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A Week on Phish Tour: The trip from St. Louis to Colorado and back home again

Like many Phish fans, last week I took a trip to see Phish in Missouri, Oklahoma and three nights in Commerce City, Colorado. While I usually do a recap of a run, this one is more on the journey and less on the music. There’s plenty of reviews of the music to go around on this one, so this is more of a look at the incredible highs and lows of the eight days of Phish and travel. All but photo #2 by Pete Mason

Monday 8/27 – Flying into St. Louis, I arrived in the evening and got picked up by good friend and local Dr. John (no, not that one). We drove across the river to Alton, Illinois and found out there was a house on fire on John’s street. Being the Midwest, there were good odds it was a meth lab fire. Rather than hang there, we went to pick up beer and food at Schnucks, the local grocery store. I spent much of the time laughing at the name of the store, pronounced ‘Shnooks’. After acquiring much Schafly, we headed to Johnson’s Corner Restaurant for food, Cardinals v Pirates and Stag beer. The pork tenderloin sandwich was delicious, even moreso with my new favorite condiment, Country Bob’s. If you haven’t had it, you are missing out. Stag beer seemed to be the Utica Club/Dixie/Narragansett/Rainier of this part of the country, and tasted as bland as the others, but still delicious after a day of travel. Cards won btw, 4-3.

Tuesday 8/28 – With John at work, I hung out and caught up on rest and reading before John came home to pick up some lunch at Joe K’s for a very delicious reuben, one of the best I’ve ever had actually. We headed to the lots around 4:30, arriving at 5 and found the garage and venue pretty well situated in town, but Shakedown was simply as good as it got. The selection of food, beer, clothing, phanart and other wares was awesome, thriving and just top notch. I ran into some folks from Twitter, including @fungitrophia and @breckmastaflash, who agreed to sign on for ‘Real Housewives of Phish Tour’, filming at Dick’s that Saturday. She was a last minute replacement and proved to be a great addition to the short film. (Except it around October 1st or so). There were so many people on the lots, it was a little overwhelming at times but as show time approached, the lots thinned and we headed in, right past this sculpture of a woman bathing in sand. St. Louis folks have good taste in art.

Art!

The show was pretty incredible, pulling out great versions of Reba, The Curtain, Mound, Camel Walk, even Possum, all in the first set. Setbreak though was a more than your standard ‘meet up at Waterwheel’ – this was Surrender to the Flow editor Christy Articola’s 365th show! A group of friends arranged to have the signed poster for that night’s show purchased and we surprised Christy with the print. A year of Phish shows…it’s hard to fathom seeing that many shows, but when you hit a milestone, its worth celebrating. (more on milestones this fall)

Happy fans! Photo by Dave Vann

Second set was equally fun, with a sweet CDT->Frankie Says -> Undermind->Sand -> Walk Away that made this show one of my favorites of the entire summer. But it would be cool to catch a 2001 that isn’t played to the 6 minute mark every show. Postshow, I caught a ride with Team Jolly and Sideshow to Oklahoma City in a gloriously packed minivan. I never really get to be the passenger these days so this was a treat, especially after the show, soaking in all of the show and focusing on getting to the next stop, which wound up being Lebanon, Missouri.

(Side note: At some point on Tuesday, I learned that Yasanobu, aka, the MVP of Couch Tour, was skipping both St. Louis and Oklahoma City and flying from Atlanta to Denver. I told him he could ride with me if he could switch his flight to Oklahoma City, which he did. This looked to work out well for both of us, especially since he’s a good dude and we’ve hung out at quite a few shows in the past year.)

Wednesday 8/29 - Waking up in the hotel around 10am, we got on the road to OK City, picking up some breakfast and beer on the way. Thanks to new favorite app Waze, we were able to avoid traffic and make good time to the show. I really enjoyed being able to chill in the car, packed as it was, pushing from one show to the next. Being a driver by preference, it’s a different feeling being a passenger, soaking up greater conversation and scenery, even though there wasn’t much of the latter on this drive. A tanker truck accident/fire could have derailed us by hours, but we learned about it from Waze, rerouted and got to show JUST as the band started playing Kill Devil Falls. I loved this venue from the moment I stepped in, and spent much of the first set soaking it all in, wandering around the venue and enjoying the rocker-heavy first set. I briefly met up with my buddy Bob, who was driving with me to our hotel in Denver. Second set was stronger, particularly Birds, Twist and Light, plus with a good vantage point a little lower with friends made for a really fun time and first show in Oklahoma. Slave, the most apropos song to be played at the Zoo Amphitheater, was nailed perfectly.

Postshow, I got to hang out with Chaz, who I haven’t seen since we graduated high school 17 years ago. It was a good time on lot and I hoped we could hang a little bit more after, but then Bob finally arrived at the car and any plans for later with Chaz were now thwarted. Bob’s friend who we were staying with got us back to his place in Norman, home of OU, and we stayed up to chat for a bit before getting some much needed rest. However, Bob was already making this next leg of the trip less than easy.

Thursday 8/30 – I woke up an hour late but soon realized that there was an hour time change in our favor, so I was relieved, showered and got ready while Bob followed suit. We headed into town to pick up Yasanobu, pick up breakfast and get on the road. I love the long drive – Orlando to Chicago, Chicago to Albany, Syracuse to Savannah – and this trip from Oklahoma City to Denver was next on tap. However, this involves driving through Kansas, which is flat and boring. There was at least some appeal to heading west, then north, rather vice versa. So I sped across Oklahoma and Texas, with their 75mph granting a slightly faster drive. Both are flat and have tons of oil wells, farms and brown crops due to drought, but the wind farms were more of a surprise and refreshing. A brief stop in Amarillo for last chance Waffle House and we headed into the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico. By this point, Bob was firmly in the backseat sleeping, so Yasu and I enjoyed the incredible scenery and the whole experience of traveling across the country, following four guys from Vermont who play some great music.

Looking west on route 39 in New Mexico

On the drive, just an hour round trip out of the way, we stopped at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, mainly because it was on the way, but for me it had been just over 17 years since I did my 90 mile trek, finishing a few days before starting at Syracuse. We drove into the grounds, walked around and I soaked in what memories I could recall only from being there. The camp was closing for the summer and I had a rare chance to walk around a nearly empty basecamp. A group of deer, a roadrunner and a few wild turkeys roamed the grounds, serene to me for the first time. I drove out with Bob and Yasu and stopped into bustling downtown Cimarron for a burger and fries, the only meal I’ve had in three trips. We were back on the road at nightfall and meandered to Raton where we picked up beer and got on the road up to Denver. The ride was seamless and made for a cool experience, talking with Yasu much of the way and listening to a fair amount of Disco Biscuits, Daft Punk and Warren Zevon as we pressed on towards Denver Airport and the rental car place.

Friday 8/31 – Yasu at Dollar was the first stop, and just to make sure the graveyard shift got him on the road (he still had another 45 minute drive to his friends) I ventured in for a much needed stretch after driving 800 miles in an almost straight shot. Once he was all set, we headed to National to drop off our rental car. When we were set, we called the hotel to send the 24-hour shuttle they said would be running a few days earlier. Actually that was 20 hours (not 12-4am, when we were in need). With a cab $60 vs sleeping in the National lounge, we found it cheaper to rent another car and get us to the hotel, but we had to return it before the show that night. Checking in and sharing part of the ordeal in getting from the airport to the hotel, we got the night comped and got to sleep. A solid 10 hours of sleep later, we were ready to hear to the lots early. I had heard how good these lots were, and it was an understatement. A broad flat lot scene, with a four-row Shakedown that had a vast array of glass, food, shirts and posters. The food was phenomenal and felt more like Phish tour food than any I’ve seen in quite a while.

The downside the day was finding a guy who was selling a copy of a shirt I have been selling, Golgi/Google. It’s one thing if it is fair use, its another to sell a copy. I spoke to him and thankfully, he didn’t have it up when I saw him Saturday. But it did hang over me for longer than I wanted, almost overshadowing the start of the show. Once I settled into the venue, I ran into Dina, who I hadn’t seen in a couple years and recently got married (mazel tov!). Two songs in, I laughed when I saw F U C as the first three letters. I figured it wasn’t going to happen, but the second Kill Devil Falls in a row… and everyone was catching on. Finding Bob and a few others at the back of the stadium, the sound was incredible so I rode out the show from the opposite endzone. Runaway Jim was sick, Farmhouse and Alaska, while good could have been Fee and Also Sprach Zarathrusta. With two minutes left in the greatest Chalkdust Torture I have ever heard, I started to focus on the E. It couldn’t be Esther, it had to be Emotional Rescue, and it was! Emotional Rescue was the Skin it Back of second leg. And with Grind -> Meatstick, the funny band lifted spirits like no other. One for the ages…

The lots were bustling but rough, almost a lot overload with people selling and not many buying. While better than dead lots, that last hour after the show was vibrant and alive, the crowd abuzz after THAT show. A cab back and a beer before bed and an exhaustive fun day came to an end.

Saturday 9/1 – I awoke to Bob talking about flying his girlfriend out that day. While this was crazily irrational in my opinion, a last minute Phish show can be justified, but the day of cost flying 2/3 cross country does not computer. Still, Bob got a ticket for her out there and she planned to arrive around 730 and could be at the show by early first set. Besides, the more the merrier, right? The issue remained though – the hotel wasn’t paid for and neither were Bob’s last two show tickets…

I headed to the lots extra early – 3pm, so that I could shoot ‘Real Housewives of Phish Tour’ with Taraleigh, Britt, Lexi, Brecklan, Danielle, Andy, Molly and Kerry. It took till 4pm to get everyone together and ready for the shoot and just over an hour to film all the scenes, the intro and outro. While the details of the short film are under wraps, I can share that there will be all the staples of Real Housewives: fighting, yelling, jealousy, gorgeous women and chair flipping. Yes, chairs are flipped. Taraleigh and I strive for authenticity in this one. A photo below of behind the scenes

A cavalcade of phans

Entering the show, a girl in the lemonade line wearing a Red Sox hat had noticed my Yankees hat, which led to the most memorable comment ever “Suck my clit”. Yes Boston fans, stay classy. But really, this was the most hysterical thing to happen and just made me more pumped for the release when the music started. In lieu of a review, I’ll simply say that the Saturday show was one of the top ten shows I have ever seen, Phish and all shows combined.

Sunday 9/2 – Around 1am, I ran into Bob, his girlfriend and another friend who had a car, but none could drive so I got us home, without Bob’s GPS investment – it was straight south to our hotel, hardly a turn involved. Back at the hotel around 2am, I found myself some of Colorado’s finest beers while the others preferred alternatives. To each his own. An hour later I was ready to get some rest but Bob and co. weren’t. My ability to fall asleep in even the loudest circumstances came in handy, but I was woken up at 5am by two of the more disturbing things I have caught wind of: cries of  ‘I need more Xanax’ and a few other disturbing requests at this early/late hour that I won’t even share here. It made for a miserable hour. By 6am, everyone was peacefully asleep, although the entire bathroom was drenched, along with every towel. Normally, I would find out what happened, to satisfy basic curiosity, but not this time. At least the soaked towels were bundled up under the sink.

I woke at 10am so I could leave by 11am for Disco Brunch at The Corner Room in downtown Denver. Fletch put it together for a group of folks on Twitter and it was a hit. $10 bottomless mimosas, $12 bottomless bloody marys and an incredible brunch selection. French toast with nutella and a half dozen selections got the last day, always the slowest and longest for me, off to a fast and energetic start. A few conversations and mimosas later, it was 2pm and my friend Lori was on her way to pick me up. We hadn’t seen each other in probably 10 years so a couple quality hours while in town was in order, catching up and seeing how life has been going for each of us, with some local flavor mixed in. This was by far one of the best starts to day-three of any run I’ve done.

And then that start was put on hold, as I found out Bob got hit with the tragic ‘smoking in the room’ fee. Worst yet, the head of housekeeping was the one who assessed the $250 fine and she was not discussing it. Bob decided he wouldn’t pay it, but my card was on the room, so naturally, this was not going to be resolved with any speed, especially after the late night party and sluggish start to the day. I wasn’t worried, and  headed to the lots, bottle of wine in hand. The grassy knoll behind the portos is definitely a great spot to hang and had a solid vantage point to see all of the lot scene and soccer fields. Some time spent here before a stroll through the lot allowed the vibe of the three days, more electric than Atlantic City 2010, to sink in before getting inside. I returned to my spot from Saturday, 15 feet behind the soundboard with Sideshow, Team Jolly, Taco, Craig and Andy and a dozen others. There was a solid amount of space to get down and that we did. Second set, six songs. Even when I thought the set couldn’t get better – BOOM! Ghost and POW! Piper. Lizards and Hood capped it all off perfectly. Best set of the weekend in my opinion.

Probably Piper

Monday 9/3 - Returning to the hotel, I discovered that Bob was packing his stuff up quite hastily but slowed once I got into the room. Before long, I started packing for a 10am flight and began the discussion of ‘how are you going to cover this fee?” Bob informed me he lost his credit cards, naturally. Still, he had to come up with a sizeable amount, $475 for the hotel, including the fee and Saturday’s ticket. The circular logic argument came up and with their current state, it wasn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. But I stayed at it, because their ride wanted to bring them to Colorado Springs before long. After two hours of dead end conversations, it became apparant I would be stuck with the charge, before the driver produced $300 out of nowhere and insisted it was enough. We were at least more than halfway there… The rest of the money was a slow bleed, as Bob insisted he needed the money and couldn’t afford the hotel. Eventually, another $20 showed up and I went to checkout before taking a nap in the room. Covering the balance was tricky and the manager was understanding of the situation. Seems Bob made a name for himself Saturday by trying to get an upgrade by offering $20 to the manager. Not an improved room – a FULL ROOM for an extra $20. Think about that for a second.

Exactly. Even though I had hung out with Bob dozens of times in the past few years, in Albany, at shows, festivals, even driven him back from Merriweather to Albany in 2011, this was pretty unexpected and mindblowing at the same time. With little else to do, I kept the lights and TV on, set every alarm possible and got two hours of decent sleep before my flight. Just a little could go a long way for my extended travel day.

Up at 7am, checking the room thoroughly by 7:05, only to realize that Bob has taken off, as expected. Capped off an unexpected aspect to the run. Shower -> shuttle and I was off on the way back to Albany. Denver -> Cincinnati, a 4 hour layover that was surprisingly relaxing, Cincinnati -> Charlotte and another two hours of layover before the final flight back to Albany.

Tuesday 9/4 By 12:30am I had landed and at 1am I got home to my dog Halley and showed my mom a few select pictures of the weekend. A short drive to my apartment and quick unpacking was all I could muster. I slept for 11 straight and still exhausted, mentally as well as physically. Phish is a powerful drug to take, especially across state borders. But it was totally worth it. Phish is always worth it.


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