Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, Raleigh
Friday, August 14, 2015
It’s Friday night. I am a confident, single young woman preparing to leave the house for an outing. But I’m not going on a date, like a lot of other people my age. It’s not even a gal-pal hang, spent cackling over cocktails. No, I am donning my second-cleanest cutoffs and spending an hour in traffic to go to a Phish show—my first—alone.
Here, flying solo at this Phish show, I will confront the very personality traits that have probably led me to attending a Phish show by myself. I am both tremendously judgmental of strangers and impatient. I am, I will admit, a jerk. In dating, this leads to being unreasonably picky and dismissive. (This combination makes online dating mostly impossible, by the way.)
With music, these two traits manifest themselves as an abysmally low tolerance for longform instrumental noodling and a bad attitude toward my fellow attendees. I come from an extended lineage of expert side-eye cutters, and I put their matriarchal gifts to use on a regular basis. So, you’re a hula-hooping white person with dreadlocks? Haha. Cool. You shove your way to the front just to talk over the band? God help you. As for the noodling—well, jerking off should be limited to private settings, with consenting partner(s) optional (the partners, not the consent). My hatred becomes amplified if it’s a white dude with an electric guitar. I find this particular extension of male ego and guitar-god fantasy exhausting.
Despite these flaws and my preconceived notions of Phish being mostly hippie bullshit, I hope tonight will be a learning experience. This is, remember, a world about which I know almost nothing, mostly due to the above afflictions. I arrive early enough to scope out the “lot scene” of which I’ve heard. It overwhelms with smells, sights and sounds, like the dirtiest, gnarliest flea market I’ve ever seen. The food smells wonderful, at least, and music pours from an unseen PA. People weave among each other, seeking out and selling bootleg shirts, pins and paraphernalia. I run into a few acquaintances, and I wish I were more of a Grateful Dead fan, because the merchandise selection out here is truly incredible.
I continue scoping the scene from inside the venue, eventually finding my former high school economics teacher. He’s been to more than 20 Phish shows, he says, and he gives me a few tips that prove useful: They’ll “bring it down” around the end of the first set or beginning of the second, for instance, and I should watch the drummer, because he holds it all together. Noted.
I notice all types of people here, though they are mostly white and mostly male. There are the younger Phish lifers, the former Deadheads who have found something else, former frat boys in their early-to-mid-30s, older good ol’ boys, the dirty dreadlocked, the clean yuppies, teens, half-naked babies. As the daylight dims, the near-capacity crowd appears as a squirming singularity, coexisting peacefully.
As Trey Anastasio and company take the stage, the smell of weed hangs in the air, and the cloud only thickens as the night progresses, as I’d expected. Though a few folks are clearly having a more colorful time than others, no one ever seems to bother anyone else. Unfortunately, not everyone had a fun time with their substance of choice: Police busted a whopping 65 people at the show, shooting proverbial Phisheads in a barrel before publishing each evildoer’s name, age, hometown and charge in a press release.
But I don’t get arrested, so I stand there, taking in all of the everything, I am, no joke, enjoying myself. I can’t spot or describe any memorable riffs for you, but as colorful lights flash and everyone dances around me, I can’t help but feel good. The posi vibes have rubbed off. Phish return after a moderate break, curiously soundtracked by Father John Misty’s I Love You Honeybear. (I doubt his upcoming show in Raleigh will be quite so perfectly pleasant.)
But my patience begins to dwindle about a third of the way through the second set. My former teacher’s “bring it down” premonition seems to manifest in slow motion. Oh, the noodling, at its peak! Still, at this point, I have gotten through about two hours of Phish’s music, which is about an hour and 50 minutes more than I thought I could handle. My teacher’s teachings become useful again: When I feel my mind wandering, I re-focus on drummer Jon Fishman. Things are OK for a bit.
I am prepared for the end of the concert as it winds to a close. I have lasted for the whole show, and though I’m not clawing my way to the gates, I’ve had enough. Somehow, I seem to be more or less alone in this feeling, as everyone around me is screaming and stomping and hooting for more. I feel a mean twinge: How can you people want more of this? We’ve been here for three hours! There are maybe two bands I would ever want to watch for more than three hours, and even then I would probably holler for mercy at hour four.
So, no, the Phish show was not a cure-all for my judgy jerk habits.Though I had an overall fine time, I am no more fond of jam bands and the accompanying culture than I was at the beginning of the day. But I can at least hope to carry these lessons of curtailing my impatience and assumptions a little more mindfully, at concerts and elsewhere in my life.
Peace and love and good vibes, maaaaaan. That’s what all this shit is supposed to be about, right?