I had heard talk about the insanity of Phish shows since I first began attending concerts. Phish had always been described to me as the best jam band experience since the Grateful Dead, and when I found out that it was going to rain on the first of two sold out Mann Center shows, I knew I was in for a truly unique and memorable first jam band experience.
Parking for the show opened at 9 AM, and by the time I arrived at the Mann, there were tailgaters as far as the eye could see, from the entrance to the picnic areas half a mile away. The night for me began as normal: file in with all the other photographers, socialize for a bit, head to the photo pit. The combination and temperature of the under-cover part of The Mann were unbearable to me, but it didn’t phase the Phish phans for one second, as they passed around and shared water entirely liberally with their fellow concert-goers. One by one as time went on, gargantuan beach balls blew up and made their way all the way down from the lawn to the pit and then back up again. After the beach balls came balloons, glow sticks, and light up balls flying all across the audience.
After about twenty minutes, a booming voice erupted over the monitors, warning terrace and lawn ticket holders that a storm involving hail, powerful gusts of wind, and frequent lightning strikes was converging on The Mann, and the voice advised the ticket holders return to their cars until further notice. However, given that they were at a Phish concert, the phans erupted in cheers at the news of bad weather, entirely ignored the voice over the monitors, and quickly returned to their jovial glow stick throwing state. About ten minutes later, the voice came on again, warning that the storm would arrive in fifteen minutes and it would take approximately that long for phans to get to their cars. Once more, no one seemed to budge. Fifteen minutes later, myself and the other photographers felt mist descending on the pit. Seconds after, we heard screams, and we turned around to find the lawn almost vacant as nearly every phan scattered to find the closest available source of cover, aside from the few ingenious souls who brought bathing suits, ponchos and towels to the gig. After about five minutes of waiting out the storm, the unthinkable happened: The Mann’s main power suddenly shut off, and fourteen thousand people who were previously very happy suddenly were not. We waited for about ten minutes with no update from Phish’s Twitter or Facebook, backup power came back on and cheers erupted from the phans under cover. After more beach ball tossing, the lawn crowd was finally cleared to return and the show got underway around 9:10 PM. After an experience like this, I realized how special the Phish experience was, especially to the phans. At any other outdoor show, fans might have been deterred by the idea of rain or worse. But the Phish phans prevailed through every single obstacle, as nothing was going to drive them away from another night with their jam band heroes.
The actual Phish experience was a similar vein of incredible; from the very first downbeat of the upbeat “Axilla”, every phan was moving and grooving, from the pit to the lawn. The members of Phish themselves weren’t entirely memorable in regard to their stage presence, but that isn’t why people go to Phish shows. Phish’s true strength lies in improvisation and hours upon hours of incessant feel-good grooves. People largely don’t attend Phish shows to idolize band members or sing along to hit choruses; they come to jam, to dance, to be with other phans, and to simply enjoy life. In this regard, Phish undoubtedly delivered, bringing over three hours of pure danceable jams to a loving audience which lapped every jam up. As I explored the crowd after my fifteen minutes in the pit, I found crowds of people mobbing the orchestra aisles dancing as if nothing in the world mattered. I climbed the stairs to the lawn and found many people dancing on the hills by themselves who claimed to have been dancing the entire night, some even before the show started. The crowd, even at the furthest point from the stage, cheered at the end of every guitar and organ solo, and the rowdiness in the pit escalated consistently from the beginning to the end of each set. Jams like the 25:58 long “Fuego” (title track of their new album) and “Walls Of The Cave” were enjoyed unanimously, and highlights for me included “555″ and “Tweezer”.
I expected to have an incredible (but traditional) concert experience from seeing Phish live. Instead, I got a peek into one of the most spectacular feats of jam music I have witnessed, and into the lives of some of the most dedicated, loving fans of any band I’ve ever seen. Below the gallery, check out the set list.
Photo by Cameron Pollack