Guest Author: Kristen Burton
My first Phish show was in 1993, at Bloomsburg University in central Pennsylvania. It was a small, packed venue. I had never heard of Phish, I just tagged along with a couple of college friends who said I MUST go to this show. Do you remember your first time? Do you remember laughing as Trey and Mike bounced with ridiculous grace on trampolines? Do you remember the thrill of the ball jam, watching in wonder as Page, Mike and Trey joined hands onsatage in a human hoop to catch the balls? And how about the music – had you ever experienced anything quite like it? I remember thinking after the show that the entire night felt like I was on some crazy roller coaster, with high, raging peaks and dark, dirty lows, not knowing which twist or turn was coming up next, but hanging on for the ride with all my might.
Of course I was hooked from that moment on, but I was a college student with demands on my time and wallet, so I didn’t attend another show. In fact I wasn’t able to get to another show for over a decade. I had no idea there was a network of tapers where I could obtain more of what my ears so desperately craved, so I listened to my Phish cassettes until they broke, and then I listened to my Phish CDs, and now, let’s just say we’re lucky .flac files don’t wear out like cassettes did. So my Phish knowledge and experience is full of holes, but I don’t think that waters down my appreciation for the band any less.
I attended nights 1 and 2 of Bethel this year with a friend,, and on a whim I decided to venture to the third show, solo, and bought a ticket on the lot (hoping like hell the ticket was good – it was, reinforcing my belief that in general, Phish fans are decent people). I staked out my little square of grass, and found that the folks around me were not afraid to smile and wave to a stranger who was grooving just as hard as they were. To my left stood a guy I nicknamed Daniel. He looked like a Daniel. We developed an instant Phish friendship, exchanging ecstatic looks with the start of each song, cheering in unison, and dancing like our lives depended on it. Conversation was limited to gleeful acknowledgments that yes indeed, Page was on fire, Fish was sublime, the boys were back. While our camaraderie lasted only as long as the first set, if I ever see Daniel again you can bet we’ll grin and hug, just like we did when we heard those first lovely licks of “Ya Mar”.
That night was the first time I’d ever heard the song “Timber (Jerry)”. I’ll never forget hearing that first “Timber, HOOOOO!”, my skin turning to goosepimples, laughter just bubbling right out of me. I’ve had a minor obsession with the song since then, venturing to YouTube to hear other artists’ interpretations. (So far I still like Phish’s best.) There is something great about knowing that you can go to a show and still be surprised, and experience that “break out” sensation that Phish can deliver so well. “Timber” is not the only song I haven’t heard, I’m sure there are many others. While a few of you may be scoffing and thinking up great names to call me that incorporate the word “n00b” in some creative fashion, I think I represent a lot of fans who love and appreciate the music in our own way. Every fan has been here once. We weren’t born knowing the lyrics to “Stash”, we learned as we listened.
I think we fans all have a lot to learn from each other. Those of us who love and appreciate Phish but have not had time or money to hit as many shows as we’d like can learn from the veteran concert-goers. The veterans are the ones who can tell you the must-have shows for your collection, they can share the history of the songs, they can share the in-jokes and what to look for (and avoid) in the lot, and they have some stories, too, that are well worth the listen. Those who know all there is to know about Phish (or claim to) can find things to appreciate about those of us who don’t have the years and experience they do. For us, many songs are still fresh, and there’s something wonderful about seeing someone lose their shit the first time they hear a live Gin or Harry Hood. You were there once too – you know what I’m talking about.
Special thanks to Kristen Burton for contributing this piece to OPT