That’s all well and good, especially considering the financial realities that make attendance a stretch, but then I drop the bomb on them: I’m not really that into Phish festivals.

I’ll give you a moment to wipe the coffee from your computer screen.

It seems shocking to many, considering that the Phish-only festival seems to be part and parcel with the whole experience and people know how passionate I am about this band. It may seem surprising that I can be so dismissive of the festivals, but I am. My argument can be surmised in two bullet points: I don’t think the music is any better than any other show, and I’ve been burned before.

I’m not even going to consider debating the first point, since it seems ludicrous. Phish brings the heat anywhere and everywhere. Festivals or hockey arenas, outdoor sheds or coffee shops, I don’t really care where I see Phish, because I know I’m in the presence of America’s finest rock n’ roll band. Before you go emailing links to the Went Gin, understand that what I’m saying is that they’re a pretty universal level of great everywhere. Nothing about the festival makes them play the songs better. The magic happens, no one knows when and no one knows why, but it sure does happen. Nothing about a festival makes that any more or less likely. Phish has played clunkers in the big shows and blown the roof off of the small ones. I don’t think anyone can actually predict when and where it’s going to happen, they just have to hope that they’ll be there.

Now on to my other point, which is that I’ve been burned at festivals in general, but I’ve really been burned by Phish.

I’ve been to three Phish only festivals in my life: Big Cypress, IT and Coventry. I’ll admit upfront that Cypress was a life-changing experience, the memories of which I’ll cherish forever. However, the circumstances of that festival will never be recreated, both with the changing of millennia and the epic all night set. Big Cypress was magical, but it was also circumstantial.

The other two Phish festivals I attended were enough to swear me off the whole thing completely. IT was so bad I vowed then and there to never attend another Phish festival… then I went to Coventry. We all know how that turned out.

Now, I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade. By all accounts, Festival 8 seems to have been a success. My sister, and many others whose opinions I respect greatly, went to 8 and had a great time. I’m sure that SuperBall IX couldn’t possibly rival the shit-show that was IT and Coventry, and I hope it doesn’t, but I won’t be around to find out.

The truth is I’m there for the music. I’m not going to say “only the music” because that would disavow how much I enjoy the Phish community and what comes with it. However, if I had to pick the scene or the songs… well, it’d be an easy pick.

The festival aspect holds little appeal for me anymore. I understand that comes off making me sound like a grumpy old man, which is fine, in many ways, I am. If you disregard the music, all festivals are pretty much the same. Wake at 6am with the sun. Sit around the campsite all day. Work a little harder to get yourself fed, cleaned and ready to roll. On top of all that, it can be completely ruined by something as simple as rain.

A Phish festival, to me, represents a high risk endeavor where a Phish show does not. Go to a Phish show, and go home happy. Period. The band will bring it, and you’ll be there for two long sets of rock n’ roll that transcends description.

A Phish festival is a high risk event. It might rain. You could camp in a mud puddle. You’re guaranteed to have to kill an entire day sitting around a campsite before the show starts, and that day will start at 6:30 in the morning with the sun. It’s a big risk. There’s enough time for anything to go wrong. Now, I’ve been through worse to see a Phish show, but it doesn’t serve as any sort of bonus for me.

I could get more excited if Phish added other bands to their festival. I’d get the feeling that I was getting more than the regular show experience that way, and that’s a real selling point. Imagine four stages, hand-picked by each band member. Afternoon and late night sets? That would make the Phish festival an actual festival, instead of what it is now: Phish plus camping.

The tent festival doesn’t appeal to me like it used to, principally just because it’s just an old adventure. When I was 18, being in some strange place in a tent was enough. Not anymore. I’m all for keeping things interesting, which is why I loved my trip to Atlantic City back in October. To me, the backdrop of the Boardwalk and all the casinos was far more interesting than primitive tent camping. It was a new adventure, and I loved it.

I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade here, and I hope everyone who goes to SuperBall IX has a blast. I just probably won’t be there.