Postcards From Page Side: There’s a LOT Missing

With the three year anniversary of Phish’s “return” looming, and finding ourselves in between the madness of New Year’s and the announcement of Summer Tour, I felt it was a good time to take a look at the transformation of Phish’s scene in this day and age, and more specifically, what’s missing from outside the shows, more specifically the aspects of the scene and parking lots.

[Photo by Joel Berk]

While the days of packing up the car and doing a full tour are seemingly long gone with the two-leg breakdown, often requiring fans to fly, there is seemingly a LOT (pun intended) missing from the scene we once knew. Sure, there are many things still prevalent: from the tailgate mentality to the nitrous vendors looming in the shadows, the overall feel and vibe of a community on the road, traversing the highways of this great land just seem to be a thing of the past. Call me nostalgic, or a bit older, but most things that were tour staples are now simply a rarity, or gone all together.

Sure, you can still pack the car and catch a string of shows in the Southeast or Northeast, but the days of hardcore touring are just about extinct. Speaking with a dear friend over the MSG shows about how he did every single one of the 54 shows of Fall ’95, it got me thinking for a future column, the one I am writing today. Think about the logistics alone it takes to pack up a van with five or six people, a dog and a small amount of money and figuring out 54 shows on the fly. That’s what my buddies did. (For instance, they even had to replace the gas pedal with an empty tennis shoe taped to the floor once it broke off mid-tour. Phish kid ingenuity at its finest). So, how did they support themselves? They sold beer, grilled cheese and other stuff to make it from one show to the next. And – it worked!

[Photo by Parker Harrington]

Sure, today people still do the same, but not nearly to the same extent. In fact, the snapshot of the late ’90s, more specifically ’99 and ’00 saw an influx of shady characters on the lot at just about every show, selling hard drugs and god knows what else. But, it also gave the lot scenes before and after shows a certain vibe and element that let you know you were not in Kansas anymore when deciding to pick up and join the traveling circus known as tour. Yes, many folks have since grown up, had families or retired from Phish all together at this stage of 3.0, but I, for one, miss the elements of the lots that made the scene – as an overall whole — what it once was. That includes the good, the bad and the ugly/dangerous.

There was nothing like traveling all summer and seeing the same cars on the road, camping with people at Deer Creek and then running into them three weeks later on the road to Limestone or Great Woods. The sense of community, bond of camaraderie and general accomplishment and luckiness was something I wouldn’t trade for anything. It is still something we all share with one another at every show, but in smaller snapshots – the long hauls just don’t seem to be feasible anymore, and that starts with the schedules that the band plays. It’s logistically and geographically impossible to tour like we used to tour.

While the Grateful Dead gave an introduction into the jam band world and life of touring to a mass of high school and college aged music fans towards the end of the last century, with Jerry Garcia’s passing, that opened the portal for many of them to latch on and discover Phish.  However, in Phish’s case, since Hampton they have yet to truly capture a younger audience the way the Dead/Phish relationship spilled over, and it results in many of the fans ageing along with the band.  For instance 50% of YEMblog’s 4,000+ Facebook fans are between the ages of 25-34, while only 13% are between 18-24. A whopping 30% are between 35-44. When you looked around a typical Phish show during the late ’90s, you saw mostly college aged kids such as myself, that’s not the case anymore. Also, when you consider the age of those fans and that perhaps many of the males are married, the fact that 73% of YEMblog’s Facebook fans are males leads me to believe many fans can’t leave their wife and/or kids to “tour.”

Yes, I’m older and don’t spend as much time in the lots as I used to at a show, but I wish that those who do would realize it’s as much of an experience as the show itself sometimes. The buzz in the air as showtime approaches, the late night rest area gatherings with random fans who are on the same journey as you and especially the things sold in the lot at shows are all there – just in smaller doses (again, pun intended). One glaring example is the “lot shirts” and clothing lines of old. I remember tours when I had to sell an extra few beers to buy a shirt I saw five shows earlier and still have enough cash for a ticket and gas money and food. In addition to those fan-made pieces of clothing and art, there were tour staples like Be Good Family and seedleSs clothing lines that I remember on tour for years. Sure, again, they may still be there, but it’s just not the same in my eyes.

This again goes back to the scheduling of shows and geographical logistics. I’m sure it’s one reason that Phish’s management books the tour(s) the way that they do, to ward off hangers on that eventually brought the scene down and infiltrated the backstage, and it seems to be working. For that I am very thankful. I work hard and am able to travel in a little more comfort with my fiancé to the shows we want now, but for your Average Joe fan who relies on driving and selling shirts or selling beer to support themselves on the road, it’s much harder. Higher gas prices don’t help.

Overall, I feel that the main ingredients of that once amazing mixture of the cake known as tour are still there, but it seems like instead of picking it up fresh at the bakery on Sunday morning, with the smell wafting through the air and your nostrils, we are simply trying to make the same results out of a box bought on the shelf these days – at least in regards to certain aspects of the scene.

As the iconic line in Chalk Dust Torture asks: “Can’t this wait ’til I’m old, can’t I live while I’m young?” The answer is still most certainly yes! It just seems that that pace has slowed a bit, and the eats on the lot, or gear you just have to have to be the headiest kid at the show are a bit watered down. That said, enjoy every minute, because the same old band awaits inside of each venue. And in the end, that’s all that truly matters.

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16 Responses

  1. I have mixed feelings about this issue. I toured a lot in 95, 96, and 97 and could see the lot “scene” (and it was a scene) developing into something new and different during those years, especially after Jerry died and the “GDF” kids hopped on Phish tour.

    When I first started seeing Phish it was pretty much guaranteed that anyone you talked to in the lot had seen Phish, was excited to see Phish for the first time, or otherwise was happy to be there. Around 97 there was a major shift and I remember having many conversations with kids who were just there to make money and get wasted. I remember hearing “Phish sucks” every single day. And this was during some of the best years of playing (in my opinion) They had been on GD tour a few years ago and saw Phish kids as an easy target. So around 99 I stopped seeing Phish. Partly this was because the music wasn’t moving me the way it used to, and partly because I found the walk through the lot frustrating and sad. I was getting into other types of music at this time, so I figured I’d give Phish a rest.

    Fast-forward 10 years. Phish decides to reunite and I’m psyched. I figured enough time had passed and I was in a MUCH different place in my life (wife,kid,career,etc). I sucked it up and bought Hampton tickets and have been to about 15 3.0 shows and couldn’t be happier about the crowd and the scene. Once again people seem to be there for Phish and not for the party. That said, I feel like there’s enough of a lot scene that you can find what you need there. You might have to look a little harder, but it’s there.

  2. I remember the Dead in the early 90s, changing up their touring patterns – staggering stops up and down the East coast, in order to sytmie some of what you describe.

    I refused to be a Dead refugee after Jer died, and only went to my first show (4/3/98) after being nagged by my college buddies. Well, it stuck, and personally, I love seeing an older crowd now at the shows. Sure, there still is a sketchy element, but there also is a level of maturity that is comforting enough for me to bring my 16 year old with me. I’ll take that trade off for sure.

  3. Who cares about the lots? Sure they can be fun, but they are usually sketchy and filled with retarded party people. It’s about the shows and the music!

  4. I second Ian’s motion…i feel the exact same way and followed the same pattern. 94-98 were spectacular 99-01 a few but lost a lot of interest, 2.0 not so much, 3.0 pretty fun, not the same but it’s still better than 2.0 in my opinion

  5. Nice article Brian. U make a valid point about the lot possibly being a missing intangible. Yes it’s all about the music, but the lot was an undeniable part of yesteryear’s Phish.

  6. I went to Merriweather and sold stuffed cactus playing bass guitar dolls. While walking around the lot hocking my wares, a group of 4 dudes around my age (somewhere between 18-26, im 24) walked up to me and said “Hey man, why are you selling dolls of cactuses playing bass guitars?” that encapsulates what is wrong with the lot scene.

  7. The lot had to change. Essex was so nice it was friend and family oriented. People still having a party drinking smoking and just chillin with NO sketchiness! It was much better than in Manchester where the mafia and the non phish lovers ruled the mini parking lots and it was embarassing. Tanks EVERYWHERE, hard shit everywhere fake shit everywhere fights. I would much rather chill with friends, I think it all depends which city and show. Camden has always been a nightmare since day 1. The fests are still fun even though they are smaller I feel that makes it better. And the less kids things is fine. I love seeing youngsters who get it. I was there but there is nothing worse than seeing a 16 year old kid losing his shit bc he didnt know what a pressie was. Oh and the lot may have slightly disappeared but phish hasnt they still have 1 band fests with 30-40k and sell out msg in 10 minutes. And besides its all about the music right????

  8. agree with Brian, i do miss traveling from show to show via my 1993 teal Honda Accord named Sally….

  9. The feeling’s not the same, in fact it’s getting pretty tame, it’s just not that great anymore (although still fun from time to time)…I’d say Tom nailed it with all things Phish these days (scene, music, my involvement…but we’re all getting older). Shit, I wish it was summer ’95 and I was 16 y/o at Great Woods again…that was surely the balls.

  10. Excellent piece,Brian.Just Excellent. I also agree with what Ian typed,and also with Kyle. 16 yrs old today just (for the most part)don’t get IT.AND (In my humble opinion)they don’t know what they’re missing..

  11. I dunno, I hit up 42 shows in 2010, drove to all them, and sold vodka red bulls on lot. We made tons of friends who were doing the same thing, and often saw the same cars on the road. All of the things you describe are still there. The only difference being that there are shorter tours. The lot scene is basically the same, you just aren’t on tour anymore.

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