Phish tour in July meant that I could plan to see a bunch of shows without fear of missing school or having to rush home after a show to be up in time for students. This summer was filled with incredible music, great times, good traveling from show to show and meeting new friends and experiences along the way. Here’s my recap of Phish tour from Alpharetta through Toronto and back home again.
Monday I got on the road around 11am, later than I planned but with more than enough time to spare. I was heading from Columbia to Sumter, SC to see my Aunt and Uncle and cousins. The drive was decent, I saw a couple fans along the way, a couple with Phish license plates, watched for cops through Virginia and flew through North Carolina. A nice southern meal and beers with my cousins somehow led to talking about guns and the Second Amendment. There were more beers and then a few rifles were brought out for some reason, but more for show, less for late night hunting. Who knew guns and beer mixed so easily? Then I was asked to explain how I afforded tour and I showed them the contents of the box in the trunk full of PHeanuts shirts and others I was selling this summer and they didn’t get it. Explaining the music of Phish is easier than explaining how a shirt like this is something people buy.
(Note: I am also noticing, as I get into Part 3 of this recap, that the more shows I go to, the more I have to write. Hence, Dick’s is three days away and I’m still writing this.)
Leaving the next day to drive to ATL meant a newish highway to drive on, which is sort of exciting when you’ve driven most of the eastern half of the country. I got into the loop around Atlanta, was going one way, then backtracked when the trip for a Lot A pass was unnecessary. I drove to meet Bud and Jessica at a new brewery about 20 minutes from Alpharetta. We had a beer and then drove to pick up cold ones, and drive to Lot A. It was nearly 2:30, and some folks were inside, maybe a dozen, setting up on Shakedown. A half dozen cars were waiting to get in and weren’t about to be turned away. The cops finally agreed to let us in, but restricted further traffic a little until about 5pm. This led to more than enough time to set up on Shakedown, right across from Noah and Jiggs and next to Mike Boyer, with prime location taboot. I worked off a bag of wine while catching up with tons of southern friends, and more than a few who used the Syracuse (not Clemson or UT) flag as a meetup spot on lot. I have to say, the crowd was top notch and these were some of the finest lots I have been in for vending. Even the cops were polite and cool in dealing with us, being patient and not hassling us throughout the two days there. This was a welcome relief, and realistically, the last lots with vending until Fall for eastcoasters.
The show that night I felt was better than the next night, for the “Pebbles and Marbles”, but that second set with “Heartbreaker” was a lot of fun, as was the jam into Makisupa, seen below. The “Chalkdust” had a little something extra in it, and Tweezer > Silent in the Morning was nice. A strong encore of ADITL and Tweeprise led to the lot scene erupting over, selling a few TRiPP posters and picking up some short runs local fans made just for these shows.
I could have gone with latenight Waffle House, but waited till the morning to get hash browns scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, peppered and countried (sausage gravy). A needed oil change and we were on the road up to the venue, but alas, not in time for the now-strict 2:30 arrival time. We missed out by just a little bit, so we went down into the urban sprawl and found some beers and food at Five Seasons before heading back to wait in line to get in. Driving around to get back to the lot made me wonder whose bright idea it was to put a music venue in the middle of the burbs, then give it 10 entrances, all in separate areas and restricted by ticket? We were lucky, but it seemed like a poor decision, either for the venue to go there or the sprawl to engulf it so. Still, back on lot at 5pm was good for me and even with a little sprinkle of rain, still had a great day on lot, catching up with Lucas, Holly, Alex, Tyler, Cait and so many southern #twibe folks, my EZ-Up became a default meetup spot.
After rocking through a bag of delicious wine (judge me) we packed up and headed in, just missing the rain and ducked into the floor, which was quite spacious and I have to say – what a fucking venue! I loved Alpharetta’s layout, sightlines and sound, it was perfect. Those parking lots were lacking but made up for it with fans. Tonight was a little more rudimentary, “Frost” was new but also should be a TAB song IMHO; “Divided Sky” was nice to finally hear this tour, but the “Drowned>Water in the Sky>Energy” gave some potential that paid off with a really fun Fluffhead, and a Mike’s Groove with a Wedge in the middle. Walking out into the rain sucked, especially when it was coming down and not letting up. Lots were basically closed and there were few if any vendors. I stayed as dry as I could and dealt with the rain, driving back to Sarah’s place with Bud and Jessica to get some sleep after two fun as hell days. I don’t know how I missed shows here before, but it won’t happen again.
Thursday was a travel day, and a long one at that. I planned to be on the road by 11am, but that didn’t happen. Waffle House did, as did a search for the sweet Southern nectar of Sweetwater 420, Blue and IPA. I think I ended up getting on I-75 at 2pm, but made great time through Tennessee, then to Kentucky where I sailed on a road with hardly any other cars – kinda creepy. Indiana was no better, with some dude trying to sell me get me to buy him gas for his crotch rocket (I declined), then drove a few miles before stopping to vacuum out the entire car – great advice from a friend, based on learning that I was driving into Canada for the Toronto show. It was 20 minutes well spent to have no unexpected headaches later on.
Indiana has wind farms that stretch for miles in all directions. Pretty impressive, but best seen at night when the red lights at the top blink in unison, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but smaller and less Dreyfussy. I made it to Chicago around 1am CST, making it a 12 hour trip by any standard. Parking was difficult in Lakeview East (but really, Boys Town/Wrigleyville) where Barry lived. I parked six blocks away and lugged my stuff in for the night, sleeping like a rock until noon, when I had to arrange for the lots, drunk bus and whatever else I would need for the show. The bus was cool, with free PBR, but we weren’t allowed to park where the venue said we could – in the parking lot, so that put a snag in the plans and we were dropped off at the venue, but had to walk to get the bus at least 10 blocks away. I could handle that later, even though it sounded like it would suck.
Then the show and storm happened. I wasn’t thrilled about the bus, and the lawn wasn’t exactly a lawn – we couldn’t see the band from where we were, but yes, big screens. The announcement was disappointing and I’ve said my peace with it, but I still think they could have had better foresight, skipped setbreak, gone on earlier, something. The venue being in the middle of nowhere doesn’t help for other emergencies, real ones at that. So that happened, I ended up cabbing it home and tried to fathom all that happened with the show cancellation. Meanwhile, Pearl Jam continuing to play 6 blocks north of where I was staying was tempting, but it would just be salt in a wound. Sleep would bring me closer to some degree of acceptance of the show being cancelled.
I was still bothered by it the next day, but had to get my phone repaired and got taken care of by Kaylin at VW, bailing me out when I had no other recourse. I returned to Barry’s and headed down to Erika’s hotel, simply because I needed to be closer to the venue and wanted to see the city a little more. I lucked out staying on the Magnificent Mile and despite the cabs being impossible to get, it was much faster to get to the venue than by bus. The three sets intrigued me, as I hadn’t seen a show like that, outside of NYE, since Coventry, and those sets weren’t the best to reflect upon. We camped out a little closer on the lawn and had a better night than the last: “Golden Age > Waves > Piper” FTW! I fell asleep instantly when I got back to the hotel, after wandering around and getting a coveted Boba Fett Phish poster (thanks Nicole!)
Waking up at the hotel, I took a dip in the rooftop pool, which was full of a wedding party who were pissy at everyone who didn’t stay at the Crown. I found a nice restaurant for Erika and I to hit off Bandera for delicious sandwiches, peanut cole slaw and home made Oreos with ice cream in a pool of chocolate. Tonight’s show was going to be incredible because this meal was just that good. This time, I drove to the venue, since I had to leave right after to get on the road to Toronto. We paid $40 to park in the main lot and have access to whatever art/beer I had to get rid of, since Canada might have an issue with a ton of PBRs, which I sold at the #twibe get together for a buck (again, thanks Toombs!) but was still stuck with the cooler.
These shows were better than the other two simply because the first set was full of ‘We owe you a great show to go out on’, but was again caught up by the rain, and this time – it actually fell when they pulled the plug! Having that orange rain suit is awesome, but I left the overalls in the car, so I scrambled to keep my phone/camera/flip dry, and ended up under a tarp for a spell since there was no refuge being on the floor, but we did have a great view of the lights from dead center/15 feet in front of Kuroda. Second set was off to a great start with “Energy > Ghost” and no one can complain about “Lizards”, but that “Harpua” was something – hilarious, well intentioned and well delivered. The Second City folks were an awesome bridging of the arts – musical and comedy – and got the stories going, whether they were well planned or if it had some deeper meaning, which I agree with.
The aborted “Antelope” returned and I headed out during “Zero” so I could get things packed up in the car, sell a few quick prints and get out of town. Alexandra, who is selling the Phish Shades on tour planned at some point in the past week to drive with me to Toronto, which was awesome since driving alone there would have been difficult, if not impossible. On the road at 1am and into E. Lansing Michigan for 5 hours of sleep at a cheap hotel were just what we needed, plus some Tim Horton’s because their coffee is delicious! It was only two hours to the Canada border, and we stopped for last chance gas and drinks, where we saw Steve and Katie, and carvanned into Canada. But not before listening to “Blurred Lines” a few times – I heard it for the first time after Chicago and yes Trey, get Phish to cover it!
Or so we planned. We got to the gates at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron and after saying that yes, we were going to the Phish show, directed to go to the place where they dump your car out because Phish fans are always hiding something. This took 30 minutes or so, and the border guards were incredibly polite and chatty, letting us know exactly what was going on and were cool when they didn’t find anything. Others were stopped too, all with the same ‘Seriously? We’re not that dumb to bring anything into Canada.’ looks on their faces, just as I wore for 30 long minutes. We got back on the road after repacking the car (with border guard assistance!) and hightailed it to Toronto, making it there around 6 pm and the lots around 630 pm.
There are no lots in Canada. I saw no Shakedown, not even an EZ-Up. Some even balked at taking a FREE Surrender to the Flow! Still, I sold a few stickers to some Americans and Alex sold some sunglasses while we pounded beers before going in. “Undermind”, “Halleys > Twist” and the set closing “Suzy” were all solid, and we rocked out with dead center 400 level railing seats, which led to some pretty impressive photos. The $15 for a 750ml Molson Canadian was weird to see – that much for Canadian beer? Set 2 had a favorite segue of the summer for me: “DWD>2001>Free>Piper>Tweezer” – this was incredible and I had my sore legs to prove it. Canadians tried a glowstick war but it was too polite. “Bowie” was good too (but I felt the show coulda used a YEM to end it instead of Bowie) plus as triple encore, with a nod to the new Prince, something I told Alexandra might happen and she will totally back me up on that. Seeing the CN Tower through the windows of the Amphitheater was pretty damn cool and the Toronto skyline, apartment buildings aside, looked great through the side of the stage.
Post show, I lost track of Alexandra on the way out, then casually lingered around the lots handing out the last STTFs before driving to BB’s in Buffalo, which was miraculously only 90 minutes away. I got some sleep, woke up the next day and drove to Albany, stopping in Baldwinsville to meet up with Herby, the publisher of UpstateLIVE to talk about the magazine and pick up some issues for my future travels.
So, thats 14 Phish shows in 20 days, a helluva way to spend a July. I had three festivals back to back to back – Gathering of the Vibes, Backwoods Pondfest and The Big Up that followed, making for the day between, July 24th, my one day of respite before it started all over again. Live music can be incredibly addictive yet well worth it, especially when it’s The Phish from Vermont.