By now you have all read the reviews of Bethel, and I agree with the consensus that this was a very strong start to Summer Tour. But that is not what this article is going to be about. I will talk about the shows and my reactions, but I wanted to provide a sense to our readers of what it was like to be in Bethel the whole weekend, complete with a first hand account of the disaster that was Yasgur’s Farm, why I am now too old for camping at a Phish show, and how my crew landed the perfect campsite.
The weekend started like any other long Phish weekend. My crew and I assembled Friday morning just outside of New York City. With my crew being hardened vets (or as we like to say “this ain’t our first rodeo”), we were packed with the essentials: tents, chairs, beer, Wild Boar stew, Vita Coco, and a special bottle of Pimm’s for Sunday. The weekend had all the marks of a classic good time. The ride up was joyous. The weather was great and spirits were high. There was just one outstanding issue we had to figure out before we landed: where the hell were we going to stay?
A few months ago we had booked at Yasgur’s farm. At the time it seemed like a good choice: a close campground, the promise of facilities and entertainment, and the chance to camp on the lawn of what used to be Max Yasgur’s house, but in retrospect we should have read the writing on the wall and stayed as far away from that place as possible. Not knowing if it was going to happen, we just decided to show up and make a decision on the spot as to what we should do. We ended up getting to the farm a little after noon on Friday and there were already people lined up in the driveway waiting to get in. Why weren’t they going in? Well, as it turns out, the farm was STILL waiting on permits for the 250 people they could legally have…what would happen to the others who showed up remain to be seen, if they would show at all. After getting over the initial disorganization and lack of information (you will notice this being an occurring theme, BTW) we decided to get our wristbands to ensure that we were in. After a not too long wait the gates opened and we went in. Where should we camp? Where should we park? There were no answers to these questions because a) no one was really in charge, b) no communication existed between Jeryl and Roy (the owners) and the rest of the people there, and (c) these people couldn’t have managed their way out of a paper bag even if they put their combined 3 brain cells together and tried.
Despite the massive disorganization we pushed on because we really had no other options. We had heard about this place Hector’s, but not knowing nothing we decided to stick it out at Yasgur’s because, hey, were were there. Plus, how bad could it be? Well, it was bad…worse than you could possibly imagine. As we were setting up camp in the woods it slowly began to dawn on us that these people had no business even attempting to host an event like this and it made more and more sense as to what the town was really trying to do by threatening to shut them down. They knew that Jeryl and Roy shouldn’t host people on their property because they are old burnt out hippies (or as AB called them “totally smoked”), and along with their friends Thumper, Ragu, and the Wizard of Zo (seriously. That is what they went by). What the town was saying was “we don’t mind people camping and all this stuff, just not there”. Don’t believe for one moment that Jeryl and Roy are the victims here. They are the cause of all the problems with the town and I, for one, would not mind it one bit if the town pursued all remedies against Jeryl and Roy, even issuing a fine large enough to cause them to pledge the deed of the property as collateral. I could go on about Jeryl and Roy and the farm, but I won’t. If you really want more insight into the debacle, check out the Yasgur Road Productions Facebook page. Its full of irate people who feel the same as I do.
But, being the vets we are, we pushed on. Once camp was set, the next mission was to figure out how to get to the venue. When we signed up we were told it was a “short walk 30-40 min walk through the woods”, but as soon as we arrived we realized that too was a farce. There was no path through the woods. There may have been a way to do it, but to our eyes it would have been nearly impossible, so we walked on the road. Not a terrible far walk, about 2.3 miles, but a shitty walk along 17B in the shoulder with cars whizzing by. During the day it was no problem, but at night it would be a different story. So walk we did and it was the best decision we made all weekend. On our walk as we approached the venue we saw a post office and a little general store with tents behind it adjacent to the entrance to the venue. It looked like a nice little spot, and while we were committed to Yasgur’s at this point, we knew that other options may be necessary should Yasgur’s become untenable.
After our 40 min walk we were finally in the lot. As pretty much everyone has said before, Bethel Woods is beautiful. The lots are very nice and stretch up a small hill going from grass to gravel to asphalt. Police were present, but mainly patrolled the outside of the lot, just keeping order. The lot scene was great. Best Shakedown Street I’ve seen in 3.0. The first night it was pretty tame, but the second and third, with the shows being sold out, Shakedown was totally going off. Walking through was shoulder to shoulder. Brought back a lot of memories of Shakedowns of yesteryear, but with one vast improvement: the food.
Lot food has never really been gourmet and it still isn’t, but one of the things I enjoyed most about the Shakedown at Bethel was the variety and increased quality of lot food from the more established vendors. The old standbys were there (Jerry Rolls, meat on a skewer, various burritos and quesadillas, french bread pizza, etc…). Back in the day, when you found the french bread pizza stand, you were in luck. This weekend had 3-4 pizza vendors. My buddy RM scored a pork quesadilla, an item I had never before seen on lot. I had a great sesame noodle dish with peanuts the first night (would have been better cold, but I am not complaining one bit). There was even a poms frites stand offering delicious fries with different dipping sauces. If this is a trend that is going to continue, I fully endorse it. There are so many options for lot food after the old standbys that I think a vendor with enough creativity and foresight could really find a nice niche. I’m thinking orzo salad, gazpacho, Korean tacos, cold sesame noodles, elote, and ceviche…you know, things that are tasty, inexpensive to make, and can either be made in large quantities or very quickly. I’m shocked that the lot hasn’t been taken over by the cupcake craze. If a normal cupcake can fetch $3, imagine what a gooball cupcake would fetch on lot.
After grabbing dinner, we headed into the show. The entrance to the venue is located at the top of the hill that lot is on, and it involves some walking to get to. The security lines were easy as pie. A perfunctory pat-down and you were on your way. No hassles about water bottles or anything because Bethel allows you to bring in your own food in a soft cooler, something our neighbors in front of us the first night took ample advantage of by soaking watermelon in vodka all day. It makes for a deliciously intoxicating mid-set snack :). Once you get into the venue you have more walking to do, across another field (!) and down a path until you come up to the top of the lawn overlooking the stage. If you have seen the pictures, you can get a sense of what it is like, but it really, truly is beautiful. The venue is also located adjacent to the site of the original Woodstock and if you go to the top of the lawn Page side and look off the back, you can see the natural amphitheater that held the original festival.
Since we had a large group, we staked out a spot midway up, half way over on Page side. The lawn was beautiful with nice, soft grass. It was a bit wet, given all the rain the area had received recently, but it was still in very good shape. Another nice aspect of Bethel is the lawn chair rental. They certainly come in handy during setbreak and when the show is over you just leave your chair on the lawn and the staff will collect them, preventing a clusterfuck of people trying to return them on their way out. A few of our group had vouchers so we set up the chairs and blanket and had a nice spacious area to dance in.
If I have one criticism of the venue, however, it would be lack of bathrooms. For a new venue, they should not have had as long bathroom lines as they did. It really wasn’t a problem as there were ample places off the backside of the lawn to take a leak, but for a new venue the place should have better bathrooms.
The Show: Night One
All three nights were great. IMO, the first night was at the bottom, but all 3 were your standard above-average/great Phish shows. We thought the first set was stronger than the second. Tweezer openers are normally a good sign, and this one was no exception. The first 5 songs of the first set are exactly what I love about first set Phish: different speeds, styles, and genres of music all mixed into one cohesive unit. Tweezer, My Friend, Poor Heart, Roses, Funky Bitch. Each song is distinctly different from the one that precedes it, yet somehow it makes sense. Tweezer funks you out an lets you dance. My Friend gets its rock on. Poor Heart lets you catch your breath and do a little ho-down Phish style. Roses is just plain weird (good way). Funky Bitch is rock and roll. I love it. Then came Walk Away. I am a huge Walk Away fan. Used to love it on my old tapes, and nothing is better than a Walk Away that comes out of another song. Its a great rock number, but I have to take issue with this version. I don’t really get the jam they tacked on the end. It didn’t feel right to me. I loved the Atlantic City and MSG versions, but this jam just seemed to be an excuse for the band to build to a Trey rock peak, which, while great, just seemed out of place. Its like they jammed this Walk Away for jamming sake. Stash, a natural Trey peak song also fell victim to the gratuitious Trey peak syndrome that was haunting the show. The build and release just wasn’t there for me. I felt like Trey was trying too hard on the release, instead of waiting for the right time to come around to it. The rest of the set closed in great, if unspectacular fashion. Axis was an obvious tribute to Hendrix.
Set Two was more of a mixed bag musically, but I was very impressed with the risks the band took, even if they didn’t always work out for me. I felt that the recurring theme of band build>Trey peak kept on coming up whether or not the song or situation dictated it. But that being said, the band definitely went for it with the Boogie On> Waves> Caspian> Crosseyed> Velvet Sea> Possum. It was a weird sequence of songs. My group also thought that Trey was having a tough time singing in the second set which might explain the odd song selection and singers (Fishman song, Page song, Mike song) to some degree. The highlight of the set to me was Coil, which had a very extended Page solo. Page was on all weekend and the first and second nights Pageside Rageside was where we were.
Night One Aftermath
There have been only a few times when I have left a Phish show early. In Camden ’09 I had to jet out on the encore, and to my bad luck it turned out to be an extended encore (Joy, Bouncing, Antelope, Reprise). Had it been a 1-2 song encore I could have stayed, but when Antelope started I knew I would have no chance of catching my train back to NYC, so I had to split. So on night one when we were offered a ride back to Yasgur’s with the only caveat that we would have to miss the encore, we took it. Being a Julius fan, I was upset to miss it, but it was a no-brainer. Our friend had also strategically parked near the back entrance, so our escape was that much easier.
Our return to Yasgur’s was an unfortunate, but necessary. The rest of the night was a shit-show. Our tent site was in the woods and near some shitty stage Ragu, Thumper, and The Wizard of Zo had set up, hoping that they would get bands to play, but none of them did. So instead they decided to play a recording of a Doors cover band (I kid you not). The highlight was a great Light My Fire>The Other One, but seriously, WTF? Some “band” did take the stage at maybe 4am, but to call them a band is maybe too generous. There weren’t even people at the stage to witness this debacle, but they played the music over the PA anyway. Realizing the camp was bunk we made an executive decision to move out first thing in the morning because we were not going to do this for 3 days. And that is just what we did.
The Post Office Field
When we awoke the next morning, we were faced with a choice. We needed to leave the pit that was Yasgur’s but where to go? We had heard about Hector’s, but had little information on it. We saw that other campsite near the venue, but also had no information on it. We decided the best thing would be to check the campsite behind the Post Office, and if that was unavailable we would try Hector’s. We peaced out of Yasgur’s at about 11 and headed to the Post Office. Readers, I cannot tell you enough what a good decision that was. The Post Office was paradise. Very friendly owners. Comfortable spot with plenty of space for camping. Amazing neighbors. And the crown jewel was its location directly adjacent to the bottom of the parking lot. Being next to the lot meant a couple of things. First, and most obviously, our 40 min walk to the lot had just turned into a 40 second walk to the lot (no joke). The second benefit, which was not immediately apparent, was the availability of pristine and clean porta potties, serviced and cleaned by Bethel Woods every night after the show. All we had to do was wake up in the morning, walk into the back of the lot, and be the first to use the freshly cleaned bathroom facilities. I cannot stress what a difference this made. Things were so good at the Post Office that even other events which otherwise would have killed the weekend were awesome. For example, a w00k nitrous dealer set up his tank in the tent next to me. On its face this was a bad, bad situation, but the w00k actually had a silencer for his tank and was gone by midnight, meaning that I didn’t have a tank going pppffffftttt next to my tent all night. It couldn’t have worked out better.
The Post Office changed our entire outlook on the weekend. Now we could have the weekend we wanted, and we did. With home base next to the venue and friendly neighbors, we were really able to finally relax and do what we came there to do: have fun.
The Show: Night Two
As all the other reviews have said, night two was the highlight of the run. Theme was an odd opener, but it worked. The rest of the first set was great too. Quinn was a treat (sidebar question: I could look this up, but am too lazy. Was Dylan at Woodstock?), and of course the Gin>Manteca> Gin (I am on a Manteca roll!). The second set was stellar and only a band like Phish could pull it off. Loved the Disease. I could have SWORN that BDNTL was going to be Scent of a Mule. The kid next to me too. Same with RM. Did anyone else have that reaction? I SWEAR Trey played the intro to Mule before they dropped into Number Line. Can OPT readers back me up? The Makisupa was obviously the highlight…classic Phish. Phish is about spontaneity, and not just jamming, but taking a screw up or joke and running with it, and that’s exactly what this Makisupa was. It was Mike’s House. And Page’s House. And Fish’s house. Page CRUSHED his house, and Pageside Rageside responded in kind. The set had great flow and nothing felt forced. Gone were the jam>Trey builds of the first night and the band was much more cohesive with the builds coming more naturally. And to top it off, all we had to do was walk through the lot to our new home. It couldn’t have been any better.
Hector’s and What Could Have Been
We woke up on Sunday and decided to go out for a proper breakfast. You can only survive on Wild Boar stew for so long and a proper breakfast with a cup of coffee to help flush the system was in order, so we hopped in the car for Monticello. On the way out, we decided to check out Hector’s to see what could have been. If Yasgur’s was a hippie hell, Hector’s was hippie refugee camp central. Tents stacked on top of each other. Cars parked everywhere. Saw a kid passed out on a chair with marker all over his face (OK, that was kind of funny), but Hector’s was a complete disaster – a different kind of disaster from Yasgur’s, but a disaster none-the-less.
I guess this would be a good point to make a comment about Phish and camping. I am 31 and have been seeing Phish since 1996. I’ve camped at the Went, Oswego (hottest weekend of my life), Deer Creek (twice), Big Cypress, IT, and Festival 8 (RV). This is the last time I camp out for Phish, sans an RV. I’m just to a point where I have both the means and the desire to have a comfortable bed, shade from the sun, and to not be in the middle of the circus. The circus has has its time and place, and I did it and loved every minute of it, but those days are over. Its not a statement against camping, its just where I am in my life. Having an RV at Festival 8 was a game changer for me.
After we surveyed Hector’s we continued to Monticello for breakfast. Another great decision. A good meal was just what we needed to fortify ourselves for the last day. A few cups of coffee and a trip to the flushing toilet later, we were back out prepping for the third night.
The rest of the day proceeded like the previous one, but this time I had the good fortune to introduce my good friends to the Pimm’s Cup. I was introduced to Pimm’s by a good friend three years previous on Memorial Day. Pimm’s is an odd drink. I can’t tell you what the liquor actually is except for it is 50 proof (25% alcohol), slightly sweet, and is enjoyed by the British. What it does do is make the perfect summertime drink if you want a refreshing cocktail in your hand that won’t get you all spun. Making a Pimm’s Cup is easy: take equal parts Pimm’s and 7up or Ginger Ale and pour into a pitcher over ice. Next add muddled mint, cucumbers (the key ingredient) and any other fruit you may like (I recommend orange, strawberry, and apples). Save some cucumber for garnish. Serve over ice and enjoy. Its a surefire crowd pleaser.
The Show: Night Three
The third night was our only pavilion night. We had two tickets in the pavilion on Saturday, but were with a large group so we hung out on the lawn. We were very excited to be inside and get indoor energy. As has been said before, the third night was solid. My only comment on the first set is “why can’t we get a second set Timber these days”? I LOVE Timber and will never complain about Timber, but I would love to see Timber return to the second set as either an opener or an >Timber, but they seem to like it in the first, so a guy can dream. Mikes was the big song that RM wanted to hear over the weekend. Unfortunately for us, we were still at the back of the lawn getting beer when the set started (we took an extended walk out to the top of the bowl overlooking the original Woodstock site for an appropriate “tribute” to the grounds and the deceased rock stars that played there), but like the weekend as a whole, when presented with lemons we made lemonade. Our journey from the top of the lawn back to our seats during Mikes was an epic adventure. People were dancing everywhere, but especially in the wings just outside of the pavilion and not quite on the lawn (think about the space where the trench that separates the pavilion from the lawn empties out into). Just a mass of people grooving hard. The trench too. I likened it to the climax in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (the original Star Wars). I felt like Luke flying through the trench of the Death Star, but instead of dodging lasers shot from TIE Fighters, I was dodging sweaty w00ks. It was seriously intense, but so was the Mikes. It all fit. I thought that the closing Slave was on point and one of the best I’ve ever seen. The Reprise to close it out was as expected and proper tribute was paid.
This Is The End
My adventures in Bethel exceeded my expectations. The irony of the entire weekend was that without getting fucked at Yasgur’s we wouldn’t have found paradise behind the Post Office. We needed to be at Yasgur’s to have had the opportunity to learn about the Post Office. Had we bypassed Yasgur’s and gone to Hector’s the first night we would have been trapped in the refugee camp and still not known about the Post Office because it was on the other side of the entrance to the venue, so in a way Yasgur’s was the best thing that happened to us. Sometimes you need those moments to set everything right and put events in the proper perspective. Its also a lesson in being proactive. We went into the weekend with limited information and made the best decision we could based on the evidence, but once we realized Yasgur’s was a hole, we did what we could to remedy it.
As far as the venue goes, it is a jewel, and I hope Phish goes back. Its actually surprisingly close to New York City, which makes it even more accessible. The staff is great and really contributed to the good time. We are a good crowd (generally) and very respectful (most of the time) and if we are treated with the same respect, as was the case in Bethel, things run very smoothly and everybody wins. Good job.
The shows were great. An excellent way to kick off the summer. A lot of people were expecting (hoping) for a Harpua-laced Woodstock tribute. I didn’t think one would be forthcoming. It hasn’t been their style recently and you really can’t come out of the gates with a Harpua on one of the first 3 shows of a tour. If one does poke its head out this summer, it will be Watkins or Denver. And I thought Phish did pay tribute to Woodstock by playing a lot of classic rock covers, even if the bands themselves weren’t at the concert. Over the weekend they covered Ween, James Gang, Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads (x2), Dylan, the Beatles, Josh White & Sam Gary (Timber), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deodato, and the Rolling Stones. If that isn’t a tribute to Classic Rock, I don’t know what is.
And one final word to Jeryl and Roy: Really?!? You guys need to get your act together. You have a problem with the town? Fine. Work it out with them, but don’t use us as your pawns. And if you are going to host people on your property, at least be ready for them. Get it together. To paraphrase Jeffery “The Big Lebowski” Lebowski, “Your revolution is over. Condolences. The Hippies lost.”
PS – Trey, if you are ever short on a keyword for Makisupa, try “w00k”. It worked for us all weekend.