A Vermont Pharewell... Part I

"Nothing I see can be taken from me."
I picked up Molly at the airport and we grabbed a quick dinner before heading to the grocery store to load up on food, beer, ice and other items. I figured that we'd be stuck in traffic for up to a day and wanted to have enough to snack on just in case we were stranded. For Big Cypress, I was in line for ten hours. Last year at IT, I was stuck in traffic with Alea and her cousin for over 14 hours. With a full car, three small coolers, and Mr. Dickhead... we departed NYC at 10:00pm and arrived near the North East Kingdom around 3:30 am. We hit traffic about 26 miles south of the venue. Somewhere up at the front of the line was the Joker, who had moved just one mile in over a day and a half. I tuned into The Bunny, the local radio station that Phish rented out and broadcasted inside Coventry. The DJs gave steady traffic updates and played some freaky ass music, in addition to some killer Phish soundchecks from Big Cypress and IT.

The line to get in.

After a full day of traveling from West Texas via Phoenix, Molly was exhausted and passed out. At 4:45am I fell asleep and a few cars jumped me in line. By that point every fifteen minutes each car moved up 20 or 30 feet. I woke up to the guy behind me honking his horn. I had no idea how long I was out, probably less than a few minutes, but I lost a few crucial spaces in line. There was a lovely sunrise at 5:03am and despite all the bad weather Vermont had been brutalized with, the day started majestically. I sat on the hood of my rental car and silently watched the orange-red sun peak over the green mountains while listening to a Grateful Dead bootleg and chomping on Drake's coffee cakes and sipping some semi-chilled OJ.

At 9:30am we got the sad news from The Bunny. The DJ said that he was going to play a message from Mike Gordon, who explained to everyone that they were going to be turned away because they had no available space to put the remainder of the cars. He apologized and said that they had no other choice. They were forced by the Vermont state police to turn away fans. Here's part of the email that Phish sent out to people who had not left for Coventry yet...
As a direct result of the severe weather conditions and serious flooding encountered over the past few days, the Vermont State Police and concert organizers, in the interest of public safety, have been forced to limit entry in to the COVENTRY festival this weekend. After exploring all possible options, Police and organizers have concluded that there is no conceivable way to park the remaining vehicles on or in the near vicinity of the concert site, due to the conditions of the grounds as a direct result of the persistent and torrential rains over the past several days.

Effective immediately, all vehicles bound for the concert site not already off Interstate 91 will be turned around and denied entrance to the festival. In addition, roadblocks at additional points of entry have been set up and State Police will be ensuring that people can turn around in a safe and efficient manner.
I turned around and drove South on I-91, headed back to NYC. As I pulled the car around, Molly burst into tears. She came so far and got so close and was devastated. It really felt like getting kicked in the balls when I heard the announcement. I was trying to focus on the moment and safely get us back to NYC after not sleeping for over a day. But the tears from Molly's eyes really got to me. I didn't know what to do. My cell phone had been getting spotty coverage at best up and over the hills and mountains. At that time, I was getting no coverage, which was frustrating. I still had no idea whether or not the entire festival was canceled... or they were just going to play for the fans who got inside. Puzzled for sure, we headed back down through Vermont in silence. About 165 miles south of Coventry, I got my first call on my cell in hours. It was the Joker and he was walking into the campgrounds. He headed north and parked in a town called Newport, then hitched a ride half way and hiked the rest of the way in. The guy was determined to get to the show! And he told me to turn around and come back... that I should get as close as possible and hike because they will accept walk-ins... just no more cars. I told Molly and we stopped at the first exit we saw. I gassed up, bought a map, and made the decision to drive back to the venue! Many thanks to the Joker for being my source of information and inspiration to get to the show!!

Many phans ditched their cars and hiked in.

With all the state troopers handling the Coventry mess, there were none on the highways. I was going as fast as 90 mph to get back the lost time. Lori from Kentucky called. We kept getting disconnected, but she told me that she and her friends pulled over on the side of the road and were hiking in from I-91. She grabbed cash, vodka, and a tent... and headed to the show. She told me that hundreds of other people were doing the same. I got more pumped and told Molly, who grew more excited with every mile we got closer to Coventry. We got as far as three exits south of Coventry when we reached a roadblock. The state trooper asked me where I was headed. I told him Newport and he gave me directions... the same route I picked out on the map. It was a round about way and took almost two hours to loop around east then north and eventually back west into Newport, which was five miles away from Coventry. I drove down Main Street and out of the corner of my eye I saw a young girl, maybe ten years-old with a sign on pink poster board: Phish Parking, Free Rides. I rolled up to a semi-empty parking lot next to a Shattuck's, a local car dealership.

"How much does it cost to park?"

"$25 per person."

"Do I pay you?"

She pointed at a heavy set man off to the side loading up a mini van. "You pay my Dad."

I pulled in and walked over to the guy and handed him a $50 bill. He had his wife and three kids working the lot, trying to flag down Phisheads on Main Street.

"Ok, here's the deal. You can park here as late as Tuesday morning. I'll get you a ride as far as we can take you and you have to hike in the rest of the way. You're on your own for a ride back, but there's gonna be a shuttle that you can take. Or hitch a ride back. Plenty of folks will be looking to give rides on Monday morning. Tell them to take you to East Main Street."

We loaded our gear into the back of a van and was ready to roll when I realized that I left the tickets in the glove compartment! I sprinted out of the van and snagged our two tickets. Whew. That was close. Six of us in all squeezed into the van and we got a ride about 3 miles from the venue. We were let out at a road block. We each took a deep breath and started our hike down Airport Road.

As I began the hike all I could think was, "Never give up. Keep moving forward."

The locals saved the day for over 10,000 Phisheads, maybe even up to 20,000 fans. I must say that the citizens of Northern Vermont did everything they could to chip in and help out in a pinch. They were the X factor that allowed Phish, the fans, and the concert organizers to fight back against Mother Nature. Sure, the Vermont police wouldn't let you drive in, but thanks to the good-hearted people of the surrounding towns... everyone that tried to walk in was able to... and instead of 15 and 20 mile hikes in, they were able to cut down some of the walking to less than a few miles.

Within hours of the announcement, plenty of make-shift parking lots sprung up everywhere in the towns encircling 25 miles around Coventry. Anyone with a large sized vehicle started a shuttle service up to the roadblocks. Anyone with a large property created park-and-rides. Some folks were cool enough to let you park on their property for free or even camp out and set up tents on their front lawns. They fed Phisheads from all over the country and let them shower and take naps in their homes. And these folks did it out of sheer generosity. This speaks volumes about the people in Northern Vermont. I cannot stress how important, and surprising their willingness to help out Phisheads who drove as far as Seattle and Southern California to say goodbye to their favorite band. Sure some of them were in it for a quick buck... and that was the easiest money a lot of these locals saw in a very long time. But you could tell that they genuinely wanted to help out. Kindness from strangers. Kids drove thousands of miles, others spent hundreds of dollars on tickets, fans flew as far away as Japan to see the boys in their home state. The locals knew all that and were also moved by our passion for music and all things Phish. Without the locals of Northern Vermont... Coventry would have been even a huger disaster.

Airport Road is a two lane road. One lane was the out lane reserved for emergency vehicles. All the cars that were off the interstate were eligible to get inside. As I walked past a few cars I'd ask how long they were waiting. Everyone said at least twenty hours. One guy from North Carolina was waiting for 41 hours!! I didn't feel too bad about my situation. I was only in the area for about twelve hours and I caught one of the better shows post hiatus in Camden, NJ two nights before.

Before we hiked in, Molly and I discussed the serious downside about traveling inside with just a sleeping bag and tents. The weather was still a factor. A heavy downpour was predicted for Sunday afternoon. We accepted the possibility that we'd leave when it started raining... even if that meant missing the Sunday show. We'd also have to spend more money on food and especially water and beer. We'd only have a few items of clothing and one change of footwear. If it started to rain heavily, we didn't have the car to protect us. Without the car... no music to listen to or a charger to power up our cell phones. That was crucial and would make it more challenging to make the proper calls to people inside the show and those at their homes who didn't make it. Our dependence upon technology would have to be severed for the next two days. Molly was willing to take those risks, so we headed on in. We made back up plans for specific meeting places if we got lost or if our cell phones ran out of juice.

The hardest thing for me was the lack of necessary equipment I packed to make the trip even more fun that imagined. Out of a page from the Joker's book, I took plenty of props with me... including Mr. Dickhead. I took a camera with several rolls of black and white film looking to shoot footage of Mr. Dickhead intereacting with thousands of fucked up heads. I intended to bring along my brother's videocamera so I could document the entire weekend. I brought plenty of writing instruments, a few journals, that I never got to bring inside. Alas, I just took a pen and a disposable camera on my hike inside. I had to leave Mr. Dickhead behind as well. I'd have to rely on my memory to reconstruct the events in the future. Writing this, I understand how much that aspect of my trip suffered... the historical project of my last Phish shows. I really wanted to create a documentary film about Coventry and sadly, that dream was crushed, when I realized that I had to hike in and leave all video equipment in the car, for fear of theft and being destroyed by rain.

We Made It!!!!

At 4:10pm, We showed our tickets at the front gate, got our wristbands and map of the campgrounds and followed the crowd inside. On our walk down Airport Road, I noticed that several of the adjacent fields were under several feet of water. There was mud everywhere inside the campgrounds. I started to see people wearing huge goulashes. After walking inside for a few minutes searching for a camp site, I saw first hand how horrible some of the conditions were. They were right, they had no place to put cars. People were parked and camped in mud!!

Molly picked a spot near a random grove of trees in between two fields. That ended up being a good spot because the trees provided us a point of reference, which during my later stages of inebriation, allowed me to navigate my way from Shakedown to our camp site. Within a half hour we had a tarp on the ground and the tent was up and ready. Thank goodness that Molly is very skilled in camping and the such. Her dad took her camping outdoors a lot as a kid so she was able to adapt to the situation very easily. At this point, I must say that she was extremely cooperative. Most guys I know would have wilted away hours before. She pulled her own weight and didn't complain once about the long hike in. That was refreshing to be with someone who understood the magnitude of what was going on... that we were in a difficult situation and whining about what's going on would only make things worse. I calmly explained to her on our drive to Newport that we'd have to push ourselves and focus on the tasks in front of us in order to succeed, reach our intended destination, and have a kick ass party with Phish. One guy was joking around with his wife on the hike in... "This is the real Survivor. The winners get to see Phish."

He was right. I knew that if we endured these unpredictable hardships, that we would be rewarded for our troubles. It was 100% worth it and I'd do it again.

With our tent set up we followed the flow of people towards the concert stage. We stopped at a food vendor called The Common Ground Cafe and got some quick eats.

Coventry: Pieces of Pauly #1... So what did I eat on Saturday? At 6:03am, while still waiting in line, Molly made me a PB&J sandwich. It was tasty and I gave Molly some shit because she only spread peanut butter on one piece of bread. Both peices, Molly, both peices of bread and jelly in the middle... that's how it's done. I also ate a coffee cake and drank orange juice. Before the show I ate a BBQ chicken sandwich with melt Monterey Jack cheese and nacho chips. Molly ate some pizza.

We walked down the actual airport runway, which was cluttered with large vehicles like SUVs and RVs and other campers. They couldn't park in the mud so the runway was jam packed. It was a Shakedown type scene with plenty of vendors and kids standing around trying to sling drugs in the wide open. Normally, as you walk by, people whisper the drug they are selling. At Coventry, they help up their drugs in plain view. I saw hundreds of heads holding up magic mushrooms for sale. The same with marijuana. I'd stop to sniff a few different strains. We eventually reached the middle of the runway. We had to cross a huge field the size of a baseball stadium. It was circular with plenty of vendors on the outskirts and a huge tent in the middle (another cafe). On the other side was a path to a road that led you into the concert area. At this point, there was a traffic jam of people. The entire field was covered in knee deep mud and over 20,000 people were walking two-by-two on each side on wood planks and other pallets in front of the food and vending stands. It was going to take forever to get inside and people were falling left and right. The only alternative was to gut it out and walk through the mud. The time was well past 5:30pm and I figured that Phish was less than a half hour away from starting their first set. It was inevitable that you were going to get dirty. Really dirty. I told Molly that she was going to have to suck it up and walk through the mud to reach the concert. But she wouldn't move. She was paralyzed with fear.

Yeah, the mud sucked.

"I can't do it. These are my only sneakers and jeans that I took," she explained. I took a deep breath.

"We got so far! Suck it up, man. Can't you do it a little more?"

She shook her head. There was only one thing to do.

"Do you want me to carry you?"

She nodded and I bent over. She climbed on and I realized that she was much lighter than the backpack I took into the campgrounds. I took a few steps into the deep mud and I knew I was in trouble. I had very little control of where I was going. We were doomed. Then I heard words of encouragement from the crowd. You have to imagine a traffic jam of people walking two-by-two on either sides of a huge circle of mud. A few folks braved the mud and trounced through. Others were prepared with goulashes and other rain gear and easily navigated their way through the mud pit avoiding a half hour wait in line. And there I was... wearing my customary red blazer, with Molly on my back, and I was greeted with a light shower of applause from the crowd, which inspired me to keep moving.

"What a guy!" I heard one Phishy chick yell out.

"I wish my boyfriend carried me!" another blurted out.

I even got a few "ooohs" and "ahhhhs" from the crowd when I almost fell and dropped Molly, but luckily corrected my footing in time to save her from a serious mud bath, and me from the embarrassment of dropping my load of Molly into a lake of mud.

I carried Molly through this.

We finally reached an area of wood chips and I let Molly down. I was covered in mud halfway up my shins, but we made it to the concert area, which was a natural ampitheatre, with the stage at the bottom of a huge field and big rocks and boulders separarting the stage from the audience. A Ferris Wheel was in the back of the concert area with more food vendors and other odd sculptures like a steel moose and upside down trees.

We found our way halfway into the venue and settled in right smack in the middle of the show. I hugged Molly. We finally made it! I was ready for Phish. I celebrated with a victory bowl and then the boys walked onstage.

I was somewhere in the middle of this!!
Phish, 8.14.04 Coventry, VT

Set 1: Walls of the Cave > Runaway Jim > Gotta Jibboo, You Enjoy Myself* > Sample in a Jar, Axilla, Poor Heart, Antelope**, Fire

Set 2: AC/DC Bag > 46 Days > Halley's Comet > Ya Mar***, [Trey speech about Bowie], David Bowie, Character Zero

Set 3: Twist > The Wedge, Stash > Free, [band waves; Trey speech], Guyute, Drowned > Coventry Jam > Friday

Encore: Harry Hood****

*Trey gives away the trampolines to the crowd.
**Guest appearance by Tom Marshall.
***Bass solo with interactive clapping.
****Trey and Mike move closer to the audience and play on the rocks in front of the stage.
The first sets of outdoor festivals are always mediocre. I prefer to see Phish at night with the lights down. They jam harder when the sun goes down. My expectations were low. I was happy to be there but I sensed that the crowd was not very into it... most likely for several reasons. 1/3 of the people had been camped there since Thursday and were fucked up for partying for several days straight. The other 1/3 were waiting in line for up to a forty hours and had no sleep. And the last 1/3 hiked into the venue. Everyone was tired for an average set and saving their energy for later in the show. I decided to live in the moment, because of the bad weather forecast, I figured that might have been my last Phish show, so I got completely fucked up out of my tits. I had been sober all week at the other shows, having to drive from city to city, so I really was waiting for the perfect moment to let loose. I was ready to push myself further than I had ever been. I wanted to sprint way past the last edge of sobriety that I lept off of.
"Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul. You've got to run like an antelope... out of control!"

A view from the stage.

Gotta Jibboo was the highlight of the first set. The roll I took kicked in and the boys shrugged off the initial nerves and found a funky-space driven jam to build up. I started staring at the crowd and looked back up the huge hill. Tons of balloons were floating up and down. During the last ever You Enjoy Myself Trey handed the trampolines to the crowd. They weren't going to need them anymore. And that was the first time it really hit me. These guys are done for good. Axilla was a rager! And the crowd woke up at that point. Antelope was smoking and Trey brought Tom Marshall to utter the first lyrics he ever penned for Phish... Marco Esquondoles! That was pretty cool. At the end of Antelope, Trey spoke to the crowd before they played one last tune to end the set. "Thank you so much. We got so much more music. And it feels very good to kinda have this thing up and rolling finally. And to send our deepest love to those of you who put up with all the traffic and walked in. We love you so much."

Yeah. He was talking to us!

The second set opened with a fat AC/DC Bag which had a nice jam about ten minutes in. They segued into 46 Days which was short and sweet before they sgued into Halley's Comet. Of course, Haley got a call anfd I realized that the played Halley's post-hiatus more frquently than they did in the last two years leading up to their first break. At the end of Halley's, I thought they were going to hit up a Makisupa Policeman next, but they faked me out and broke into a different reggae tune, Ya Mar. Trey faked everyone out... instead of saying, "Play it Leo!"... he yelled, "Play it Cactus!" and Mike went off into a funky bass solo. (Editor's Note: If you don't know, Trey's nicknames for Page and Mike are Leo and Cactus.)

After Ya Mar, Trey addressed the crowd again. He welcomed everyone to the show, then told everyone a story about how he lived in Northern Vermont (a.k.a. the Northeast Kingdom) with his dog, Marley, one summer when he was 20 years old living in a cabin. That's where he composed some music and took long walks in the woods and figured out the direction that Phish ended up taking. He talked about the wide openness of music and how he composed a few new tunes then drove down to Burlington to the house where Page, Mike, and Fish lived (next to the Hood milk plant) and shared what he penned. He was going to play one of those songs (David Bowie) and another one on Sunday, but didn't say which one. He spoke about the concept behind the creation of David Bowie... "I was wondering ow far can you push it in the harmonic and rhythmic language and still have people dancing... the idea that people are dancing right through (his compositions). It was written right near this very spot, so it feels like it's very full circle that years later that it was just a theory and we didn't have any fans or anything and now were back. And now you have to dance to David Bowie."

And then they ripped into David Bowie. I called Modeski and shared David Bowie with him for one last time. A smoking Character Zero closed the set and I was pretty shit faced. The second set was probably one of the shortest, but also the strongest at Coventry and is the one you want to add to your collection.

The ground was muddy and we didn't bring anything inside to sit on. I asked the guy next to us if he minded if we crashed on his tarp space. Brandon and his girlfriend Miranda were cool and invited us over and I smoked them up. They were heads from Southern, Vermont and like everyone I met from Vermont... they were laid back and tons of fun. I realized we were also in such a rush to the show that we didn't bring any warm clothes into the concert area, so I sprinted back to the camp site for a pullover and Molly's sweater. I knew the boys were taking hour long set breaks, but I had to hustle. I stumbled back out through the mud, the most wasted I had been since Deer Creek... past Shakedown which was crowded with everyone offering up more drugs, and finally near our camp site. On the way back, I saw a chick squatting down in the middle of the road taking a shit!! One guy said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."

And she replied, "Can you guys help me out with some sound effects?"

I blurted out a few farts noises and made my way back to the concert field. When I got back, Molly told me about some guy who was having a really bad trip. he was flopped down face first in the mud saying something like, "I don't exist." She was happy I was back. I sent Lori and the Joker a text message telling them to meet me at the General Store after the show.

A spacey Twist Around opened the third set. There were a few stars out, and as long as I saw stars, I was convinced that there would be no rain. They segued into a smooth The Wedge which I'm sure was dedicated to the folks who walked in and those who did not get inside. Then it got a little ugly. Stash was kinda horrible. I'm used to hearing Stash with notes from Trey. He flubbed a few lyrics but it was sloppy and not their best effort. After the show, Zobo called and told me that he saw the simulcast in a movie theatre in Atlanta. He said, "Trey was embarrassingly fucked up in the third set." He could see his face better than me. But he sounded off. Plenty of speculation and rumors hit Coventry after the show. My guess was that he got obliterated at set break and whatever he was on... kicked in or kicked out and he lost his buzz. My guess was that the blow wore off and he lost some energy. cocaine sobers you up for a short period of time and you lose affects of alcohol or whatever. But when you come down, you crash hard and if you were drunk before... you're drunk after. And that's the not so fun place that Trey had to get his internal shit together. Usually we can walk off into a dark corner or go to a bathroom to compose yourself when you get that wasted. Trey wasn't that lucky. He was in front of 60,000+ folks plus all those people watching the simulcast in movie theatres. At any rate, Stash was sloppier than a whorehouse in Minisk at 3am. Mike and Fishman carried the band most of the entire weekend, and that was one instance where they carried Trey.
"I feel the feeling I forgot."
I dunno what happened, but I thought Free kicked ass. I guess Trey got his shit together and started playing notes again. On my scratched notes, I jotted down: "Free was the highlight jam of the show next to Jibboo." Mike was going off in the middle jam, which has a high funk content.

Then Trey and the band waved to everyone. First it was their sound guy, Paul Langedouc, and it was his birthday too. They wanted to wave to C.O.D., the Coalition of Dads... but Trey couldn't find his. I blurted out... "He's back in your trailer snorting blow with 19 year-old groupies!" That got a chuckle from the Vermont kids. Then they boys waved to the crowd. I dunno. Goofy, fucked up, or just nervous. It was kinda weird. Then they busted in Guyute and I called Gil for one last time.

Drowned is a cool cover song that Mike is the man on. The Coventry Jam was intense after Trey asked Chris Kuroda to turn the lights onto the audience so they can vibe off them to create the fifteen minute or so jam. Yeah, pretty cool when Phish makes something out of nothing... on the spot like that... and sound great to dance to. That's why they're so talented. I heard a few 2001 teases in there!

Friday is a song that not too many people like. I'm indifferent, but I knew they were going to end the set with that.

For the encore, Trey and Mike moved out to the rocks to be closer to the audience during Harry Hood. The crowd sung the last lines... Could you feel good? Feel good, good about Hood? That was way cool and gave me goosebumps.

Jamming on the rocks during Harry Hood.

On the way out I told Molly how wasted I was and that I couldn't carry her back through the mud. We agreed that she needed to carry her sneakers and roll up her jeans. We found a decent area with only ankle deep mud and made our way to the General Store where I hoped to meet the Joker and Lori. Molly ate some flafel but no one showed up so we wandered back to our camp site. It was well past 1:30 am on Sunday and I had been up since Noon on Friday. I was spent and needed rest.

I saw a crusty chick holding her dog. She looked no older than sixteen or seventeen and she was shouting out, "Yay yo for my puppy!" I couldn't believe that. She wanted to trade her dog for cocaine. It was one of those nights.

Before I passed out, my mind wandered to all the places I had been since I last slept. I woke up in NYC after driving back from the Camden show and since then I had endured plenty of twists in my game plan just to get to experience the last Phish shows. I made it! I whispered to myself as I drifted off to sleep, drowning out the fireworks being set off by the kids in our field.

Coming soon... part II!


Olive Beatrice said…

Enjoyed reading your tale. What's funny, is I read your friend Molly's blog about a week ago talking about going to the show, then read yours. I had picked them both at random...

Looking forward to part 2.

jon said…
After we paid for our kids summer camp for teenager we found it tough to recover! I totally agree with you!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for helping me relive some memories. That was one of the hardest, most emotional weekends of my life. Flew from AZ, got the rental car & was in line by 9:00pm Wednesday night, thats right Wednesday night. When I heard Mike's annoucement Saturday morning I nearly lost it. After 60 hours on the side of the road in a rental car I couldn't take the bad news. But a nice long hike in & I got to be there. Name another band that has such dedicated fans cause I can't think of one.

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