Phish: 2

In Pittsburgh, Vermont on June 19, 2009 at 10:10 pm

 Phish Show 006

The morning is drizzly and cold, but when we arrive at the Post-Gazette Pavillion, the sun is beating down on the gravel parking lot. John and Lindy arrange their chairs and my friend Fred and I perch on coolers. Lindy’s college friend Ben offers high-quality beer, and for the next three hours we consume can after can, our bodies vaporizing in the humid air. We joke and take pictures and gab about current events. The crowd swell around us — an artist selling psychedelic canvases out of his car; a skinny guy in a goatee selling silver bracelets out of a padded box. The breeze is musty with ganja-smoke; all around us, joints are puffed and bowls hit in the open-air, then pocketed as broad-shouldered cops lumber past. The line for the restroom grows by the hour, from a half-dozen to a score. Scruffy loners offer bottles of Yeungling.

“Two for five dollars!” one vagrant vendor calls out.

“How about one?” says the guy ahead of me in line.

“Two bucks.”

Money is exchanged, change is made, the man takes his bottle and the vendor struts off, happy with his sale. I turn to the guy ahead of me and say, “Wait, did he say one bottle for two dollars or two bottles for five?”


“Does that make any sense?”

Later a virile youth runs up to me, shirtless and flashing white teeth, and he proclaims: “YOU JUST GOTTA SLAP MY WINE SACK AND YOU GET FREE WINE!”

The “wine sack” has been removed from a box of Franzia, so it’s like a transparent wine-skin that has a platic nozzle sticking out of it. A bearded man smacks the sack, as instructed, spanking the plastic surface. He turns the nozzle and sucks down the red wine as onlookers clap. I decide to follow suit — I high-five the bag and then drink the mixed-berry taste of cheap Merlot.

“Well, too bad you have hepatitis now,” Fred says.

“Oh, I’ve had it for years,” I reply.

“What about the herpes?”

“Those, too.”

Having spent most of my youth in rural Vermont, I’m surprised by the tailgating demographics: The crowd is mostly young men, dressed in cargo-shorts and T-shirts. Many have stripped away their polos to reveal toned musculature. Their eyes are hidden by expensive sunglasses and their feet are bourne by authentic Birkenstocks. Most beards are well-trimmed, and some are passing footballs. They are not the scraggly, skinny, Devil Stick-flipping hippie vegans I was expecting. I spot a schoolbus and a few VW buses, but no hand-made signs exhort the virtues of a biodiesel engine. Dreadlocks float in a sea of salon-styled beach-cuts. This doesn’t feel like the commune I expected; it feels like a frat-boy convention.

It’s rumored that Dave Matthews will make an unexpected cameo at the Phish concert, and my friends tremple. The going wisdom is this: “Dave Matthews is all right, but I hate the fans.” This has become the Zeitgeist: Dave Matthews is a talented hack, but his fans are trust-fund yuppies in hemp necklaces.

I don’t know much about Dave Matthews — conceivably less than I know about Phish — the difference being that I can hum two Dave Matthews songs. It’s curious how much the two camps despise each other: The Phish-fans who tell endless stories of their glory days, when LSD was cheap and concerts were tent-cities; the Dave Matthews fans who will never meet the South African mega-star in person and yet refer to him as “Dave,” insisting that the song “Fall Into Me” singlehandedly awakened their manhood.

I’m in the company of Phish-fans: Fred, John, Ben, and soon others as well. Lindy is more ambivalent, like me. But there’s one thing we can all agree on: This is a fairly unusual Phish crowd. It combines the band’s crunchier fanbase with wolf-like packs of suburban boys. Bandanas blend with backward baseball caps. The only common accoutrement is a good Frisbee.

As the sun melts into the trees, the crowd starts streaming between cars, toward the Pavilion’s gates.

“All right, kids,” says John. “It’s go-time.”


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