Fare Thee Well – Chicago 2015

It’s been a week since I got home from Chicago and I’m still processing the experience of attending the Fare Thee Well shows. Herein, I shall relate the story of my weekend and, hopefully suss out a few things that I learned along the way.

We set off early on Thursday morning from Washington D.C. I and two of my oldest friends, Andy and Modi, with whom I’ve seen countless shows over the past twenty-plus years of friendship. This would be a big one. We were going to Soldier Field in Chicago for the final shows to feature the remaining “core four” members of the Grateful Dead. Two days earlier, Modi and I had marked the 20th anniversary of our last Grateful Dead shows. Now we were flying down the highway towards a great unknown. Having heard the Santa Clara Fare Thee Well shows, our expectations were tempered, at best. In fact, you could say that we were a bit dubious about what Chicago would bring. But, we were also excited. We’d been waiting months for this day to come, and finally, we were Chicago-bound. Continue reading

20 Years Later: Phish 1995-06-19 Deer Creek

When plotting my Summer ’95 shows, I decided that I wanted to go to Deer Creek for the Grateful Dead’s annual run at the shed. It had garnered a reputation as a great place to see a show with notable performances stacking up in recent years. GDTS, however, saw fit to deny that portion of my order. Not to be deterred, I ordered tickets to see Phish there instead. I acquired a pair of tickets and my friend, Scotty, got one for himself. As plans sorted themselves out, Scotty volunteered to drive us in his mother’s car. Happy not to risk my beat-up Sentra on such a haul, I gladly accepted.

Scotty is a great guy whom I had met at a Capital Center Dead show the previous Autumn. He sat right in front of us and, inevitably, we were drawn into conversation. (I totally called the “Hell In A Bucket” opener. Scotty was appalled to hear the suggestion but it was, in fact, a mortal lock and the correct call.) We learned that he and I lived no more than three miles apart and became fast friends. We were soon were trading tapes and hanging out regularly.

The day after the Nissan Pavilion show was a Sunday and an off-day for Phish tour. We took advantage of this to make the trip out to Indiana more leisurely as our return trip would be a hurried, directly-from-the-show drive. Scotty had to work on Tuesday (and so did I) so we enjoyed our drive that Sunday and made camp late that afternoon in a western Ohio state park. Continue reading

20 Years Later: Phish 1995-06-17 Nissan Pavilion

My fourth Phish show (much anticipated after my third, 1994-12-29) marked the first of that Summer for me. Phish was coming to Northern Virginia to our brand new shed and we were ready to make it a great time. I can’t begin to tally the number of folks I knew at this show and, among them, how many were seeing their first show. Our tickets were acquired via PTBM and a large local crew gathered to pre-game at the home of some friends a short drive from the venue.

It was a brilliantly hot, early summer day with blue skies and few clouds. Hydration and sunscreen were top requirements. Other requirements being fulfilled, we hopped into our rides and attempted to get into the venue. It being new territory for all of us, we only had a general idea of how to approach the spot. This, coupled with construction on Interstate 66 and a general degree of befuddlement that sometimes accompanies such events, led to a hectic trip into the lots. Fortunately, we had our trusty tape of 1989-05-28 (set two) blasting in Modi’s car. This helped us keep cool as we zigzagged through the cones and chaos of Northern Virginia’s roadways.

The parking lot was a dust bowl. While the venue had been completed for the season, the lots had clearly remained an afterthought. The absence of order and landscaping could not dissuade us, but the hot moonscape of the parking lot held little attraction once we encountered the heavy security presence, so we made our way into the show a bit early. Continue reading

My First Phish Show 1994-10-08

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

I backed into my first Phish show well after becoming a fan. I’m fairly certain that I was turned on to the group in High School though it was my first year of college where I began to absorb much of their music. Junta played constantly in our dorms and, as I grew my Grateful Dead tape collection, I began adding a few Phish tapes. But that was the early 90’s and I was still very much focused on seeing as much Grateful Dead as possible. This attitude and my slim wallet kept me away from Phish shows until 1994.

In March of ’94, I had purchased a ticket to my first Phish show the next month at the local college (George Mason University) basketball arena, the Patriot Center. But I soon learned that The Band (at least those who remained in the line-up) would be playing Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Theater that same week. Concerned about having another shot at seeing Levon and co., I sold my Phish ticket to a buddy and bought a ticket to see The Band. No regrets.

Truer Words...

Truer Words…

Flash forward to Autumn. Freshly enrolled in the local community college, making new friends, many of who were Grateful Dead and Phish fans, and Phish was slated to return to the Patriot Center. One of my new friends, Chris, offered me one of his extra tickets and plans were set. I was finally going to see this group.

George Mason is a sprawling suburban university that matches the character of Northern Virginia quite well. Attractive, yet deliberate, green spaces are surrounded by too much pavement and cars are everywhere. We arrived early and, counter to my experiences at Dead shows, there wasn’t much of a scene. A few people were making grilled cheese for themselves, and maybe one guy was selling shirts but, for the most part, folks kept to themselves. I can only assume that the campus housing was a different scene altogether. We picked out a spot with some grass and relaxed in the lovely Autumn afternoon before heading in to the show.

Patriot Center is a round-ish basketball venue. It has no upper deck but reserved seating all the way around and, for this show, on the floor. As we entered, a fan handed me a purple flyer that read, “Phish Is A Really Cool Band.” Indeed.Our seats were on Page’s side, ahead of the board, a few rows above the floor. pretty much perfect. Unless you compare to those of my friend Modi whom we saw bouncing to the PA music all the way up to the front of the floor.

We were pumped.

We were ready.

The lights went down. Continue reading

Those Other Jams: The Byrds – Eight Miles High

The Byrds - (Untitled)

The Byrds – (Untitled)

I thought I knew The Byrds: folk-pop darlings, covered Dylan, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, drugs references in pop songs, Gram Parsons, country rock, reunion in the Seventies… But I was wrong. I had missed a critical piece of the puzzle until a good friend showed me the light.

A few years back, as I sat at my friend’s house, sipping a beer and enjoying the warm fireplace, he got up to change the record. His record collection easily surpasses my own and he often tries to stump me with his selections. This time, however, he did not expect to keep me guessing.

“You’ll probably get this one pretty quick but I should tell you that I’m breaking protocol and starting with side two,” he informed me. Listening to albums is serious business and there are rules. This move violated a key regulation but, it’s his house, and his rule to break. “I just love this side so much,” he continued, “I can’t wait.” He dropped the needle and sat down.

A brisk fade-in revealed a band going at it hard. Uptempo drums drove a blend of jangling and crunchy rock guitars with a rapid yet fluid bass line. I should have spotted the song immediately from the early telltale riffs from McGuinn but a conversation about record playing rules diverted my attention just enough that I did not. Instead, I found myself puzzling over Clarence White’s guitar solo and the subsequent bass jam from Skip Battin. I commented on the quality jamming but I could not come up with the band. My friend laughed, surprised that I didn’t know the album.

I don’t have every record. It’s not possible. But I do pride myself on having a selection of excellent jamming from all over the musical spectrum. Not knowing, much less owning, this record began to gnaw at me as I sat, listening and drinking in that pale yellow wingback chair. And then, nearly twelve minutes into the side, McGuinn jumps back in with an unmistakable riff and Rickenbacker tone.

“The Byrds? This is “Eight Miles High”? What album is this?” I asked, getting up to check out the cover.

“(Untitled),” he responded. (He did not pronounce the parentheses but I include them for accuracy.)

I was blown away by this revelation. The Byrds could jam? They took a cool song and expanded it into a tour de force, A ripping jam that veered well enough away from its source to lose a listener but steered directly back into the groove in time to fit the song neatly on an album side. I was sold and I studied the cover, adding it to my mental record-shopping wantlist.

A new love was born.