Just like the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and The Rolling Stones, Phish was a musical entity that had (and still does have) a massive impact on my musical explorations and appreciation.
Growing up in the North Country (Upstate New York), folks pretty much come out of the womb with a Phish album in hand. It’s just part of the culture, landscape, attitude and lifestyle of the area, seeing as the band started just across Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.
It all started when I was a kid and somebody playing Phish’s 1990 masterpiece album “Lawn Boy” on my parent’s bitchin’ living room stereo. Cranking the huge volume knob, we soaked in the tunes, whether it be “Reba,” “Run Like Antelope” or “Bouncing Around the Room.” I was young, probably around 11 or 12, but I felt something shift within me. I’d never heard music like that before — all I knew was that I wanted to hear more.
A new Phish album was a big deal back then, before streaming services and such. Like when “Farmhouse” came out in 2000 and this kid in our high school who got the first copy in town — all of us Phish Phreaks jealousy watching him walk down the hallway with his headphones on, blasting the latest word from our melodic messengers.
Partway through the first set in Charleston, the quartet pushed into “The Curtain,” a storied tune in Phish lore. My initial encounter with the song performed live was through the extended version known as “The Curtain With,” which was at the “you had to be there” mess that was the Coventry festival in 2004. On a muddy farm in rural Vermont, I attended (what we thought was) the last Phish show with my ex-girlfriend, everyone stuck in the muck thinking our band was done forever.
Kicking off the Charleston encore, the quartet rolled into “Pebbles and Marbles” from its 2002 release “Round Room.” I was a senior in high school when that album first appeared in the car stereos of our crappy adolescent vehicles.
When “Round Room” came out, my cronies and I skipped school and drove to the nearby record store to buy it, only to cruise around the backroads of Upstate New York, smoking joints and blasting the record, trying to pick it apart and simply immersing ourselves in it.
That following summer in 2003, I was now just a couple weeks away from leaving my hometown for college some 300 miles away. At the last minute, my best friend, Ben, and I took off for Phish’s IT festival in northern Maine.
We drove 12 hours to the gig without tickets (crazy long story) and somehow snuck into the festival by hiding underneath hot dog buns in a bread truck that was going in the service entrance (we traded the driver some weed to give us a ride).
I vividly remember “Pebbles and Marbles” at IT, myself standing in the midst of tens of thousands, realizing that once I left for college that nothing would ever be the same. The line in the sand between my childhood and adulthood was right in front of me, and so were the unknowns of leaving everything familiar behind in hopes of discovering something of greater intrinsic value.
And then there were all those random shows throughout my adult life: Knoxville, Saratoga, Essex, Darien Lake, etc. But, last year was a big one, finally seeing the group in Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
I wasn’t even planning on going. But, the week of the shows I had found myself back in the Grand Tetons of Eastern Idaho, a place I called home fresh out of college. I hadn’t been back there in a decade. A surreal and cathartic travel experience, I ended up reconnecting with an old friend out there, my buddy Dave.
And as I was trying to find a way to get back to Denver (to fly back to Asheville), Dave was headed to the Mile High City that same day for Phish. I jumped into his van and we took off for Colorado, but not before I sent a last-minute press pass request for Phish at Dick’s — a serendipitous concert that brought the trip out west full circle in my quest to find myself again.
Walking out of the North Charleston Coliseum in Sunday, I realized with my 35th birthday right around the corner, I’ve followed Phish in a live setting for just about half of my life, listening to them for around two-thirds of my existence.
It’s wild to think of all the time that has passed, those countless memories with loved ones seeing this band of weird and incredible musicians bringing together all of us weird and incredible people. And yet, the experience has never come across as nostalgic — it’s always growing and evolving, and from both sides of the microphone.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Country music legend LeAnn Rimes will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
2 Susanna Shetley, author of the recently published picture book, The Jolt Felt Around the World, will be hosting an event from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville.
3 Arnold Hill will be hitting the stage at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Lazy Hiker Brewing taproom in Sylva.
4 “A Night Before Christmas” downtown holiday celebration will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, in Waynesville.
5 The youth drama group Kids at HART will present “Holly Jolly Christmas” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 and 2 p.m. Dec. 15, 21-22 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.