Having fully recovered from Atlantic City – sleep caught up on, ringing in the ears stopped and diet returned to normal – reflecting on a most epic of weekends is in order. For those who went, most of what happened over the course of 72 hours was magical and revitalizing, at the same time exhausting and mind-blowing. Seven sets of Phish, tens of thousands of fans and more smoke and costumes than you normally find at any given Phish show, not to mention the fingers in the air and paychecks dropped at the tables: it only happens in two cities in America when Phish plays, and the east-coast step brother of Las Vegas gave those who never made it west a taste of the Vegas experience.
We arrived hurriedly from Albany around 6:30pm on Friday night. Having returned to teaching and loving every minute of it, the drive was fast although spotted with construction and shore traffic, but we made it in time to crack a few beers before heading over to the show. Adjoining rooms at the Trump tower meant that we could keep one room relatively stable and turn the other into a vision of Dana’s apartment from the end of Ghostbusters. This isn’t just the norm; this is the way to enjoy a Phish weekend proper.
The first night, musically, was solid, but was overshadowed the next two nights. The dance party was going when one of our local security guards was kind enough to inform us that if we were to bring her and her friend some strawberry vodka the next night, well, we could have carte blanche. When Atlantic city offers you a deal like this, you take it. This was the even money for the blackjack instead of a potential push on the deal, so we won and won again. Sadly though, these folks weren’t working where we were the next night, so this vodka went to better use – ours. Friday late night kept us near the tables, but this night is somehow foggier than the rest. The main thing on my mind was the Phamily Poker Tourny on Saturday at the Tropicana. Some light gambling only meant we would need to make the most out of the long day Saturday. Chris got a pizza at some point, but how he acquired the pie never came to light. Its probably better to not know.
Our room contained the usual crowd – Chris, Tim, Julie, newcomers Jess plus PhanArtist Vincenzo Naro (who sported the hands down highlight poster of the weekend) and Japanese import Satoshi from Urayasu in the land of the rising sun. Satoshi has made three trips in his life to America, all for Phish, and all since June of 2009. He’s seen 12 shows, owns more lot merch and phanart than most and loves a Fluffhead and Meatstick. His presence this weekend showed that even though the 6 of us spoke little (read: no) Japanese and he spoke some pretty solid English, we could all have a great time for 3 days, connected solely by the love of the music of one band. If only this could be channeled throughout the world where conflict between countries arose, what a world we could make of this place.
In having this unique opportunity to facilitate cultural diffusion, a few conversations were had regarding American slang, and while those went over well, the most interesting, yet out of place conversation was Chris explaining to Satoshi (for unknown reasons) the function and purpose of Native American Reservations. This has nothing to do with the recap, it was just one of those moments that stuck out.
On a side note – the Japanese are already ahead of us technologically, but now they are ahead of us in candy flavoring. Having previously sent me blueberry flavored Kit Kats (so damn good) he brought over a nice array of flavors – citrus, some sort of rose/frosting flavor, caramel and brown tea. I indulged and brought a bottle of (Japanese made) Sake – Fu-Ke Sake. The reaction was priceless on first taste – meh. I couldn’t disagree, it was funny as hell.
Saturday I woke on 5 hours of sleep, the most I would get all weekend without interruption. Chris and I got moving down towards the Trop, lugging two boxes of tubes and a box of donations for the Poker Tournament. A tasty overpriced breakfast from Starbucks and we got back to helping out the check-in process, setting up for the tourney and seeing the cadre of fans arrive to the first poker tournament to benefit The Mockingbird Foundation (mbird.org) and music education nationwide. Ellis Godard, Charlie Dirksen, Jeff from Nugs.net, David Steinberg aka ZZYZX, as well as bounty players Pauly from CoventryPhish Blog, artist Jon Lamb from Likeminded Studios, and event poster artist Erin Cadigan were all on hand. It was a who’s who of phans, taking time out from their exhaustion and celebration regimen to help raise money for charity and have a unique experience with fellow fans.
Playing as a bounty player, I donned by shirt and sat down in the 5 seat for what I hoped would not be an utter embarrassment. I don’t play poker very often, and when I do I don’t slow play. With my 10K in chips I was dealt QQ to start the game. I know QQ is a rough hand but I couldn’t help myself and decided to start the game off on a solid aggressive note. Sadly, I lost to KK, along with 4K in chips. It was a rough beat but I kept playing and eventually got back up to 10K and lasted a good hour or so before being dealt a devil of a hand – A2 of hearts. This was going to be my best chance, and at least one fan at the table was ready to test me yet again. Going all in on the turn, I hoped my straight beat out his bluff, but it proved to be a flush instead. Straight < Flush, and I was done. It was fun and worth it, and I ventured over to lend a hand with the prizes and observe a well-run poker tournament that by the manager of the room’s opinion was far above and beyond expectation. He was told by fellow employees that the tournament would have fans lighting up at tables, drinking excessively and a tank or two hidden under the tables. While logic would have told him that tanks are a post-show thing, not a lunch-break habit, none of this was true. Everyone was in a great mood, prizes were handed out throughout the game and everyone left happy, if not exhausted.
We headed through the Trop to the boardwalk, stopping by Hooters for the tweetup before needing to get some food as we were fading fast. Five hours and no semblance of a meal in the past 24 hours meant that liquid refreshment and pizza would be the best means to function through the show and late night revelry. On the boardwalk we stopped to see Ryan Kerrigan selling his Halloween print, then ran into Branden Otto who was doing the same with his poster. We got in front of the venue and incredibly sold a few tubes (unsolicited) to fans waiting around for the doors to open. We got into the Trump and spotted some phishposters.com folks and ventured in for a shot of Patron before going upstairs for the pre-game to begin. Fortunately the rest of the room was on autopilot and I played catchup.
Arranging the vodka for our aforementioned security guards, as well as everything else needed for the show for the phan with OCD: camera, eyedrops, chapstick, beercoozie, merit badges (to sell post show), sunglasses, mardi gras beads (one strand garnered Tim and I a peek at one boob, which is all you can ask for in Jersey, as there are plenty of other boobs around), candy, since it was Halloween, and the basics – ticket and cash. Section 217 was unavailable so we met with Chris who scoped out some nice seating in 215 and all took our seats there.
The show Saturday was Chris’ Halloween, as he ultimately did not score a ticket for Sunday. A serious Zeppelin fan since junior high (he introduced them to me in 9th grade), he was in for the treat that would not come the next night – a heavy dose of Led. Saturday featured collectively, one of the best venues, crowds and playlists of 3.0, as well as security that was cool. How do you know they were cool? We collected high fives from nearly everyone, including the top dogs and cops, which is the international sign for coolness.
The madness started with the long pause and glowsticks in Guelah, a solid Foam, and a Chalkdust that got the fun going, not only a bit of Whole Lotta Love, but the band laughing at us after segueing back into Torture with Ha Ha Ha. They know, and they aren’t shy about telling us they do. More 70s rock with Walk Away and Wolfmans before ending the set and sending us scrambling for drinks and Waterwheel meetups.
A random thought crossed my mind during the night’s glowstick wars – instead of throwing the glowsticks progressively towards the band and floor area, send them back up a level. The love has to rain down from somewhere, otherwise its just a splash with occasional explosions from the ardent collector of groundscore glowsticks.
UPDATE: I must give due notice to my good friend Dr. John (no not that one). I walked downstairs at the end of set 1 Saturday night and he was in line to get beers. Rather than jump the line, he passed 2 beers to me and took two for himself. And he paid. What a guy. (he also reminded me about this to include in the writeup.) He is also a foot doctor.
Second set started strong with Tube, although they really do need to look into playing it for more than 6 minutes – where have you gone funk? Possum was great but when they get to Tweezer, just clear some space and let me clear my throat. A classic Tweezer intertwined with full on Whole Lotta Love, Thank You, Ramble On and Stairway verses left the floor sticky from the collective orgasm of the crowd. It only got better with a Halley’s->2001 before winding down the show with BDTNL and an expected Good Times Bad Times. I was itching to vend and catch up with some artists, so the encore was a predictable casualty which I was content with. After making a few extra bucks outside selling shirts and badges, we headed back to the room for some post show analysis, which is basically us drinking beer and saying ‘that was fucking awesome’. It’s much better than nit-picking a show that was fun at all times and a cure for what ails ya.
Heading down to the casino, I scouted out a Let it Ride table but the crowd was bossy and no fun, so I took a turn at Spanish 21 (blackjack without 10s and played a bit faster). I went up here and headed back over to Let it Ride for the remainder of the night/dawn. While explaining the game to Tim, Chris and Vinny, I was up, then down, then back up before having the ultimate experience at the tables: dealt out 7810 of hearts, I could finally say ‘let it ride’, and the dealer was kind enough to reveal not just a 5 of hearts, but then a 6 of hearts. My mind went haywire, I jumped up thinking I had 789 of hearts, which would have netted the greatest payday yet for me, but I was reminded I had a 10 in my hand, so a flush led to nothing more than $300. but hey, $300 meant I was nearly even for the weekend, and this was something to build on, but not till tomorrow/later tonight. It was 7am and even the party on the 19th floor was drawing to a close, so eventually I fell asleep, although it wasn’t straight through. Another 4 hours of intermittent sleep and I was up for football and revisiting the night before with everyone. Some friends stopped by and we delved into the rest of the liquor cabinet
Something I recognized over the course of the weekend was that it is nearly impossible to fully explain the Phish experience, or the entire weekend. Try as I might while I type this, I have learned that when phish fans are vague or have trouble explaining the attraction of phish, or show hesitation getting to the core of why we follow this band all over the place, its simply because there is a lot to explain. A LOT. Get your friend to forget the stereotype of pot smoking hippies listening to unending jams is tough enough, but explaining the truth is becoming impractical as the shows and crowds get better and move exciting.
Donning my Jibboo Crew outfit for the evening, we headed downstairs to vend a few shirts preshow and meet up with everyone. I ran into Shirzad dressed as Mexican Cousin, which was ever so accurate with the free shots of tequila to get the night started. Fatigue wasn’t in the equation, so I slugged a bottle of seltzer the entire time waiting to get into the show. It did the trick and I got in without a search and waited for Tim, who was trying his luck for tickets outside. I figured tonight would be a night to hang with Jibboo Crew in 212 and bring Satoshi into the mix, but the text of the weekend arrived – Tim had scored a ticket and was in! It was a tough deal but he made it happen, so we got some celebratory drinks and made our way up to 212. To my surprise, we had Jibboo Crew to our left and Mockingbird folks to the right. In between 2 large groups of friends and acquaintances is the way to see a show, and the stars were aligning for the evening. Satoshi joined us shortly thereafter and the night started out just right with Frankenstein and BBFCFM – some dark and dirty spooky stuff, but it only got better when the rare Ghost (for me) appeared to help me shake off the rest of the exhaustion from the past two days. My body was on auto-pilot dancing through the Ghost, then the jam took a turn and I thought “oh god I know where this is going!”, and they moved into Spooky, a song I recalled from the nights listening to Dr. Demento around Halloween back in high school. Auto-pilot was on for most of the night, since I couldn’t conceivably dance with any volition given the lack of rest I have been accustomed to as of late. Sometimes, the body is willing and makes the mind able. I credit the vibe of the venue and the music, with a nod to Smirnoff and Sodas and a large can of red bull sipped conservatively throughout the evening.
Set 1 was great, but the buzz was going for Waiting for Columbus, an album that ZZYZX was joking about the day before at the Poker tournament but I ignored since it just didn’t seem possible. Looking at the track listing, I knew half these tunes from seeing and hearing Little Feat earlier this decade and was very interested to see the Phish take on them. Everything was played damn well. Personal highlights include Fat Man in the Bathtub, Oh Atlanta, Spanish Moon, Dixie Chicken, Don’t Bogart that Joint (please get this in the rotation!) and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, the latter of which was hands down the greatest dancing tune of the weekend. It just keeps getting better and better.
Set 3 was great for two reasons – A Jibboo for the Jibboo Crew and the jam out of Wilson. The rest was solid, but a few rests were needed to ensure energy for latenight. Plus, an amazing opportunity was missed – No horns during Suzy? Come on now Phish! When I first heard 4/4/94, I thought Suzy was played ONLY with horns. When I finally saw one at Big Cypress, I wasn’t let down, but having never seen Suzy with horns (couldn’t make it to fest 8), I was a bit disappointed. Wilson made up for it, as did Hood and a sick encore of Julius with horns. That’s called a push.
We went to the boardwalk to feed off the energy outside and prepare ourselves for one last night of revelry and gambling. $25 blackjack called my name and I responded by taking twice what I started with and calling it even for the weekend. A glass of Grand Marnier to end the night around 6am was perfect and I ventured upstairs with Mel to rest before the checkout and drive home in the morning.
In summary, I won money and finished the weekend even, sold some well-received shirts and badges (thanks Jiggs), slept around 10-12 hours out of 65, drank a fuckton of beer and vodka and danced my balls off. I also inhaled more secondhand smoke in 3 nights than I have in the three years since I quit smoking. But the highlight of the weekend was by far teaching Satoshi the shocker, quite possibly my proudest achievement yet.
Atlantic City, you shed the stigma of Dirty Jerz you’ve had for sometime and provided us with a weekend that will often be imitated but never duplicated. Lets do it again next year.